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Why Does the Priest or Deacon Process the Lectionary Before the Gospel?

A listener asks Father Dave a Mass Class question about the gospel. David asks, “I know it’s probably a sign of reverence, but what started the procession of the gospel book? It’s usually on the altar, and they usually process it around the front of the sanctuary.” He also attended a Mass recently where the congregation bowed and some near the altar touched the book.

Father Dave expands on David’s assessment of reverence. “Things that we do at Mass, the way in which we ritually celebrate our faith, many of them are to humanly and physically live into things that we believe. That speaks to us as a sacramental people,” Fr. Dave says.

“This [ritual] goes way, way back to the time before people would all have access to their own [Bible.] We kind of take for granted, everybody having access to their own copy of the Word of God,” he continues. In addition, this tradition likely began before many people were literate and only heard Scripture proclaimed.

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Father Dave notes that even today in Judaism, synagogues have a similar tradition of keeping their copy of the Torah locked away until it is proclaimed. “[They’re] highlighting the fact that this is not just important, but this is actually the word of God,” he says. “Could [they] all sit with iPhones in a synagogue and say, ‘Somebody read from Deuteronomy?’ Sure. But the human experience of that, as you can see, is a little different.”

He reiterates the importance of hearing Scripture for the early Church and us today. “The fact that the word of God has been captured and written down on a page – Wow, that’s pretty powerful. That’s the presence of God in our midst,” Father Dave says. “All the people gathered on a Sunday can’t see it up close. So the next best thing is walking among you, holding aloft the book saying, ‘This is God’s word to us,’ and everybody gets to see it as it passes by.”

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Father Dave compares this to the practice of Eucharistic processions. “We revere and honor this, and we believe it genuinely is Christ. So it’s important that we don’t just keep Christ locked up in the tabernacle. We process to the streets as a proud banner of our faith that we’re proclaiming to the world,” he says.

“Processions are usually things that are important, particularly during Mass. If you can think of the most obvious processions: the procession of the ministers, including the presider, who we believe is in the person of Jesus,” he continues. “Another important procession that sometimes we miss is the presentation of the gifts, the simple elements of bread and wine that will become for us the true presence of Christ.” These processions help us tangibly elevate sacred parts of the Mass.