Proclamation of the Gospel by the Laity
Is it appropriate for a lay person to proclaim the Gospel reading at a liturgical celebration?
Among the duties proper to the deacon is the proclamation of the Gospel (See General Instruction of the Roman Missal, nos. 175 and 212; introduction to the Lectionary for Mass, no. 50; see Ceremonial of Bishops, no. 24). In the absence of a deacon, a priest may proclaim the Gospel (See General Instruction of the Roman Missal, no. 212, introduction to the Lectionary for Mass, no. 49).
In the absence of a priest or deacon, several of the liturgical books make provisions for a lay minister to proclaim the Gospel, most notably Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest and the Book of Blessings. The Introduction to the Book of Blessings addresses the question most directly:
Whenever a priest is present, it is more fitting that the office of presiding be assigned to him and that the deacon assist by carrying out those functions proper to the diaconate. (no. 18)
Therefore, in the presence of a bishop, priest, or deacon, it is not permitted for a lay person to proclaim the Gospel or indeed to fulfill any of the functions proper to their offices. This, of course, reflects the ancient tradition of the Church as expressed by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council:
In liturgical celebrations each person, minister or layman, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to his office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy. (Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 28)
May a lay reader take the part of the Christ in the reading of the passion narrative during Lent and the Triduum, or is this role reserved to the priest?
The rubrics for Palm Sunday and Good Friday are quite clear on this question, as reflected in the 1988 Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts from the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments:
The Passion narrative occupies a special place. It should be sung or read in the traditional way, that is by three persons who take the part of Christ, the narrator and the people. The Passion is proclaimed by deacons or priests, or by lay readers; in the latter case, the part of the Christ should be reserved to the priest. (no. 33)
The Lector at Mass
i. Reading and Explaining the Word of God
When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his word, proclaims the Gospel. Therefore, the readings from the Word of God are to be listened to reverently by everyone, for they are an element of the greatest importance in the Liturgy. Although in the readings from Sacred Scripture the Word of God is addressed to all people of whatever era and is understandable to them, a fuller understanding and a greater efficaciousness of the word is nevertheless fostered by a living commentary on the word, that is, by the Homily, as part of the liturgical action. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM], no. 29)
ii. Vocal Expression of the Different Texts
In texts that are to be pronounced in a loud and clear voice, whether by the Priest or the Deacon, or by a reader, or by everyone, the voice should correspond to the genre of the text itself, that is, depending upon whether it is a reading, a prayer, an explanatory comment, an acclamation, or a sung text; it should also be suited to the form of celebration and to the solemnity of the gathering. Consideration should also be given to the characteristics of different languages and of the culture of different peoples. (GIRM, no. 38)
The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to favor meditation, and so any kind of haste such as hinders recollection is clearly to be avoided. In the course of it, brief periods of silence are also appropriate, accommodated to the assembled congregation; by means of these, under the action of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared. It may be appropriate to observe such periods of silence, for example, before the Liturgy of the Word itself begins, after the First and Second Reading, and lastly at the conclusion of the Homily. (GIRM, no. 56)
iv. Scripture Readings
In the readings, the table of God’s Word is spread before the faithful, and the treasures of the Bible are opened to them. Hence, it is preferable that the arrangement of the biblical readings be maintained, for by them the unity of both Testaments and of salvation history is brought out. Nor is it lawful to replace the readings and Responsorial Psalm, which contain the Word of God, with other, non-biblical texts.
In the celebration of the Mass with the people, the readings are always read from the ambo.
The function of proclaiming the readings is by tradition not presidential but ministerial. Therefore the readings are to be read by a reader, but the Gospel by the Deacon or, in his absence, by another Priest. If, however, a Deacon or another Priest is not present, the Priest Celebrant himself should read the Gospel, and moreover, if no other suitable reader is present, the Priest Celebrant should also proclaim the other readings as well.
After each reading, whoever reads it pronounces the acclamation, and by means of the reply the assembled people give honor to the Word of God that they have received in faith and with gratitude. (GIRM, nos. 57-59)
The lector is instituted to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture, with the exception of the Gospel. He may also announce the intentions for the Universal Prayer and, in the absence of a psalmist, recite the Psalm between the readings.
In the celebration of the Eucharist, the lector has his own proper function (cf. nos. 194-198), which he himself must carry out. (GIRM, no. 99)
In the absence of an instituted lector, other lay people may be deputed to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture, people who are truly suited to carrying out this function and carefully prepared, so that by their hearing the readings from the sacred texts the faithful may conceive in their hearts a sweet and living affection for Sacred Scripture. (GIRM, no. 101)