The general liturgical rule is that lay readers are ministers to the readings, but if they are not present then a deacon would read these readings and then the priest, the deacon is the minister of the Gospel and if the deacon is not there then a priest would proclaim the gospel. To licitly proclaim the gospel you need only one ordained minister, first the deacon and then the priest. The liturgical documents make it quite clear that if there are not three deacons then lectors are to step up and help the deacon(note in liturgical texts the deacon is singular as having preference over the priest for the passion narrative in the sacramentary etc.)and if no deacon is at the mass they are to help the priest. Father McNamara, caused a letter to be published recently that says that after three deacons, three priests is the next desired configuration and then if there are not three priests then the priest would be assisted by deacons and then lectors. The error is obvious he seems to have turned the proclamation of the Gospel from a deacons role to that of the presider. He admits the conjecture and does not offer any citation because none exists to my limited knowledge. Clearly the all major documents and universal practice make it clear that a priest shall vest as a deacon if he is to assist the one or two deacon situation. It is in this way that the dignity of the Gospel is preserved as a diaconal ministry especially at this most holy of times of the year.
We know this to be true a priori by watching the televised mass from Rome and seeing the ministers vested as deacons proclaim the Gospel. (sometimes they may be priests but they must vest as deacons, never does a vested priest or celebrant proclaim the Gospel at a papal mass) The evidence is also well documented a posteri in all the liturgical texts. Some passages even state very clearly that a deacon is to read the part of Jesus and as such I have found no a posteri evidence to conclude anything different.In Canada the liturgical text says that “a priest is to read the role of Jesus only when a deacon is not present” I wonder then why would a liturgist conclude so broadly and universally that the church intends a priest to read the role of Jesus after he has delegated the gospel to a vested deacon? Is this a case of liturgical abuse? I intend to write Father McNamara about this and the timing of his letter and would appreciate all insights from as many posters as possible first.
Deacons and the Passion Narrative
And More on the Chrism Mass
ROME, APRIL 7, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: In the reading of the Passion with several readers – where there is a deacon, should he, as normal minister of the Gospel, take the part of Christ? If so, what part should the priest take? – C.M., Drogheda, Ireland
A: In 1988 the Holy See published a circular letter on the Easter celebrations. No. 33 deals with the readings of the Passion:
"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.
“The proclamation of the passion should be without candles and incense; the greeting and the signs of the cross are omitted; and only a deacon asks for the blessing, as he does before the Gospel. For the spiritual good of the faithful, the passion should be proclaimed in its entirety and the readings that precede it should not be omitted.”
In fact, this document omits another possibility, that of a choir taking up the part of the multitude so that there would be four and not three agents for the reading. This is the procedure at the Vatican on both Palm Sunday (when the text is sung in Italian) and Good Friday (when it is sung in Latin). The parts of Christ, the narrator and individual speakers are chanted by deacons whereas the text of multiple speakers is usually sung in polyphony by the choir.
From this document it appears that the ideal situation is for the Passion narrative to be sung or read by three deacons while the priest remains at the chair, a situation that occurs mainly in cathedrals and seminaries. This is because reading the Gospel is not considered a presidential function in the Roman rite, and the deacon is the proper minister of this liturgical action. Indeed, in normal circumstances, a priest should not read the Gospel if a deacon is present.
If no deacons are present, then it would appear that the next preferred situation is that the Passion narrative be read by three priests. This situation is more likely to occur on Good Friday, when there is only one celebration, than on Palm Sunday when the priests are occupied with several Masses.
If there are no deacons and only one priest, then the priest takes the part of Christ while lay readers take the other parts.
If there are one or two deacons, the indication that the deacon asks for a blessing would suggest that the priest may remain at the chair while the deacon proclaims the Passion narrative along with one or two lay readers.
In this case it is not stated that the deacon take the part of Christ. It would appear that he may take any part. For example, as the most experienced reader, it might be better for the deacon to take the extensive part of narrator on Good Friday’s reading of the Passion according to St. John.
The document speaks of deacons or priests and makes no mention of a priest reading with one or two deacons. I believe, however, that because these two days are somewhat out of the ordinary, this situation cannot be excluded a priori and is not prohibited by the norms. In some cases it might even be necessary. If this situation were to arise, it would be congruous to reserve the part of Christ to the priest.