web analytics
Gospel procession

Gospel procession?

Gospel procession

This blogpost is an invitation both to reflect on your community’s proclamation of the Gospel reading in the Eucharist, and to share how you do this in the comments below so that others might benefit from insights gained from other practices.

In my book, Celebrating Eucharist, I write:

A “Gospel procession” may move to the lectern or to the midst of the congregation. The former practice emphasises the unity of the scriptures, the latter may emphasise the Gospel as the climax of the readings and the primary way in which Christ speaks to us. It is worth checking if the Gospel can be reasonably heard when it is read in the midst of the congregation, and also if most (particularly children) are able to see the reader. If this way of reading the Gospel is seen as the “solution” to a long, neogothic nave, this invites attention to how the other readings are proclaimed and may indicate the need to reorder the liturgical space.

What is the history of a Gospel procession into the nave? It seems to be more an Anglican/Episcopalian practice than, say, Roman Catholic. What other traditions use it?

Why do you do it? My recent post about having an ambo in the midst of the gathered community would alter such a practice.

How do you do it?

Who is involved?

The reputable Howard E. Galley in Ceremonies of the Eucharist: A guide to Celebration writes:

The two lights carried at the gospel are both a token of joy and a symbol of Christ, the light of the world (John 8:12). The use of incense is also appropriate. The use of a processional cross at this point is not desirable. The original purpose of the lights was to accompany the gospel book, a purpose that is obscured when a cross is carried, since they appear to be accompanying it instead. A cross, moreover, tends to call attention away from the book.

Which direction does the Gospeler face (east or west) and why?

image source

Similar Posts:

40 thoughts on “Gospel procession?”

    1. Everybody [seems to me] is speaking about the gospel in a sung.parish eucharist, I was ordained in theearly 1950s when most churhes had iether as main service Choral Matins or High Mass. So for many the typical eucharist was the” 8 o’clock” Low Mass type. There the altar server would move the altar book from the south to north side of the altar before reading the gospel. This I was told represents the gospel going forth from the south to the north of europe and dates from the mission of the dark ages

  1. One subtlety worth considering.

    As usual, the gospel is carried into the congregation by the minister, who in a way represents Jesus at his incarnation bringing the gospel to us.

    As usual, for the reading, the gospel book is held by a lay person, representing us receiving the gospel from Christ’s proclamation of it.

    But what about after the reading? When I first saw this variant I was bowled over by it. For the return procession, the minister returned empty-handed. The gospel book was carried by the lay-person, representing Christ’s handing over the gospel message to us, and entrusting to us, in his own vulnerability, the responsibility of its continued proclamation today.

    (May be everyone does that already…)

    1. Thanks very much for these ideas, David. If you have read my book you will know I hesitate about allegorisation in liturgy. Your example, I suspect, would need this explanation for it to be bowling over as it was for you. I suspect its teaching would be lost on those who hadn’t had this explanation. Thanks again. Blessings.

  2. I have been in churches with a variety of practices. In my current patch (at the ‘main’ service) we have a small procession – Deacon and assistant – with no candles or crosses. In a previous place we deliberately abandoned the procession following a conversation about whether we really believed the gospel reading to be more ‘important’ than the others. While I tend to agree with that assessment, I found myself missing the procession, not just because it was a nice bit of ceremonial, but because it was one of several parts of the liturgy in which we are invited and enouraged to ’embody’ our worship – to get away from just words and move and shift and use our legs, etc. I feel much the same about crossing one’s self.
    So I guess for me it’s about movement and engaging more than just our mouths, ears and (occasionally) brains!

  3. How about some additional fine point questions… should the gospel book be held high during the procession into the nave? How about after the gospel proclamation? Should the gospel proclaimer keep their eyes on the gospel book or are they allowed to look around? As the spouse of a deacon, she has been taught that after the gospel has been proclaimed it is to be carried back to the altar without raising it. I’ll look forward to responses to this!

    1. Thanks, Andy. Good questions. Another: do you bow holding the book – or is the book the primary focus at this point and to bow would be to act against that? Is the altar the best place to return the book to – when is it moved from there and where to? Blessings.

  4. The architecture of my chapel is important for how we do the Gospel: aisle with benches and stalls facing each other, rather than east-facing. We have a central ambo (west-facing, but old pictures show it east-facing and placed at the west end). The ambo is flanked by standard candles that underline its importance as a focus. The two candles tie it in with the two altar candles. The gathering rite and the liturgy of the word are led from the ambo, with the focus moving to the altar at the offertory. Music is a vital component, and the chanting of the Alleluia as I bring the Gospel from the altar to the ambo is an important aspect. It’s all quite simple, but with clear symbolism and crisp aesthetics.

    1. Thanks, Gareth (photos?!). Can you unpack, please why “I bring the Gospel from the altar to the ambo is an important aspect”? Especially with your saying “The gathering rite and the liturgy of the word are led from the ambo, with the focus moving to the altar at the offertory.” Blessings.

      1. The picture at http://www.hertford.ox.ac.uk/my-hertford/chapel/about-chapel/compline shows the ambo and altar with their candles lit.

        While the priest (or deacon at the Gospel) is usually where the focus of the liturgy is, it ain’t necessarily so. I have experimented with sitting to one side for the readings and psalm, but have decided to sit in the recessed sedilia in the sanctuary. While I am uncomfortable with the idea of removing myself like this, it makes the little entrance with the Gospel possible. As the sedilia is recessed, I am removing myself from the focus, and I think that it gives the reader and cantor more authority if I am not sat with them,

  5. Dear Bosco, on the now rare occasions when I get to proclaim the Gospel at St. Michael’s, Christchurch, as Deacon of the Mass (n.b. every priest – or bishop – is still a deacon of the Church) I always ask if I may sing the words.

    This is routine in many English Anglo-Catholic congregations, and is seen as providing a tonal emphasis on the story of redemption being told.

    The Gospel is also censed, in keeping with other elements of the Eucharist, to demonstrate the importance of Christ’s Presence as God’s Redeeming Word – both in Scripture and in the bread and wine of the Sacrament.

    There is a legend of Saint Francis, preaching, while emphasising the Word with both voice and gestures. And was it Saint Augustine who said that a prayer, sung, is prayed twice?

    For me personally, the presence of Christ as Word-made-flesh in the Gospel story is vital to the understanding of His Presence amongst us at the Eucharist. It should be celebrated with the very best we can offer in the way of worship.

    1. Thanks, Fr Ron. I think I may pick up this point in a future blog post – I think just reading as many (most?) now would is probably a very recent development in Christian history. Blessings.

  6. The Eastern practice is one of three ways, depending on staffing:
    1. In a heirarchical service, the senior deacon reads it from the bishop’s platform in the center of the nave, facing East.
    2. In a non-hierarchical service, the senior deacon reads it from the center of the amvon, facing East.
    3. If a priest is serving as the only clergyman, he reads it from the Royal Doors (connecting the sanctuary to the amvon and nave), facing West.

    The logic is thus: the default is for the senior deacon to read, from the westernmost point on the amvon. The bishop’s platform (known rather innacurately as the cathedra) used to be the end of a long extension of the amvon, but is now portable, and generally only used for a full hierarchical service. The deacon does not read facing west because that would be preaching, and deacons giving the sermon is a comparatively recent development, not universally recognized. Since only priests and bishops ordinarily preach, only they ordinarily proclaim the Gospel westward.

    The Gospel is carried out the Royal Doors by the deacon, exactly as he later brings out the chalice. Servers come out the side doors with candles and fans, but it’s the most businesslike of all the processions we do, so as not to distract from the Gospel by flashy choreography.

    1. The ambo (or “amvon”) at one time (and for a long time) was a free-standing platform in the middle of the nave of the church, aligned with the altar table, with stairs leading up to it from the west and leading down from it toward the east.

      Examples of such surviving ambos can be found online here:


      The ambo was anciently the locus for Bible readings and preaching by clergy, in the midst of the congregation. It enabled the congregation to see and hear the clergy better, especially in large basilicas.

      In the Byzantine rite’s celebration of the eucharist (Divine Liturgy), this sort of ambo may be gone, but it is not forgotten:

      (1) When a bishop presides over the eucharist, the deacon chants the gospel reading from the episcopal ambo, a platform set up in the middle of the nave of the church for the occasion. (The rubrics for a bishop presiding over the Eucharist reflect an older order of celebrating the Eucharist, as opposed to when a presbyter presides in his stead.)

      (2) In the East Slavic versions of the Byzantine rite, the reader (lector) chants the prokeimenon (responsorial psalm), epistle reading and alleluiarion (psalm verses with an “Alleluia!” refrain) from the middle of the nave of the church during the Divine Liturgy, still standing where the ambo once was, though it is not there now.

      (3) The closing dismissal prayer of the Divine Liturgy is still titled “Prayer Behind the Ambo,” because the bishop or presbyter uttered it aloud at the foot of the ambo on his way out of the church in a recessional. The title survived, even though the ambo and the recessional haven’t survived in the contemporary practice of the Byzantine rite.

      In the Episcopal church I attend, the reading of the gospel takes place in the center of the nave, much as where an ancient might have stood. Acolytes escort the gospel book with cross and candles. One holds it while the presbyter reads the reading for the day. All in the congregation turn to face the presbyter as he/she reads. I take the gospel book itself as a sacramental sign of Christ Jesus’ presence among us, through which he speaks to us, just as the eucharist is the sacramental sign of his presence among us, through which he feeds us. The procession with the gospel book underscores this for me.

    2. I don’t really agree. The nowadays practice is different according to uses. E.g., according to some Slavic uses, the deacon and priest always read the Gospel towards East during Mass; according to the Melkite and Romanian uses, the deacon and priest always read it towards West.

      Normally, the bishop’s chair should be set between the narthex and the nave, facing East. The stalls are on two rows, North and South, facing easch other. If, then, the lecterns are placed just in front of the bishop, those would face East, without turning the back to the congregation.

      This pattern is still respected in many monasteries, where the bishop’s and abbot’s chairs/cathedras are placed next to one another, leaving enough room for the people to come forth between them.

      Deacons preaching is a very old use. St Ephrem was only a deacon; Ss John Chrysostom and John of Damascus were well known as preachers during their deaconate.

  7. It has been interesting to read of the variety of ways we acknowledge the Gospel. The Anglican church I attend actuallu processes from altar to west door where it is read held by acolyte, candels etc. etc. Rather a new @#years ) change from simply reading. Following the procession with eyes focused on scripture is of course a reminder of our Jewish roots.
    Bur I have to say that when the Gospel was simply read from the ambo it had as much significance= and sometimes more by its directness- than with the present hoo-ha.I don’t object but in essence am indifferent.
    This maybe because of years of RC worship which at ordinary parish level unless one had an over=the=top priest was simple, evem casual. In many ways, and does this make sense to any of your readers the non-extravagance was more spiritual as reflecting our belifs made evident in normal life. We would often be amused at what we looked then as attempts by parts of Church of Englan to be, as we said, more Catholic than the Catholics.
    In essence I am saying again the worship should not be turned into a theatrical event even if in Rome they are masters of it. I recently took part in a Quaker meeting, found at first the silence excruciatingly difficult but finally intensely spiritual. Oddly after, indeed after many years, I found myself saying the Glorious mysteries of the Rosary.

  8. I don’t object to a gospel procession, but we don’t do one at St. Margaret’s as such. We don’t have any deacons, but lay readers are involved in leadership of worship every week, and usually one of them reads the gospel. Some read it from the lectern, others from the chancel steps. Personally I encourage them to read it from the lectern as the microphone there is better than our remote mikes and we do have some old folks who a hard of hearing. Emphasizing the gospel by making it less audible would be a bit odd!

    What I do object to (and this is a bit off topic, Bosco, my apologies) is a reader (gospel or otherwise) who begins a reading with the word ‘he’ without telling us who ‘he’ is, or begins reading a parable or discourse of Jesus without telling us that it is Jesus who is speaking. I know, we can make a reasonable assumption that regular churchgoers will know, but what about newcomers and inquirers? And it’s sometimes surprising how many regular churchgoers don’t catch on right away. How hard is it to replace ‘he left that place’ with ‘Jesus left that place’, or to begin a parable with the words, ‘Jesus said…’?

    1. Certainly agree, Tim, with your bit-off-topic point. I would go even further. Rather than starting “Jesus left that place” I would make sure that the reader also named the place that Jesus left. Blessings.

  9. At the main service at our Episcopal parish, we have a simple procession to the center aisle: Deacon and server. When we have acolytes, they carry candles. The deacon performs the old Roman ritual of blessing forehead, lips and book with small crosses, then reads the gospel. At the end of the reading he elevates the gospel book while declaring “The Gospel of the Lord.”

    I actually dislike that practice, as my sense is that the Gospel is “contained” in the proclamation, not in the printed page. I have the same attitude about reverence for the eucharistic elements. The Real Presence (in which I believe) is in the gathered assembly; in the actions of blessing, breaking distributing and eating, rather than in the physical “stuff” of the Communion elements. (I’m well used to people disagreeing with my sentiments about that!)

    The congregation sings a gradual hymn, half prior to the gospel, and half after. I’m OK with all of that, but I am of the mind that it’s a bit overblown. I’d be happier if the deacon read the gospel from the ambo, sans procession.

  10. “The Real Presence (in which I believe) is in the gathered assembly; in the actions of blessing, breaking distributing and eating, rather than in the physical “stuff” of the Communion elements”
    – Lou Palami –

    I’m curious, Lou, what you might think about the words of Jesus: “This IS my Body, this IS my blood”. Do you think that the celebration of the Eucharist, at His command, is merely a literary exercise, and not an acceptance of the invitation from Jesus to “Eat and Drink” – if His Substance?

    You are perfectly right, I think, when you say that Christ is also in the gathered body. I would say as well as, not instead of, at the Eucharist.

  11. Ron. I am not an academic and I certainly do not have Aramaic; but I am pretty sure that I once read somewhere [a frequent phrase of the epistle to the Hebrews !] that what comes to us in Greek/English translation as This IS my body would [in Aramaic] have no verb – it would be simply “This – my body. This – my blood” Which if true leaves it all rather open. But I agree with you that it is the action of the eucharist that consecrates the elements rather that the mystic reading of any “magic” words.

  12. If I may be excused ini broadening out this discussion – I fear that a good proportion of communicants probably think we are doing it in remembrance of the last supper when of course we are remembering Jesus and all that he was and did.
    So Communion can become rather like a slot machine and you put your pennies in and get the goodies out. So as I visit various churches in retirement I find to my horror that in many churches a junior server is given a plate of jelly babies or equivalent sweets which they distribute to children at the altar rail. Am I right in thinking this is a gross distortion of the sacrament and an unintended insult to what is holy ?

  13. Yes Bosco. InEngland it is pick and mix. In my parish church childgren are admitted to coommunion from the age of six on request . But not everywhere.
    The question remains – is a jelly baby a suitable substitute for holy communion ?

  14. Thanks Bosco. We are obviously near the same wavelength.Now here is another example to judge.
    We do a lot of childcare with my 9 year old grand daughter. She has communicated since she was seven.
    She is a budding theologian – the best comment recently was “how can you go to heaven if you are dead ?”. She [and we] have a problem in that our daughter [her mum] is an alcoholic. So little one does not approve of wine and while she receives the bread appropriately , when the chalice approaches she simply says “no thankyou” and withdraws.

  15. Bosco – thank you for the encouragement. “Judge” was not quite the appropriate word – perhaps assess is better. I always feel that little children have the surest grasp of spiritual realities – as Our Lord knew only too well.
    A good example of how we adults accept those realities without facing up to their difficulties was when the same litle girl said to me as we said good night to God together “Granpa – how can you go to heaven if you are dead” . Problem is kids can ask good questions but do not have the experience of life to understand the nuances which enable us to explain to moree sophisticated grown ups. “Who made God ?” is another intelligent weapon to throw at an unwary clergyman ! Owen

  16. I’m interested in your mention of “Choral Matins’, Owen. As a matter of fact, we at SMAA, Christchurch, on our Patronal Fesitval next Sunday, are going to substitute – for the normal 10am Sung Mass – the Office of Festal Matins; having already celebrated the BCP Low Mass at 8 am.

    The reason for this, is that our main focus of worship on 29 September – the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels – will be what used to be called a ‘Pontifical’ High Mass, at 7pm, where our ACANZP Archbishop Philip Richardson will be presiding and preaching.

    There will most certainly be the usual Procession of the Gospel from the Nave Altar down to the middle of the Nave, accompanied by two acolytes and the crucifer, with the Deacon of the Mass censing the Gospel (as representing ‘The Word’ – Christ) before its proclamation – after which the Gospel weill be returned to the High Altar before the sermon.

  17. As a church musician of long-standing, I found it interesting that no one addresses the practical question: what happens musically after the Gospel is proclaimed? I have seen the deacon, crucifer, candle-bearers move back to the sanctuary in silence, with the accompaniment of additional verses of a sequence hymn, with quiet organ music, or with quite loud and triumphal organ music. How is this moment handled in your liturgies?
    (FWIW, I have always liked the Finnish Lutheran Church’s use of a hymn before the Gospel, and the Alleluia following it).

  18. At St. Michael & All Angels, Christchurch, the Gospel Procession – Thurifer Crucifer, Acolytes, Sub-Deacon (carrying the Book) and Deacon move from the sanctuary into the nave during the singing of the Antiphon and Alleluias. The Book of the Gospels is held by the Sub-Deacon – facing the Deacon and the Altar The introduction to the Gospel is intoned by the Deacon and the congregation response “Praise and glory to Godt”. The Gospel of the Day is incensed and then either read or sung by the Deacon (I always sing the Gospel when deaconing at the Solemn Mass). At the end of the Reading, the Deacon says/sings: “This is the Gospel of Christ” and the Congregation responds: “Praise to Christ, The Word”. The procession then returns to the sanctuary accompanied by joyful organ music. The Book of the Gospels is then placed on the High Altar.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.