Why do we sit for the Old and New Testament readings and stand for the Gospel?

March 27th, 2011  |  Published in New Roman Missal

Have you ever questioned why we sit for the Old and New Testament readings of the Liturgy of the Word and then stand for the Gospel? This is one of many ways that the liturgy indicates the importance of the Bible that is found in the four Gospels.

We believe, of course, that when all of the readings are being proclaimed that Christ Himself, is speaking to us because He is the Word of God made flesh. Whatever God says to us comes to us through Christ. Yet there is still something special about the four books of the Gospel that give us most of our information about Jesus Himself. The Gospels reveal Him to us, recounting His teachings and miracles, His journeys and His encounters with the people of His time, His death and His resurrection. It is the four Gospels that we find the fullest picture of Jesus and His meaning for our lives.

There are many ways that the Mass reminds us of the preeminence of the Gospels. Before the Gospel is proclaimed, the deacon or priest expresses the hope that the Lord will be with us; “The Lord be with you.” He says. “And with your Spirit.” We will respond. This reminds us that the Lord is present is the Gospel in a unique way. On special occasions, the deacon or priest will also incense the Lectionary or Book of the Gospels to express our reverence for Christ.

Another way that the significance of the Gospel is shown is through the carrying of the Book of the Gospels in procession at the beginning of the Mass and then placed on the altar until the time it is proclaimed.

The main expression of the Gospel’s importance is when the Book of the Gospels is carried in procession from the altar to the ambo (pulpit) after the second reading. During this procession we stand and sing the Gospel acclamation. As the procession moves the whole assembly acclaims Christ and welcomes Him in His word by singing the Alleluias (or another acclamation during Lent).

All of this is intended to open our minds and our hearts in a special way to the words of the Gospel. It clearly indicates that something important is about to happen and that we should be fully attentive. That is why movement in the church should be kept to a minimum by all present. Something significant is about to occur, to leave for the bathroom or some other place shows a lack of understanding for what is taking place. Then when the Gospel is announced, we respond “Glory to You, O Lord,” with the “O” having been added with the intention of showing greater respect.

Of course, hearing the Gospel is only the first step. Once we have heard the words, then we have to figure out how to live them. Through the Gospel, Christ challenges us to imitate Him and to walk in His ways. That is why the liturgy treats it with such solemnity and reverence.

Lawrence E. Mick, 2006
Distributed by the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC), Washington, DC 20017