Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Could you please clarify the following questions: 1) The lectionaries and Books of the Gospel of some countries (e.g., U.S.) have “The Gospel of the Lord” at the end of the Passion reading of Palm Sunday and Good Friday, while others (e.g., England and Wales) do not print it at the end of the Passion in their lectionaries. Is it to be said or not said, or does it vary by country? What is the reason for the difference? 2) What is the order of procession for a solemn entrance on Palm Sunday? In some places the priest walks first, in others last; in some, he holds the processional cross, in others just a palm branch. What is correct? — J.P., Bangalore, India
A: Up to and during Holy Week there was a rush of questions that it was impossible to address in the circumstances. We shall attempt to deal with most of them in the upcoming columns.
The rubrics in the Roman Missal for reading the Passion of the Lord on Palm Sunday say the following:
“The narrative of the Lord’s Passion is read without candles and without incense, with no greeting or signing of the book. It is read by a Deacon or, if there is no Deacon, by a Priest. It may also be read by readers, with the part of Christ, if possible, reserved to a Priest. Deacons, but not others, ask for the blessing of the priest before singing the passion, as at other times before the Gospel.”
The same rule applies on Good Friday:
“Then the narrative of the Lord’s Passion according to John (18: 1–19: 42) is read in the same way as on the preceding Sunday.
“After the reading of the Lord’s Passion, the Priest gives a brief homily and, at its end, the faithful may be invited to spend a short time in prayer.”
As can be seen from the rubrics, it is clear that there is no “The Lord be with you,” no licensing, and no signing of the book. However, it is not indicated if there is any presentation of the texts or ritual conclusion.
Having checked out official musical settings for singing the Passion, and having perused the practice at the Vatican and in several other languages, I think I can be confident in saying that the practice is the following:
— The narrator says or sings: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
— The text is proclaimed.
— At the end “The Gospel of the Lord” is said or sung with its reply.
— This will usually be said by the narrator; however, in some places, when the narrator is a layperson, the priest who has taken the part of Christ concludes the reading.
This seems to be the common practice and is generally printed in hand missals in this way. I do not know why it would be omitted in some versions.
With respect to the order of procession I think the rubrics are clear:
“The Procession to the church where Mass will be celebrated then sets off in the usual way. If incense is used, the thurifer goes first, carrying a thurible with burning incense, then an acolyte or another minister, carrying a cross decorated with palm branches according to local custom, between two ministers with lighted candles. then follow the Deacon carrying the Book of the Gospels, the Priest with the ministers, and, after them, all the faithful carrying branches. As the Procession moves forward, the following or other suitable chants in honor of Christ the King are sung by the choir and people.”
“When the Priest arrives at the altar, he venerates it and, if appropriate, incenses it. Then he goes to the chair, where he puts aside the cope, if he has worn one, and puts on the chasuble. Omitting the other Introductory Rites of the Mass and, if appropriate, the Kyrie (Lord, have mercy), he says the collect of the Mass, and then continues the Mass in the usual way.”
The 1988 circular letter Paschalis Sollemnitatis also has the following observations:
“29. The commemoration of the entrance of the Lord into Jerusalem has, according to ancient custom, been celebrated with a solemn procession, in which the faithful in song and gesture imitate the Hebrew children who went to meet the Lord, singing ‘Hosanna.’
“The procession may take place only once, before the Mass that has the largest attendance, even if this should be in the evening of either Saturday or Sunday. The congregation should assemble in a secondary church or chapel or in some other suitable place distinct from the church to which the procession will move.
“In this procession, the faithful carry palm or other branches. The priest and the ministers, also carrying branches, precede the people.
“The palms or branches are blessed so that they can be carried in the procession. The palms should be taken home, where they will serve as a reminder of the victory of Christ, which they celebrated in the procession.
“Pastors should make every effort to ensure that this procession in honor of Christ the King be so prepared and celebrated that it is of great spiritual significance in the life of the faithful.”
Thus, in normal circumstances, the priest is toward the head of the procession. A similar order of procession is also foreseen for the entrance of the paschal candle into the church for the Easter vigil. This is the reverse of the entrance processions for most Masses, where the priest is at the end. In this latter case, however, the people are already present in the church and only the ministers enter in procession.
There are, however, certain very longstanding local customs, which, although not strictly liturgical, have very deep roots and usually have to be respected.
For example, in many Latin American countries, the procession takes place with the vested priest riding a donkey until he reaches the church door, thus emulating Our Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem. For those unused to this means of transport, it can be a memorable, if not exactly comfortable, experience.
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Readers may send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put the word “Liturgy” in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city, and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.
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