Responsibilities of a Deacon: Proclamation of the Gospel

09-16-2012Weekly ReflectionDeacon Stephen Kern

Dear Parish Family:

When Fr. Tim left for his studies, he asked certain staff members to write the bulletin letters in his absence. I was very ex-cited to be asked to contribute, and so this is my first attempt. Actually, since I am writing in place of Fr. Tim, you could say that I am writing in persona Christy (credit to my son Kevin for that one).

Seriously, I would like to reflect a bit on one of the prime responsibilities of a deacon: the proclamation of the Gospel. The Gospel holds a special place in the Liturgy of the Word, that part of the Mass where we hear the Word of God. In the case of the Gospel, it is not just the Word of God, but words spoken by The Word, Jesus. The specialness of the Gospel is evident right from the opening procession of the Mass where the Book of Gospels is carried in by the deacon, raised high so that you have an idea of its significance. As he enters the sanctuary, the deacon places the Book of Gospels on the altar, signifying to the assembly that Christ - who will become present on the altar in the bread and wine - is already present in the Gospel.

After the second reading, it is time for the Gospel to be proclaimed. Because of its importance, there is a procession. In some Masses at our church (for example, those in which there is no music) it may be as simple as the deacon just raising the Book of Gospels as he walks from the altar to the ambo. On the other hand, there are special occasions when the procession of the Gospel will involve candle bearers and incense. Since this is a procession, a song is appropriate: this is the Gospel Acclamation which announces the Gospel with "Alleluia" (except during Lent when a different text is used). As this is being sung, you may see the deacon who will proclaim the Gospel bow as he asks the priest for a blessing.

The deacon has been set apart by the Church for the special ministry of proclaiming the Gospel. The presiding priest does not proclaim the Gospel unless there is no deacon present. Even when a bishop is the presider at Mass, a deacon should pro-claim the Gospel. In general, the deacon is also the one who at liturgical services usually directs the actions of the congrega-tion (e.g., "Let us offer the sign of peace." "Go forth. The Mass is ended.") The fact that this same voice that instructs us as to what to do at Mass also proclaims the Gospel implies that the Gospel is also a call to action for all of us.

Because of the Gospel's importance, we stand during its reading. The Gospel is the only reading that starts with a greeting ("The Lord be with you") and ends with further dialogue between deacon and the people ("Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ"). This is another reminder to us that Christ is present in this reading. At St. Magdalen's, the significance of this is highlighted at most Masses by this dialogue being chanted. You would not mistake any of we three deacons at St. Magdalen as a threat to Josh Groban, but I can attest that all of us take it very seriously, and that we practice those simple chants so that we can sing them to the best of our abilities.

As he is about to begin, the deacon makes the sign of the cross on the Book, and then over his forehead, lips and heart. Hence, we seek to bless the words on the page where we will encounter Christ, the mind that will hear Him and engage Him, the lips that proclaim Him, and the heart that - pray to God - will be changed by Him.

When the reading is over, the deacon kisses the Book in love and reverence, and says this silent prayer: "Through the words of the Gospel, may our sins be wiped away." Again, you will not hear this prayer, but you may see the deacon's lips move as he says it.

I prepare for the Sunday Gospel at the beginning of the weekend. I read it (and the other readings of the Mass) together with two commentaries that help me focus on its significance and how it impacts us today. I usually practice the passage out loud at least a few times before Mass, trying to provide the proper emphases and tone. I pray every Sunday that the Holy Spirit will use me effectively so that you all might get the most out of the proclamation.

In that connection, I am frequently reminded of the admonition of the Bishop that is part of the deacon Ordination Rite. As my fellow newly ordained deacons and I put our hands on the Book of Gospels, he said to each of us: "Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach." Wow! What an awesome responsibility. And what a privilege it is to be tasked with proclaiming the Word of the Lord for all of you.

Deacon Stephen