27 November 2008


'Stand up', the nagging deacon of the Byzantine Rite reminds us just before the Gospel. And so we should, as the soundwaves in the church are transsubstantiated into the true and very voice of the Rabbi from Nazareth. But in C of E tradition, we don't; at least, we don't when the NT reading at Mattins or Evensong is a Gospel reading. But we were all put to shame the other evening. All right-thinking people from anywhere near Oxford had gathered for Pontifical Solemn Evensong, Procession of the Blessed Sacrament, and Pontifical Benediction in the Church of S John the Evangelist in Hinksey. (What a superb occasion; Fr Wilkinson organised it to coincide with the blessing of his new Christus Rex; and Fr Ward, who runs our seminary, preached with his usual wit and elegance and learning. How can anybody possibly want to belong to the poor sad expiring Diocese of Oxford when such splendours are on offer on the sandbanks of Ebbsfleet? Though there were things to make us sad - such as the sight of the S Mary Mags ombrellino, vexillum and reminder of even happier days when that church was the Catholic centre of Oxford and before the arid heterodoxies of the wybrew incumbency.)

So when we got to the NT reading in Evensong, we all slumped, Anglicans to a woman, while a passage from S Matthew was read. All except for the Pontiff himself, his deacons, and the Altar Party. They stood; and so they should. And so should we have done.

In the rites, old and new, of the Western Church, the Gospels are not usually read at the Divine Office. This in itself is a significant fact: it says that there is something special about the Gospel words of the Incarnate Word; that they should not be cheapened by being used lightly or sprung on us as apparently chance and equivalent alternatives to the other parts of Scripture. Where a Gospel is read in the Office - for example, as the climax of lengthy vigil - it is proclaimed with the proper and traditional rituals to a respectful, attentive and standing church.

Bishop Andrew was right. And surely we should also move to having Gospel readings within the Divine Office proclaimed by a deacon and with candles and incense. You know it makes sense.


The Religious PĂ­caro said...

A caveat: I have been at Orthros services in an Antiochian Orthodox parish where some parishioners approached the priest who was reading the Gospel and knelt around him, while the rest of the congregation stood.

Rubricarius said...

But the Gospel, or a fragment of it in the Roman rite, more in other Western rites, is sung at Mattins and everyone stands for that.