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Out of the question: The Gospel last?

by
29 June 2012

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Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.

On occasion (as recently at Pente­cost), the events described in the lectionary's Gospel reading chrono­logically precede what is described in other readings of the day. Is there any liturgical authority for the Gospel to be read first?

It must be remembered that the criterion used to arrange the eu­charistic readings has not been the order of the biblical canon or the time sequence of events recorded in the scriptures; otherwise, the Acts of the Apostles would, at least on occasions such as Pentecost, come last - the possibility suggested by the questioner.

This cannot be authorised, be­cause in all liturgies, from the fourth-century Antiochene Apos­tolic Constitutions onwards, there has been a strict rule that the final reading shall be from the Gospels, and, just as in a procession of clerics the highest in rank comes last, so, too, in the series of readings, there­by highlighting the centrality of the Gospel as the "good news" that fulfils the past and, in the words of Christ, addresses the present and future life of the People of God.

At the climax of the Liturgy of the Word, in the Gospel we en­counter Christ, the Living Word of God, to whom honour is given, not least by standing to hear its pro­clamation.

(Canon) Terry Palmer

Magor Monmouthshire

As a general principle, this is what always happens: the Old Testament reading (if any) of course precedes the New, but the epistle is about life in the Primitive Church, while the Gospel is about the life of Christ, which, though often written later, looks back half a century or so to an earlier period.

The earliest liturgical guides are silent on the readings (Didache, AD c.95) or ambiguous (Justin, c.160, and Hippolytus, c.205). Early se­quences are: Old Testament or Acts, (Pauline) epistle, Acts, trisagion, and Gospel (Egyptian Anaphora of St Basil).

The Reformation introduced new sequences. For example, Zwingli's Action and Use of the Lord's Supper of 1525 had the sermon well before the epistle and Gospel readings, while Martin Bucer's Complete Church Practice of 1539 had only a psalm followed by the Gospel and sermon. Fortunately, Arch­bishop Cranmer was more con­serva­tive.

I know of no case where the Gospel is read before the other readings.

Christopher Haffner (Reader)

East Molesey, Surrey

Are there any churches where the Prayer Book baptism service is still in regular use? If so, do parents request it, or is it the priest's prefer­ence?

Our services are mainly Prayer Book, although we also use Com­mon Worship. For baptisms, we ask the candidate (or the infant's parents) which service they would prefer. Most choose Common Wor­ship, but some opt for the Prayer Book.

(The Revd) Alan Isaacson

High Bradfield, Sheffield

Four years ago, when I came to faith in Christ, aged 19, and having be­come very fond of the Prayer Book as a living and relevant form of liturgy, I requested the form of Baptism for those of Riper Years, believing that it put into words exactly what I wanted to profess and promise.

This was the first time in more than two decades of ordained ministry that my priest had used the rite, and also that anyone present, including several other priests, had witnessed it. In our rural Sussex parish, where matins and evensong are the primary services, the Com­mon Worship rite of baptism is solely used, and no alternative is given.

Benjamin Tyler
Sussex

Even though our church normally has two priests present, our new vicar has replaced the parish eu­charist on the first Sunday of the month with a family service, and replaced the eucharist on the third Sunday with matins "to create consumer-choice variety". He refused his NSM's offer to celebrate a eucharist on those days at an earlier time, "as it will divide the congregation". Now we have been informed that his actions are in breach of canon law. Is this correct? We do not wish to go the same way as a neighbouring church that is now in rapid decline after ten years of a similar experi­ment.

What are the duties of a royal chap­lain? B. R.

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