ASK FATHER: Priest with bad eyes has a woman read the Gospel at Mass

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

Recently, while we were away on a vacation, my husband, children and I attended a NO Mass as that was what was available to us at our vacation destination. At the time the Gospel was to be read, the presiding Priest said that the Deacon had tested positive for COVID-19 that morning, so was not there to read the Gospel and instead the lay person, a woman, who had just read aloud the second reading would proclaim the Gospel. After she read the Gospel, the Priest came to give his homily, and before beginning provided the explanation that his eye sight is poor and he can’t read the small print of the Gospel, showing the congregation his homily notes which were printed for him in rather large font.

It has always been my understanding that in the presence of a Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, a lay person is not permitted to proclaim the Gospel. I understand that there were unusual circumstances afoot what with a Priest with poor eyesight and a Deacon unavailable owing to illness. I know that there was another Priest in the Church building during Mass, as he came out of the confessional during announcements at the end of Mass to remind people that he was there hearing confessions and the opportunity for confession would continue after Mass as long as the people needed.

Still, I am left uneasy by the laywoman proclaiming the Gospel during Mass. I wonder if it was licit for her to do so and what other solutions could have been found under such circumstances.

Thank you for all you do, Father Z. I remember you daily in my prayers and thank God that I came to find your blog, as it was instrumental in my re/conversion.

GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson

It is not licit for a layperson, man or woman, to read the Gospel. The Mass was still (presumptively) valid, but this is something that should not have happened. Still, one has to take into consideration the circumstances. If the priest truly can’t read the Gospel (though one wonders, if this is an ongoing situation, why doesn’t the parish have a large-print lectionary or evangelary? – perhaps such could be a welcome gift from parishioners, or even someone passing through on vacation), then it sounds like he made do the best he could, or at least, the best he thought he could. The other priest, who was hearing confessions could have (and perhaps should have) come out for the brief time needed to proclaim the Gospel, but still, it’s good that he was engaged in priestly ministry, hearing confessions and thus saving the world, rather than simply sitting back in the rectory cracking a beer and catching up on Tivoed baseball games. The priest who was offering Mass, who had obviously prepared a homily, surely could recite a line or two from the Gospel by memory, even if it wasn’t the Gospel of the day, apologizing to the congregation for his lack of ability to read the fine print.

At the end of the day, this was illicit, but not the sort of thing that would seem to require a phone call to the bishop’s office and rallying the pitchfork and torch brigade outside the rectory. It seems to me the best resolution to this scenario would be for a well-meaning parishioner, or vacationer, to purchase for Father a large-print lectionary, lest the scenario repeat itself.

FR. Z RESPONSE:

I get that “things happen” and sometimes those things are truly at 11:59.  I really do.  Still, I’m having a hard time buying the priest’s scenario and explanation.   If Father could have “homily notes which were printed for him in rather large font”, then he could also have the Gospel reading “printed for him in rather large font”.

It might be interesting to see if this is some sort of running gag that he regularly uses precisely in order to get a woman to read the Gospel.   Still, having a priest hearing confessions at that time rather militates against that.

That’s pretty cynical of me, isn’t it.  Such are the days we are in.  Keep in mind some recently posted videos of crazy goings-on in churches.

For sure, it would help to have a large-print book for Father.  That’s an investment that should be made right away. In the interim, print out the readings for him head of time just in case.

Finally, there will never be sacramentally ordained female deacons.   Can’t happen.

 

 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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22 Comments

  1. phlogiston says:

    Reading the gospel today. The canon tomorrow? I admit that’s cynical of me also, but as you say, such are the days we are in.

  2. Littlemore says:

    Father, thank you for this clarification. Years ago, we has an assistant priest (now laicised), who suffered from a stammer, and struggled whilst saying Mass. We had a discussion at home after the curate had said Mass and my father said that a lay person could read the text, but the priest had to announce ?the continuation of the Gospel according to..?
    I don’t know if he was making this up or had been told this from his brother who was a major seminary prof and scripture scholar, my uncle was always cerebral and not suited for parish life, as I understood.
    As I’ve become more interested in Catholic life, occasionally I’ve wondered if the above was what was taught in the 60s.

  3. Rob83 says:

    If the Deacon always does it, I can get forgetting about this if it just happens once. There was once a priest put in the spot of offering an NO Mass at a place and time where an EF was said and he was a bit lost and flustered that he had no lector and had to proclaim all the readings and psalm himself.

  4. Michaela says:

    We do the tedious “repeat after me” setup for matrimonial consent, so why not in this case if indeed there be necessity? While the priest coming out of the confessional would be ideal, it seems at least licit for someone (like a server?) to be the priest’s eyes. He could feed Fr. one line at a time, which he announces clara voce.

  5. JPCahill says:

    Perhaps he wouldn’t need to invest in a new lectionary. I well remember the late Cardinal McIntyre after his retirement celebrating Mass using a very large magnifying glass.

  6. Fr. John says:

    Orthodox priest interloper opinion. I agree that that shouldn’t have happened but also suspect he was being honest and had good intentions. The fact that the parish has a deacon, who would normally be the one to read the Gospel, and that he seemed apologetic, makes think he didn’t know what to do on the fly. I’m also curious what would be the correct way to handle that in Catholic theology.

    To be honest, I’ve never thought about what we would do in that case. I imagine we’d probably have one of the ordained subdeacons or tonsured readers do it, even though it would normally be above their role. I know if a priest with a broken hand who got the bishop’s blessing to have the deacon carry a few things liturgically that are normally done by the priest, so perhaps it’s analogous?

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    If worst came to worst, and you didn’t have large font printing or a large font book, wouldn’t it be more logical for the reader to just prompt Father, like a prompter reading from the script for an actor to repeat?

    I suppose Father could have bad hearing also, but….

    Also, don’t most parish offices have photocopiers still? Just copy the lectionary with really big magnification, and you’re golden.

    Of course, it’s possible that everybody was just freaked out about the deacon getting sick, and nobody had had their coffee yet. It’s probably easier for me to think of such things, because I’m sitting on my butt without the whole congregation waiting on me.

  8. Suburbanbanshee says:

    All that said… those light-up magnifying glasses with the LED lights are really cheap, and really handy. You can use them for all sorts of non-intended purposes, as well as allowing someone with bad eyes to read small print easily.

    If you are in a parish with older folks helping out, it might be a good idea to buy some and stash them around the parish’s activity areas, like in the kitchen, the sacristy, the parish office, etc.

  9. IaninEngland says:

    Maybe he could have used a magnifying glass?

  10. Deus Vult says:

    I was with a missionary priest who wanted the congregation to be able to understand the Last Gospel. While he quietly read it in Latin at the altar, he had a member of the congregation read it in the local language.

    Is such a thing permissible?

  11. iamlucky13 says:

    This is not really necessary, because the suggestions in both Fathers’ responses are reasonable and apparently sufficient, but the fact that we’re talking about physical disability reminded me of the the case of St. Isaac Jogues.

    I suspect many here are familiar with the story, but for those who are not: while serving as a missionary to the Huron native Americans, he was captured by the Mohawks, and brutally tortured, including having them gnaw off his fingertips and cut off of one of his thumbs. After a long, brutal captivity, he escaped and returned to Europe. The Pope himself gave him a dispensation from the rubric mandating the Host be held by the thumb and forefinger, so that he could continue to offer Mass.

  12. Cafea Fruor says:

    This reminds me of the time I was at a convent’s Mass and Father started looking very ashen grey and having trouble breathing and speaking. Turned out he had the flu, which he didn’t realize yet (he’d thought it was a cold, and this was an early morning Mass, so he hadn’t been trying to talk until Mass), and that plus his COPD made for a bad situation. Father looked several times like he was going to pass out. He nodded to a sister for her to come read the Gospel while he sat and tried to get his breath, and then he struggled through the rest of Mass and barely made it. Right after Mass, someone whisked him away to the emergency room, and he was admitted to the hospital.

    Of course, Father should probably have realized he was so sick and canceled Mass (it was a weekday anyway) rather than start it in the first place. But since he did start it, what should have really happened when his condition deteriorated so quickly during Mass? Could he have done a very truncated version of the Gospel? Should Father have stopped Mass and another priest have been called in to finish? Something else?

  13. I faced a somewhat similar situation earlier this year. I was sick frequently over several months; nothing serious, but a bout of Covid and several colds. Several times I was very low energy and had difficult speaking without coughing on some occasions.

    Under the circumstances, I used the briefest Eucharistic prayer; I don’t like doing it, but I had three Sunday Masses. I had other people distribute the Holy Eucharist. And I would have liked someone else to have read the homily I prepared, but there is, as far as I know, no provision for that; and a homily is required on Sundays.

  14. Ceile De says:

    Couldnt a lay person read it out phrase by phrase just quietly to father and then he loudly proclaim it as the official reading? We knew an old priest whose eyesight was bad. For his 50th priestly anniversary he had an ear piece and someone in sacristy read out his parts to him as a kind of speaking book and he then proclaimed them aloud.

  15. Littlemore says:

    Cafea Fruor says:

    16 June 2022 at 9:38 PM

    Father have stopped Mass and another priest have been called in to finish? Something else?

    This is the same as our priest saying Mass ?in order to finish the Mass that Fr Jacques Hamel was saying when he was stabbed in 2016. Father explained that all over the world, priests would be completing the Mass for Fr Hamel. Is this a correct understanding?

  16. Concerned_Catholic says:

    I believe there are many solutions rather tahn doing something illicit.

    1. The priest hearing confessions could have paused doing that and come and read the Gospel.

    2. If the priest-celebrant had his homily printed out in a large font that could have been done for the Gospel.

    3. A large print lectionary could have been purchased. After all if the priest’s eyesight is such then this wouldn’t be the only occasion he’d struggle using it.

    4. He could go to see his optometrist and see if his lenses can be changed to enable him to read smaller fonts.

    5. If the need arises occasionally he could use a magnifying glass.

  17. It could be that some of you are over thinking this, as in bringing in Fr. Hamel, whom I believe to be a martyr. This is not the same as a priest dying during Mass after or between consecrations and having to have another priest come in. If this was an isolated incident, the world didn’t crumble and trumpets were not sounded in the East.

  18. Tradster says:

    Assuming he innocently recruited a lay person then he should at least have selected a male from the congregation. That he chose a female to do the readings does hint at an agenda.

  19. Imrahil says:

    This, under the circumstances as described, is in the category of “illicit but no big deal”.

    Interesting questions what ought to have been done. In this case, obviously, getting the other priest out of the Confessional; but if there hadn’t been one? Maybe even use the rule from pre-conciliar times that blind (in this case, sort-of blind) priests can say a Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin, with a gospel they perhaps know by heart?

    Dear @Fr Fox, I think you would have been perfectly within your rights to have someone else read out your homily, giving the explanation “illness of voice” before. The question is here not whether there is a provision that allows it, but whether there is a provision that explicitly bans it, and I don’t think there is; all the more since the Sermon is the least-rubricked part of Mass (what the preconciliar terminology calls “an interruption of Mass proper”) anyway. In fact, even the requirement itself of having homilies on Sundays is, I’m sure, not as strict as not to allow illness exceptions.

  20. Kathleen10 says:

    Tangential point, but iamlucky13, the example you mention of the atrocities committed by native tribes against the white settlers and missionaries will not be mentioned in future history books, but scrubbed to fit the narrative.

  21. Charivari Rob says:

    It seems like a reasonable solution in the circumstances – especially not knowing why the other priest didn’t do it.
    I can’t see a line-by-line whispering of the text by some other person to the priest to repeat as best befitting the Gospel.
    Some of the other comments/suggestions are somewhat incomplete, putting the onus on the priest for not choosing some other solution.

    We don’t know how late word came of the deacon’s unavailability – that affects time to come up with something better.
    Yes, he had prepared large-print homily notes – possibly during the week, and maybe his computer was unavailable to him at that point Sunday morning.
    Yes, a priest in such circumstances generally should have accommodations available to him – large-print edition (if that works), tablet or something with screen reader & earbud, specialized lighted magnifier… We don’t even know if this was his regular parish (where more of this backup would be readily available).
    We don’t know his actual eye condition, how severe, how new to him (or not), temporary or not, what adaptive skills he does or doesn’t yet have.

    oh – and give him credit… It sounds as if he had the rest of the Mass memorized.

  22. mo7 says:

    Perhaps she could have fed him the gospel lines sotto voce for him to proclaim out loud.

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