Scripture Readings During Worship
Sometimes we stand, sometimes we sit, sometimes we say “Thanks be to God,” and other times we say, “Praise to you, Lord Christ.” What’s going on?
Believe it or not, there is some rhyme and reason to the different ways we read and hear Scripture in church, but understanding the various customs requires a little attention to the arcana of church tradition. First, there are different customs for readings at a Eucharist and readings at other services. Second, at a Eucharist, there are special customs for readings from the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that don’t apply when Gospel readings are used at other services.
Morning Prayer, a service we have used at St. Paul’s, is part of the “Daily Office.” The Daily Office refers to daily Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. Some Episcopalians maintain the practice of saying Morning and Evening Prayer every day of the year, either alone, in small groups, or in churches. The readings for the Daily Office are found in the back of the prayer book in a two-year cycle. Any lay person can take the part of the officiant at Morning or Evening Prayer, whether or not a bishop, priest, or deacon is present. When Morning Prayer is said in church, the people are seated for all the readings, whether or not any of them is from one of the Gospels. The reader may end by saying, “The Word of the Lord,” in which case the people respond, “Thanks be to God,” or the reader may say simply, “Here ends the reading,” in which case the people say nothing. Of course, it’s not unusual for somebody to say, “Thanks be to God” by mistake; the longer the reading, the funnier it is to hear someone say “Thanks be to God” as a response to “Here ends the reading.”
Only at the Eucharist is any distinction made between the reading of the Gospels and the reading of other Scripture lessons. At the Eucharist, three lessons are read; the last is always from one of the Gospels and is usually read by a deacon or priest. The first two lessons can be read by anyone. The people sit for these readings and respond by saying, “Thanks be to God” when the reader says, “The Word of the Lord.” The people stand for the reading of the Gospel. Before the reading, the reader says, “The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to” Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, and the people respond “Glory to you, Lord Christ” (if it’s a Rite II service) or “Glory be to thee, O Lord” (if it’s Rite I). After the Gospel, the reader says, “The Gospel of the Lord,” and the people respond “Praise to you, Lord Christ” (Rite II) or “Praise be to thee, O Christ” (Rite I).