Evangelary (Book of Gospels)

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Liturgical book containing selected pericopes (Greek pericope, for a selection "cut around") from the Gospel, arranged in a manner to be read at the Eucharistic Liturgy or Liturgy of the Hours for the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year. Its name comes from the Greek euaggelion, meaning Gospel. The evangeliary emerged as a book separate from the Lectionary in the Eastern churches and was designed for the use of the deacon whose task it is to proclaim the Gospel. While some Evangelaries contained the Gospel readings, others contained only tables indicating passages to be read, as well as the Sundays and Holy Days on which they are to be read. Known to the Greeks as an Evangelistarium, to the Latins as a Capitulare, and elsewhere as a Synaxarium, the name Evangelary, though of recent origin, has been universally adopted. The Evangelaries were highly venerated, and therefore text and cover were often richly ornamented.

Following the custom of the Synagogue, the Scriptures of the Old Testament were read at the primitive Christian assemblies. As the Canon of the New Testament was determined, certain extracts from it were included in these readings. Justin relates that when the Christians met together, they read the Memoirs of the Apostles and the writings of the Prophets (Apol., I, lxvii). Tertullian, Cyprian, and other writers bear witness to the same custom; and in the West the order of lector existed as early as the third century. Particular passages were most likely chosen by the presider and it is clear that on certain festivals, the Scripture relating to them would be read. Gradually a more or less definite list would naturally result from this method.

St. John Chrysostom in a homily delivered at Antioch exhorts his hearers to read beforehand the Scripture passages to be read and commented on in the Office of the day (Homilia de Lazaro, iii, c. i). In like manner other Churches would form a table of readings. In the margin of the ms. text it was customary to note the Sunday or festival on which that particular passage would be read, and at the end of the manuscript, the list of such passages, the Synaxarium or Capitulare, would be added. Transition from this process to the creation of an Evangelary, or collection of all such passages, was easy. Fragments of Evangelaries in Greek date from the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries, but most of the surviving books date from the ninth century onwards. In like manner, there are Lectionaries in the Latin Churches as early as the fifth century. The Comes of the Roman Church dates from before St. Gregory the Great (P.L., XXX, 487532). From the tenth century onwards Gospel lessons, together with the Epistles and prayers, were united in a new liturgical book, called the Missal.

At the time when the various Gospel passages began to be collected in book form for use in liturgical celebrations, the various families of the Gospel text and its translations were already in existence; and those Evangelaries simply reproduce the particular text favored by the Church which compiled it. Since the Second Vatican Council special provision has been made for a Book of Gospels as distinct from the Sacramentary. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states that this liturgical book deserves special veneration. Thus it is to be carried in the entrance procession and may be enthroned on the altar. According to traditional liturgical practice the Book of the Gospels is kissed as a sign of veneration and is incensed in the same way as the Most Blessed Sacrament, relics of the holy Cross, images of the Lord exposed for public veneration, gifts for the sacrifice of the Mass, the altar cross, the paschal candle, the priest and the people.

Bibliography: e. dickmann, a. hedwig, and p. sprang, Das Echternacher Evangelistar Kaiser Heinrichs III.: Staatsund Universitätsbibliothek Bremen Ms. b. 21 / (Wiesbaden 1995). a. von euw, Liber viventium Fabariensis: Das karolingische Memorial-buch von Pfäfers in seiner liturgie-und kunstgeschichtlichen Bedeutung (Bern 1989). b. klÖssel-luckhardt, Das Evangelistar MA 56 des Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museums (Braunschweig 1992). e. palazzo, A History of Liturgical Books from the Beginning to the Thirteenth Century (Collegeville 1993). c. vogel, Medieval Liturgy: An Introduction to the Sources translated and revised by w. storey and n. rasmussen (Washington, DC 1986).

[m. s. driscoll]