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The Last Gospel

2011 August 9
by Gordon Reid

After the “Go in Peace” and the Blessing, anyone not used to the old form of the Mass would think it was all over. But not so.

In every Mass, the Last Gospel is then read. And funnily enough, the Last Gospel is usually the First Words of the Gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. This is what John thought was the best introduction to the Good News he was about to tell.

The first sentences are heavenly, set in the realm of Creation. The Word is the creator of all things; he is Life and Light for all mankind; the primeval darkness is conquered by his Light.

And then we zooms down to earth. “There was a man sent from God , whose name was John”. Wow! Talk about bathos! But then John the Evangelist has to make clear to his readers that this John (the Baptist) was not the Light he was talking about, but a witness to that light. And the Greek word for witness was “martyrion”, and not one of his first readers would be unaware of the awful fate of John the Baptist as the first Martyr/Witness to Jesus.

Then John goes on to make the vast claim the Jesus was “the true light that lighteneth every man that cometh into the world”. EVERY person – not just the Jews, but every nation was given light by the Word of God. St Paul says the same when he says that every person knows good through the natural law. Jesus was “in the world, and the world was made ┬áby him, and the world knew him not” – it’s like Christopher Wren being stopped at the door and being told that only authorised people could enter St Paul’s Cathedral! Imagine the verger’s red face – so imagine the Jews’ red face! “He came unto his own, and his own received him not”. Oops!

But then John says that those who did receive him, those who recognised their Maker and Redeemer, were given power. Their batteries were charged so that they had the divine energy of God. to become not slaves, not even friends, but Children of God, entirely through God’s free gift. A possibility for everyone!

Then comes the most wonderful sentence of all, when all the talk about the Word, the Logos, the great creative energy of God, says what no Greek or Hebrew philosophy had ever said: “THE WORD BECAME FLESH, AND DWELT AMONG US”. That is when we fall to our knees in adoration, as John himself had done with his brother James and their friend Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration. There (and here at the end of the Mass) “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”.

What more can the Congregation say than “Thanks be to God.”? Then we stagger into the world he made, hopefully trailing some of that glory with us.

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Stephen permalink
    August 9, 2011

    Wonderful discussion on The Last Gospel, Father!When I read that the Novus Ordo Missae was undergoing a nip here and a tuck there, I was hoping they might restore The Last Gospel! Such does not seem to be the case, but the new usage which is being rolled out this Advent is a definite improvement over the 1970 Missal. Thank God!

  2. Precentor permalink
    August 9, 2011

    We, of course, at Norwich are loyal to the liturgical formularies of the Church of England. So, at the end of the High Mass (Midnight Maas of Christmas) the deacon goes in procession through the length of the nave, the great west doors are flung open and the Last Gospel is proclaimed facing outwards to the City and the world.
    As Chairman of the Times and Seasons group of the Liturgical Commission I oversaw the restoration of what we called “Dismissal Gospels” for the major Dominical feasts of the Church Year so Common Worship now officially embodies this liturgical action.

  3. August 29, 2011

    A great post, Father. I’ve heard the Last Gospel read in two different churches: my home parish (All Saints Ashmont, in Boston) reads it once a year at the end of the Christmas Eve mass (the regular Gospel is from Luke, and then the John 1:1-14 reading at the end). I’ve also been to a Continuing Anglican (ACC) parish in Michigan where they read it at the end of every Mass (even on weekdays).

    I love it, and I wish more churches would add supplementary devotions (the Last Gospel, the Angelus, or others) at the end of the mass.

    The line, “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, yet the world knew him not” is something I meditate on every Good Friday.

  4. August 29, 2011

    Incidentally, since you said John 1 is ‘usually’ the Last Gospel, what are the other alternative Last Gospel readings?

    • September 6, 2011

      Sorry to take so long to reply, but I’ve been in England. If you have had a special Mass on a Sunday for some reason or another, then the Last Gospel is that of the Sunday you knocked out.

  5. +Peter Robinson permalink
    September 2, 2011

    We use the last Gospel when we use the Missal, which would be principally midweek when there is no provision in the 1928 BCP. The magic moment for me is the Christmas High Mass when you complete the story, as it were, by reading the Epiphany Gospel as the Last Gospel.


  6. Bromartin permalink
    September 3, 2011

    THE comprehensive statement of our faith in Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, true God and true man.

  7. Joe Bedell permalink
    September 5, 2011

    I’ve been to Mass exactly once at St. Clement’s, on a Tuesday morning a few years ago. Fr. Reid said the Last Gospel from memory. A double blessing! I use it as my post-communion prayer, but don’t have it memorized completely yet.

    St. Clement’s is a light to the (wired) world!

  8. James Fitzgerald permalink
    January 30, 2013

    I seem to recall that in the 1962 the “Last Gospel” and also the Psalm “Judica” at the foot of the altar were suppressed. How have they reappeared in the 62 edition?

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