St. Michael's Parish - Cobourg

The Ministry of Lector (Reader) -Homily October 16, 2016

The Ministry of Lector (Reader) -Homily October 16, 2016


Today, we will install the lectors of our parish in a liturgical celebration of recognition. We did something similar recently with the Eucharistic Ministers, and we will do it in the future with other ministries. What is the history of the Lectors, in the Bible and in the tradition of the Church? What are the functions of a reader? What is expected from them, and what is the preparation required? In the following, I will try to answer these questions, referring to the book of Celebrations of Installation and Recognition, edited by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (pp. 87-88).


1. History of the ministry

The Christians continued the Jewish practice of reading the sacred Books publicly (cf. Neh 8:5-9; 1 Tm 3:16-17). The first mention of a Christian liturgical lector (reader) is by St. Justin Martyr (d. about 165). In the early Church, little by little, the readers came to be part of an honourable and dignified class, since they had to be sufficiently educated to be able to read the books in church; in both Eastern and Roman Churches, it became merely a stepping-stone to major orders, and a memory of early days. The Second Vatican Council called for a revision of the ceremonies and texts of the Ordination rites in the Latin Church. In 1972, Paul V1 (1963-1978) abrogated the four minor orders [porter, lector, exorcist and acolyte] and replaced the subdiaconate with lay ministries of lector and acolyte, for lay men and instituted by the diocesan bishop. In practice, this is a parish ministry carried out by those suitably prepared and mandated by the local pastor.


2. Functions

According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, the lector or reader is instituted to proclaim the readings from sacred Scripture from the ambo, with the exception of the Gospel (GIRM no. 99; cf. no. 196). When he or she reads the sacred Scripture in the Church, he or she is the voice of Christ himself who speaks to his own. The lector or reader may also announce the intentions for the universal prayer (general intercessions or prayer of the faithful) from the ambo when no deacon is present (cf. GIRM no. 197; OLM 53) and, in the absence of the psalmist, proclaim the psalm between the readings (cf. GIRM nos. 99, 196).


There are also other functions: If there is no singing at the entrance or at Communion and the antiphons printed in the Missal are not recited by the faithful, the lector may recite them at the appropriate time (GIRM no. 198; cf. nos. 48, 87). Lectors (readers) may also be given the responsibility for assisting in the arrangement of the Liturgy of the Word, and, to the extent necessary, of seeing to the preparation of others of the faithful who may be appointed on a given occasion to read at Mass (OLM 51; cf. OLM 52-55). Although these functions are not usually needed in our parish liturgies at St. Michaels, it is good to know them.


3. Preparation and formation

Jesus himself assumed the service of lector in the synagogue of Nazareth and even went on to expound what he had read (cf. Luke 4.16-22). It is not the function of the reader to do the homily at Mass, but it is true that the reader should be able to explain the scripture he or she is reading. You have to understand what you read for others; and if you understand, you can explain. People notice when a person understands what he reads by the way he reads.


Today, in liturgical celebrations, it is necessary that the one who exercises the ministry of lector, even if he or she has not been formally recognized, commissioned, be truly suited and carefully prepared, so that the faithful may develop a warm and living love for sacred Scripture from listening to the sacred readings (OLM 55; cf. GIRM 101).


This is a point that can never be stressed enough: when a liturgical celebration is not properly prepared, the faith and the fervor of the community is weakened. When you hear an appealing reading, you are inspired to pay attention and to appreciate what is read. The same thing when a homily is well prepared. But when a homily is not well prepared (please be merciful to me!) or a reading is not well read, people get upset, and our love for our religion is threatened. If we see that those who have a function in the service dont make much effort to do a good job, we may ask ourselves: is then Sunday Mass so important? Sunday Mass is the most important thing, and should be the most important thing in the life of a Christian: it is our weekly meeting with our God and Lord. That is why we have to put forward our best effort in making our liturgies perfect. And the first one to say sorry for the times our liturgies are not perfect is myself.


The document underlines three aspects in the formation of the readers:

         Biblical formation: The lectors should be able to understand the readings in context and to perceive by the light of faith the central point of the revealed message (biblical formation), so that by constant reading and continuous meditation, they make their heart a library of Christ. This we should do by means of Biblical workshops at the parish level, or groups of people who gather to study a book of the Bible, for example. I know that in our parish there are some initiatives in this regard. This is important for everyone, how much more for those who read the Scripture for the community.

         Liturgical formation: to have some grasp of the meaning and structure of the Liturgy of the Word and of the significance of its connection with the liturgy of the Eucharist. The leader of our lectors has asked me to do a workshop about this issue months ago. We need to do it, and we can also study the introductions and indications of the liturgical books, particularly the Missal.

         Technical preparation: to be skilled in the art of reading publicly, either with the power of their own voice or with the help of sound equipment, in order to be audible, clear, and intelligible (cf. OLM 14) in transmitting the Word of God properly to the assembly. God willing, Riet Barenbrug, my singing teacher, will come next May to give lessons for public reading and speech. They will be free, so I encourage our readers and those who would like to read to take advantage of it.


Celebration of recognition/commissioning: The ministry of lector (reader) is conferred through a liturgical rite (OLM 51). But there is a difference between the institution of permanent readers, which is presided by the diocesan bishop or the major superior of a clerical religious institute; and the recognition/commissioning of lectors or readers for a defined period of time within the parish community (cf. GIRM n. 101). The latter is what we are doing here today.


I want to thank today the dedication of our readers. May the Lord bless them, so that they may read often the scriptures, be transformed by them, and share with us, by their reading, the life they have received from them. Fr. Andrew