Guidelines for Lectors
(updated January 2016)
“Faith comes through hearing” (Romans 10:17), as Saint Paul tells us. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, and so Saint Jerome said truly that “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
In the Church’s liturgy, God speaks to His people today in the Scriptures, the Word of God living and active among us. Lectors are given the privilege of proclaiming the Word in the midst of the assembly. God continues to speak to us, using human voices, just as He did through Christ, the Word made flesh, so that we could encounter the saving love of the Father in a way suited to our human condition.
Proclaiming the Word effectively in the liturgy requires sincere faith, diligent preparation, personal understanding, and the skills of public speaking. These guidelines serve as a common point of reference for lectors as we worship together in faith. If you have any questions about these norms or other concerns about your ministry, please let me know. May the Lord bless you and those you love.
- Check the schedule in advance for the times you are scheduled to lector. If you are not able to be present for that Mass, please find a substitute. If you cannot find a substitute, please call the parish office in a timely manner so that we can make arrangements. If you need to be taken off the schedule for a time, please let the parish secretary know.
- You are asked to continue to wear dignified, modest clothing appropriate for Mass and in particular, for this public role of service.
- Preparation is very important. During the week prior to reading at Mass, read over the passages you will proclaim several times. Many find it helpful to read them out loud to get a sense of the meaning of the Scriptures and the flow of the ideas and language used. There are difficult passages and unusual expressions in the Scriptures, written within a time and culture different from our own. So it is a good rule never to proclaim something you don’t understand; please do not be afraid to ask if you have questions about terms, phrases, or pronunciations.
- Proclaiming the Word requires that you speak clearly, distinctly, slowly, with good volume and articulation. Have the microphone directly in front of your mouth when reading. Breathe from the diaphragm, pace yourself, and be careful not to drop the ends of words and do not let your voice drop at the end of sentences.
- The Proclamation of the Word is a liturgical action. While it should convey the emotional sense of the text – whether it is poetry, lamentation, rejoicing, exhortation, a plea for God’s help, etc. – it is not a dramatic reading. The intention is to convey the Word of God as presented by the inspired authors.
- Raise your eyes from the page to make eye contact several times during the reading. When you understand the Word yourself, you can speak it with true conviction and thus be convincing to others. Be willing to accept feedback from others about how well your voice carries; it is hard to tell when at the microphone.
- Please come to the sacristy at least ten minutes before Mass to review the Intercessions and any announcements, to get any special instructions for the day’s liturgy, and to pray together.
- The lector will ordinarily carry in the Book of Gospels (if there is a deacon serving, he will carry the Book instead, and you will not be part of the procession). The servers will go first, you will follow, and the celebrant will follow you. Hold the Book high so you can see where you are going. When you arrive in front of the altar, step to the left, and make a reverent bow from the waist while Father (and the servers) genuflect. Place the book in the clear plastic stand on the altar, bow to the altar again, and go to your chair. (If the book stand is not there, simply lay the book in the middle of the altar.)
- As soon as the Opening Prayer of Mass is finished and Father is seated, come to the ambo (sometimes known as pulpit or lectern).
- Note that the introduction to the readings should simply be what is written in the Lectionary: “A reading from …” (for example, “A reading from the Letter of Paul to the Galatians.” Do not say, “Our first reading is …”, or “Today’s second reading is taken from …” or any such variation.
- The conclusion of the reading is simply, “The Word of the Lord.” Again, no variation is approved.
- After the conclusion of each reading, allow a time of silence (five seconds … count out “One thousand one, one thousand two …” or say a Glory Be) before beginning the Psalm and the Second Reading.
- In case of doubt, check with the musician(s) before Mass begins about whether the Responsorial Psalm will be entirely sung, entirely recited, or have a sung refrain but spoken verses.
- The same is true for the Alleluia, with the exception that if the Alleluia itself is not sung, it is simply omitted; the “Alleluia” itself is never recited, even on weekdays. Do not begin the Alleluia until the celebrant stands for the Gospel.
- After you have read the Alleluia verse, bow to the altar, and then return to your seat. On weekends, you will place the Lectionary in its appropriate place so that the Book of Gospels can be used at the ambo. [At Holy Spirit: on the table by the organ; at St. Anthony and St. John Cantius, on the shelf in the ambo.]
- You will continue to proclaim the Prayer of the Faithful (also called Universal Prayer, General Intercessions or petitions) as usual; if the deacon is serving, he normally reads these instead. Come to the ambo as soon as the Profession of Faith is concluded, while the celebrant is introducing the Prayer of the Faithful. When you read the last petition, worded something like: “For our own prayers, which we now call to mind in silence …” pause for 4-5 seconds (perhaps another Glory Be or a Hail Mary); and then conclude, “We pray to the Lord.”
- There is no need for you to join in the recessional at the end of Mass, since the Book of the Gospels is not carried out.
I include for your reference the following paragraphs from the Liturgy Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
What about inclusive language? The new Lectionary strives for maximum possible fidelity to the biblical text. When that text is not gender specific, the new Lectionary is not gender specific. When the text is gender specific, the new Lectionary is gender specific. While certain tools are appropriate to achieve such inclusivity (for example, whoever, the one, anyone, etc…), other tools (for example, change of person and number) change the meaning of the biblical text. The new Lectionary never changes the biblical text in order to make it more “inclusive.”
May a reader change the text in proclamation? No. Just as the Church is obliged to faithfully proclaim the Bible as it has been passed on, the reader is obliged to faithfully proclaim the biblical text exactly as it appears in the Lectionary for Mass. The homily is the proper place to explain biblical texts which are unclear or appear to be inconsistent with contemporary sensitivities. We can never change the Bible, because it is the Word of God.