Handbook for Readers at Mass

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Handbook for Readers at Mass With guide to pronouncing Bible names

All booklets are published thanks to the generous support of the members of the Catholic Truth Society


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The Ministry of Reading . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Some Practical Hints . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 Reading Aloud . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Pronouncing Bible Names . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

This lector’s handbook is the work of three contributors. Father JD Crichton presents his thoughts on the ministry which the Reader or Lector performs in the Christian community; Fr Reginald C Fuller provides a painstaking practical guide to the pronunciation of the proper names in the Roman Lectionary, while Mrs Marie Anderson contributes a technical but vital section on the art of reading aloud.

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The Ministry of Reading

 One of the most important functions that lay-people can perform in the liturgy is that of Reader. But to understand the importance of that function it is necessary first to consider the place and purpose of the readings in the liturgy. Importance of God’s Word in the Liturgy The Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council speaks of this matter in two places. First it says that ‘Christ is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in church’ (n.7). And again, ‘In the liturgy God speaks to his people and Christ is still proclaiming his gospel’ (n.33). We are familiar enough with the doctrine that Christ is present under the appearances of bread and wine in holy communion; here is the Council saying that he is present in some way in the scriptures when they are read in church. It will help us to understand this if we realise that the Bible is not just a dead book, so many words printed on a great number of pages. It contains the word of God, written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by those God chose for the purpose. But this word comes alive when it is read,

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handed on (tradition) and preached about. This happens principally in liturgical services. It is here that the Holy Spirit is continuing the work of Christ who in his Church ‘is still proclaiming his gospel’. An indication that the Church has realised this for long centuries is the ceremonial and dialogue that accompanies the proclamation of the gospel. There is the procession, the carrying of lights and the solemn introduction to which the people respond ‘Glory to you, Lord’. The Lord is present in his word. Another way of looking at the matter is this. The purpose of the readings (and homily) at Mass is to open the minds and hearts of the people so that they may receive the word in faith. Faith comes by hearing, said St Paul (Rm 10:14-17), and when we listen to God’s word, God nourishes and strengthens our faith. If we go further and meditate on the word, as the responsorial psalm invites us to do, then God’s love will become active in our hearts. In a word, God offers us his grace through the reading of his word in the liturgy and if our hearts are open, he moves us to believe in him and to love him. Reading as a ministry Since this is so, we can understand why it is that the Church calls the function of reading in the liturgy a ministry: ‘Servers, readers, commentators and those who belong to the choir exercise a genuine liturgical ministry’ (‘ministerio’; n.29). What this is can be discerned from

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looking at another statement in the Constitution: ‘The liturgy is rightly considered to be the exercise of the priestly office of Jesus Christ... (in it) the entire public worship is performed by the mystical body of Jesus Christ, that is by the Head and his members.’ All active participation in the liturgy is a sharing in the priesthood of Christ to whom we are conformed in baptism (n.14) and the office of reader is a special sharing in the priesthood of Christ who, as we are reminded in the celebration of baptism, is priest, king and prophet, that is Teacher, the one who proclaimed his Father’s word. This then is the basis of the ministry of the reader. This special sharing in the priesthood of Christ can be seen more clearly if we examine another document of the Council, the Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests. There it is said that ‘Since no one can be saved who has not first believed, priests as co-workers with their bishops have as their primary duty the proclamation of the gospel of God to all. In this way they fulfil the Lord’s command: “Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 15:16). Thus they establish and build up the people of God’ (no.4). The reader then can be said to have some share in the preaching ministry of the priest. No doubt this is a humbler task. Unless he (or she) is specially commissioned, he may not break the bread of the word to the people in liturgical, services. But his participation is nonetheless real. He (or she) continues the

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proclamation of God’s word in the church and thus becomes the instrument of Christ and of his grace that is offered through the reading. The commissioned reader There is yet another consideration that enhances the role of the lay-reader. By the Motu proprio of Pope Paul VI (Ministeria quaedam, 1972, iii, p.9) the old ‘minor order’ of lector was replaced by the ‘lesser ministry’ of reader and the document says that this may be committed to a layperson without his necessarily being instituted to the office or without his having any intention to proceed to the diaconate or priesthood. It is here that we learn what the ministry of the lay-reader at its fullest could be. The reader can perform quite important functions in the life of the Church: 1. Reads the lessons in liturgical services (with the exception of the gospel). 2. May lead the people in the recitation or singing of the responsorial psalm. 3. May announce the ‘intentions’ of the Prayers of the Faithful (Bidding Prayer). 4. May direct the singing of the people and stimulate them to active participation. 5. May instruct others and prepare them for the reception of the sacraments. 6. May prepare and instruct others for the ministry of reading.

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The purpose of detailing these functions here is not to suggest that every reader should be commissioned to perform them but to show that the reader has a teaching function in the Church. It may be added that even if he is never commissioned by the bishop to take it up, he should be conscious of his role as teacher when he is reading in church. The word of God, we read in the letter to the Hebrews, is like a sharp two-edged sword that pierces to the inmost part of our being and the humble reader is wielding that sword. Preparation for the ministry of reading Since then the ministry of reading is so important, it is not surprising that the Church urges suitable preparation for it. Speaking of those who are to perform various ministries in the liturgy the Constitution urges that they should be helped to understand the nature of the liturgy as a whole, the meaning of their own office, and that they should be trained (n.29). The reader, then, needs in particular to understand the role of God’s word in the liturgy, of which we have spoken above. But the whole matter can be summed up briefly in the classical phrase – we are saved by faith and the sacraments of faith. The reader plays his part in stimulating faith. It will be helpful too if he understands that as far as the Mass is concerned, it is made up of two parts, the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the eucharist but that, according to the

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Constitution (n.56), they constitute one whole act of worship. The reading of God’s word is not an optional extra or something to be ‘got through’ as quickly as possible. It is part of that one act of worship. If he is to perform his function properly the reader needs to have an adequate knowledge of the Bible. If this seems a tall order, we need to recall that the Constitution on the Liturgy (n.24) urges that all Catholics should acquire a taste for and a lively appreciation of holy scripture. The practical reason for such a knowledge on the part of the reader is that the readings Sunday by Sunday are extracts from various books of the Bible and they have a context which frequently throws light on the meaning of the passage to be read. A snippet from 1 Corinthians 15 (Sixth Sunday of Year C) can only be understood if the whole chapter is read. Where the Old Testament is concerned, it is even more important to examine the context for the extracts are taken from a great variety of places. Some are from narratives, some are from the prophets and some from the Wisdom literature which all have their special character. The reader then should possess a Bible and part of his preparation will be to look up the passage in its context. If he uses the Jerusalem Bible (the version used in most churches) in the full edition, with introductions and notes, he will find it an invaluable aid to understanding the Bible.

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Knowledge by itself is however not sufficient. Ministeria quaedam urges the reader to acquire a love of holy scripture so that he may become a better follower of Jesus Christ. This will come from pondering it and praying about it. Possibly this is a little unfamiliar to the modern Catholic who has been used to different kinds of devotion but it is what the church is asking of him if he is to perform his ministry in the church and to play his part in leading his fellow-Christians to God. To be severely practical, it should not be impossible for the reader to bring his book (whether Bible or lectionary) to church, there to meditate on the passage he is to read the next Sunday and finally to pray about it.

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Some Practical Hints

 It will be clear from what has been said above that the reader is essentially a communicator. He (or she) stands before the people to convey to them the word of God. His first concern then must be that his reading is intelligible and the first step in his preparation must be a psychological one. Like a preacher, he has to reach out mentally to the people to whom he wishes to communicate the message of the day. He has to remember the very varied composition of any church congregation, the older people whose minds move more slowly than others’, the hard-of-hearing, the mother with restless children and yet others who are (still) somewhat detached observers. He has to reach them and if he realises this, then the pitch of his voice, the phrasing of the sentences and his whole attitude are likely to be right. Secondly, the reader must be audible. This however is not to be thought of in terms of noise. A loud-voiced reader who does not articulate properly will be as inaudible as a weak-voiced reader who cannot get his voice down the church. Audibility depends on a careful articulation of words and that mental quality we have

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