This is but a sharing, culled from 30 odd years in various churches as a lector and commentator and as a professional voice-over and emcee for about the same period.
These days, this ‘experience’ is used to train both in church (for free) and outside the church (for a fee; ha ha)
The Spirit has indeed given us many gifts; and not all have it for the ambo. That doesn't make them unlucky or less gifted; they just have other gifts. And if by some chance they meandered accidentally or otherwise into the Lectors’ ministry, with great love and respect, enlighten and re-direct them.
That would then allow us to accept 2 pretty apparent facts:
There are ‘natural’ attributes
There are ‘nurture-able’ attributes.
If one doesn&apos't have the ‘natural’ attributes, namely a reasonably good microphonic voice, some stage presence without speech impediments, it would be quite an injustice to the congregation and to the person not to be advised, encouraged and redirected towards their strengths.
If the ministry does not have a selection process that is fairly impartial and professional, to then leave it to the ‘Spirit’ may well be a sin against the Spirit, for it fringes upon abdicating a serious and meaningful responsibility.
Sometimes however, it’s the ‘pillars’ of the church who may not have the best ‘ambo’ attributes that may head the ministry. In such instances, despair not, but with love, patience and elegance, suggest a neutral party, such as a voice-trainer or professional in the parish etc. Just a thought; it isn’t a foolproof solution.
If there is a reasonable and equitable selection process, then rostering becomes easy. There need not be broken and bickering hearts at Christmas and Easter and other festive occasions, where only the ‘best’ are selected; interestingly, the ‘best’ in some churches have super-glue on their names and remain on the roster for decades.
Reading/Proclaiming, from the ambo is a physical activity with a spiritual dimension. One has to ‘perform’ this activity. It cannot happen just thinking or imagining about it. Hence some physical skill and some knowledge of the skills, processes and content are certainly necessary. Interestingly too, for a superlative output of any kind of skill, the formula is close to:
State (80 –85%) + Knowledge & Skills (20-15%) = Quality of Output
However in most training environments, time, energy and resources spent are in their opposite proportions, viz. 85% of the effort is spent training Skills and Knowledge and less than 15% in replicating the most effective state to be in.
This is not new. The sporting world has learnt and shifted towards this with tons of empirical evidence.
When one is able to shift into the most appropriate and effective state, even the learning of skills and knowledge is enhanced in leaps and bounds.
For starters, as Catholics, we have the privilege of sanctifying grace. In fact it is a very, very powerful state to be in for lots of things.
So it is highly recommended, that for training, practices, and the actual task, if the ministry can adopt practices that encourage and support being in the state of sanctifying grace, do it. Create the opportunities for it. No I’m not going to tell you more, for you need to walk and discover this on your own. Have fun while you are at it.
So, if we have a fair system of selection, and are aware of the natural and ‘nurture-able attributes’ while we recognise the power of being in the state of sanctifying grace, there is a great chance for the ministry to experience love, more than envy, unity more than disunity and humility to learn and CHANGE. If we learn, and nothing changes in us, let’s not kid ourselves; we’ve learnt nothing; we ‘ve only gathered information.
Would you wish to learn and change being trained by anyone whose competency and ability you have little respect or admiration for? So get a ‘trainer’ whom the members of the ministry can look up to and learn from. It does not mean that the head of the ministry must always be a good trainer. The head needs to be a good leader; the qualities of a good trainer are entirely different.
It’s a question of responsibility and sensibility. None of us would send our children to a school that does not have adequately qualified or experienced teachers. So why should we sell our Lord and His sheep, the congregation, short? So that we can hide behind our ‘incompetence’? Believe me, the Spirit knows these things as does our conscience.
Again, funnily enough, in some churches, ‘pillars’ of the church in the ministry feel ‘slighted’ when such ‘professionals’ volunteer to help. Again, some love, patience and elegant persuasive skills are highly recommended. It’s not about just being ‘right’ it’s about adding to people’s lives, even if they are ‘wrong’. These are just opportunities to live what we often ‘proclaim’.
If there is a proper selection process, then the training need not be unduly intensive, for the core competence is already there.
Reading, sharing, etc are indeed wonderful practices that’s encouraged; but this does not magically transform one’s oral abilities in ‘proclaiming’ the word.
For starters, I would strenuously suggest, dropping the word, ‘proclaim’. It’s so narrow and more often than not, associated to a ‘town-crier’ sort of task.
We do more than that as Lectors. We bring life to the written/printed word; by giving them meaning through our state and oral gifts, in the context of the chosen text. Some of them, inform, some plead, some reaffirm, some praise, some are uplifting, some convey sadness, some convey joy, etc. etc. If you proclaimed all of them, it will all sound like some incongruent announcement even if it were perfect in diction and pronunciation. Yes it’s a matter of semantics. Might as well then use it favourably rather than unfavourably. Just a thought. But please don’t quibble over this. If indeed the word ‘proclaim’ suits you fine, by all means use it all you like.
It will be good to learn and practice daily and collectively at all training sessions, some physical exercises for the oral organs and the voice.
When beginning a training session, would recommend, a collective act of contrition and surrender. Preferably mouthed from the heart rather than read from some book. It’s like an ‘emptying’ process. For indeed if we are full of the pains, anxieties and all the other muck we collected in the day, it’ll be a bit hard to take in new knowledge or experience.
Allow for silence to experience the surrender and ‘emptying’ process and enjoy the presence of the Lord and His Spirit in each breath. This helps us to stay in the ‘now’ more than ‘just now’ or ‘later’.
If there has been some animosity among some since the last session, allow and encourage reconciliation. These processes can only lead to a state of grace, and that is a useful state to be in if we wish to serve the Lord fully.
With the ‘states’ fairly in sync with our conscious breath, and animosities set aside, allow the trainer to conduct the specific training/topic for the session. This may be in the area of the ‘state’, reading skills, knowledge of the passages etc.
A background to the passages may then be explained by a Snr Lector or the Spiritual Director (if any) and a sharing is encouraged at the end. This allows for fresh and new perspectives therefore offering new experience.
If the ministry has a video camera and monitor (with audio function) use it for each Lector to practice and playback for review, pointers etc.
Not everything in life can be stated in the positive and it’s meaning conveyed accurately. After a while, it will sound rather patronising. What we need to learn before offering feedback, is to be aware of the state we are in and our intention to offer the feedback.
If the intention is to feel one-up, get-even, be the ‘always right domineering’ leader in the guise of righteousness, it’s better to stay zipped, however constructive that feedback may be. What we utter verbally is only 15% of the communication process. Our being picks up all the other 85% or so non-verbal cues fairly accurately.
Hence learn to get into a state of ‘love’ for the other person; not a paternalistic or patronising one, but a humble one. When you feel certain that you are in that state, then open your mouth to speak. Otherwise, save it.
Being in the ‘state’ of love doesn’t necessarily mean not saying anything negative. If the person is mispronouncing, it is mispronouncing. Correct it with love, not pretence. Hence it means, pay attention to the person. Each of us is different. Different things turn us on and off. Become aware of the person and therefore speak in his or her ‘language’ as it were, not ours.
End the session with praise and thanksgiving in the way the group enjoys most.
In most churches, all involved in the Mass, have a short collective prayer with the celebrant. If this is not practised, do this on your own or with the other lector. It should not be a prayer of fear of failure, but one of humility, thanksgiving and surrender.. That you are here is already affirmation that the Good Lord has chosen you specifically for this task and moment today; there is no need to doubt His choice; just acknowledge it.
Just before going up to read, take a deep breath, become aware of each step, as you breathe. It’s a simple process to keep the mind in the present; arrive at the ambo, adjust the mic; scan the congregation from left to right or right to left; allow your intuition to meet the eyes of those in the congregation, with a gentle smile with the eyes, acknowledge their presence; begin the reading.
Churches (at least in Singapore) have some of the best sound and PA systems. Ironically, because it is so expensive, many parishes keep it under lock and key only for the parish priest or some trusted altar boy or sacristan to use it. It is indeed so sad, for many of the systems can be tuned to each individual to bring out the best in terms of voice quality. Sadly too, in the parish and congregation these days are many sound engineers who are never asked for their professional and expert assistance. In some instances, they were rejected when they volunteered;
There are also meetings of the ministry that spend hours reprimanding, arguing, debating on signs, symbols and rituals. These are not all bad; for they add to the decorum and reverence, even if it’s only on the face of it. They are great ‘crutches’ to help one to learn to develop the necessary ambulatory muscles to perform the appropriate tasks. But let’s not become overly stuck in them. Faith is far greater than that, lest we miss the forest for the tree.
Not everything shared above will be agreeable to all. It wasn’t written for that purpose. Whether you agree or disagree, become aware of the part of you that does so; is it love, is it fear; is it pride; is it discomfort? Only you will know. Then use what you know and add to another’s life somewhere. Otherwise, simply trash it.
When Jesus walked this earth, He was fairly unconventional, certainly not into rituals of sorts, nor things ornate to generate reverence. He was very simple with a simple message of love. We can give meaning to this message where the listener experiences it or we could simply ‘proclaim’ it like some specially chosen servant, where the listener simply hears it. We have been invited to serve, not to be served, recognised or acknowledged. May we then as we respond, do the right thing, for the right reasons.