Lector's Notes on the wedding reading from Romans, chapter 12

What the lector should know about the wedding reading from Saint Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 12

First of all, which reading is it? How do you find it in the book? At a Catholic wedding, there are four possible readings from the New Testament's Letter to the Romans. The second and third, which we discuss here, are the long and short forms, respectively, of one passage. In the lectionary (the large ceremonial book you'll be reading from), the long form has index numbers [802] and 2. The short form, on the following page, has only index number [802] at the top. The 3 follows the short form and belongs to the next reading in the book.

Who wrote this and to whom? Saul, a.k.a. Saint Paul, was the man who persecuted the early Christians until the day God knocked him off his horse. (Well, the bible doesn't mention a horse. The book called Acts of the Apostles just says that Paul, a very faithful Jew, was hastening to Damascus in order to give some grief to the Christians. A light from heaven suddenly shone around him, he fell, became blind, and heard the voice of Jesus asking, "Saul, Saul, why are persecuting me?" The horse image is from later artists.) Paul accepted Jesus with all his heart and soul, and became a vigorous missionary (after regaining his sight).

The Romans were a community of Jews and non-Jews (Gentiles or pagans) in Rome who had accepted Jesus but had not yet put aside their ancient Jew-versus-Gentile rivalries. Saint Paul did not start that community, but they knew of him and he knew of them, and he planned to visit them while on his way from Corinth (in Greece) to Spain. Paul sent ahead a letter addressing what he knew of their arguments. That's the Letter to the Romans.

What's the context of this part of the letter? Note that we're already in chapter 12 of the letter to the Romans. Paul's letters usually do all their doctrinal teaching and dispute settling in the early chapters, and then end with some exhortations, usually friendly, about how to live a good Christian life. Our passage comes from that exhortation.

How should you read this aloud? There's no context given in the text, but your listeners don't really need it. They expect to hear something about how to live a good life, and that's what you're going to give them.

So pretend you are Saint Paul. You haven't met the people you're addressing, but they respect your authority and you've used it, in prior chapters, to try to settle some of their disputes. Now you're going to give some fatherly advice. If you've ever had a wise, gentle pastor who loved your congregation, remember how you felt listening to that person preach. Or reminisce about an elder in your family who took special interest in your growth.

Now confidently, slowly tell your listeners, not just the bride and groom, but everybody who is there to wish them well, how to make this marriage succeed, and how to make all their relationships healthy. It can be that simple.

The sentences are short, so you need to vary the pitch of your voice a lot, lest it sound "sing-song" and repetitive. Vary the pace. Read most sentences slowly, but rip through one or two in a staccato way.

In case you want to raise the stakes somewhat, if only for yourself, consider this. For the original audience of this letter, living a good life meant changing from the life they had lived before. For today's audience hearing this reading, living a specifically Christian good life might begin with noticing some contrasts between the Christian way and the "normal" way of doing things. For example:

  • We're told to drop what is evil and cling to what is good; that may prick a conscience or two. So be it.
  • We're told to bless those who persecute us. Compare that to the never-ending spray of curses that we find in the blogosphere and cable news today.
  • We're to hang out with the lowly, and not be haughty. That challenges the lifestyles of those who surround themselves only with the stylish.
  • In a healthy Christian community, at least some can sympathize with those who weep, although it's easier to avoid people like that.
We could go on and on, but you get the idea. This is an argument for using the long form of this reading. For each simple little exhortation, there may be somebody among the listeners who can make spiritual progress for hearing that sentence. So choose the long form.

If you would like to know more: To learn more about the letter to the Romans, Click here. That's the introduction to the book from the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Next Chapter link at the bottom will take you into the book proper. The author of these Lector's Notes has written about the various other passages from Romans that are proclaimed on Sundays throughout the church year. Click here to see an index of those web pages.

See the reading text
(long form)
as laid out in the lectionary

See the reading text
(short form)
as laid out in the lectionary

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Last update: January 6, 2011