Among Lectors

A Practical and Theological Dialogue

Click here to join the dialogue by email To the home page

of Lector's Notes

To date, there are six threads of conversation here. To jump to the one that interests you, click on one of the links in the cells below:
Started April, 2005:
An adult lector in a small congregation wonders about recruiting teens to serve as lectors.

Click here to read her query and maybe add to the responses already posted.
Begun August, 2004:
What organized weekly or monthly preparation exercises do your parish's lectors do?
Click here to read, contribute
Joe Moreira of Singapore contributed this provocative essay on lector training.

February, 2006:
David Ford asks how different parishes solve their lector scheduling dilemnas.

Updated July 8, 2004:
Raul Villaruz was the first to respond to the editor's broadside about lectors in a hurry. Raul's essay is thoughtful and strongly stated.
Click here
January 15, 2006:
A lector criticizes Lector's Notes because they "lean to the side of drama on the part of the readers."
"We are not thespians," he says. Read the whole critique and a response from Lector's Notes author Greg Warnusz. Further down this thread, find an older discussion about whether lectors should recite readings from memory, and more on whether lector service should be like acting. Most respondents criticize memorization, for a variety of interesting reasons.
Click here.
From November, 2002:
A pastor tells a lector not to read from looseleaf notes but from the lectionary. Lector's Notes editor launches an 800-word essay about signs in the liturgy, particularly the book as a sign.
Click here.
Started August 2003:
A lector asks a question about rubrics, and what to do in their absence.

Click here.

Should a parish recruit teenagers to serve as lectors?

Liz Mamer of Brawley, California, USA, writes:
What do others feel about getting more youth involved in lay ministry. When I say youth, I mean teens over 16 who have been Baptized and Confirmed and who receive the Eucharist.
I believe if you can keep the youth involved in the church services, you keep their interest and keep them IN CHURCH! The teen years can be the tough years. I realize some might not be the best proclaimers at the start, but hey, everyone needs a beginning. Then, possibly, as the kids go off to college, they will continue to be involved in a different parish. It will remain 'part of their daily-weekly life'. Does anyone have any thoughts on teen readers?

Click here to respond to Liz's question by email

Several responses about teens, mass and lector service:

In my parish, the Sunday 6pm mass is geared toward teenagers and the youth. The music is more contemporary and teens serve as ushers. Once a month, we hold a teen mass, where our teenagers are involved in all aspects of liturgy.

They serve as commentators, lectors and Eucharistic ministers. The focus of the homily is on the youth, calling out teenagers especially. So far the reaction from the community has been positive and the teens seem to enjoy serving in mass. It really is neat seeing a teenager up at the ambo proclaiming the Word of God and watching the congregation react to a fresh new face. The challenge lies in training, not so much the pronunciation of some of the names (which are difficult at times) but more in instilling within the teens a sense of confidence that they can stand up there and lector effectively.

-Jeff Chan
St. Lucy Parish
Campbell, CA

Liz, I saw your query about teen lectors online. In our parish we have younger lectors who serve at the 9 a.m. "family Mass". In the past we have had several teen lectors who started at about age 13 and continued through high school. At present I believe we have one 8th grader, one 7th grader, and two 6th graders on the regular rotation list. We invite young people to sign up for this ministry at our annual Stewardship Weekend. They receive training (along with other new lectors) and are always paired with an experienced adult lector who can coach and/or reassure them.

We find this increases children's interest in the Liturgy of the Word and emphasizes that it is not only for adults. With the exception of one lector (the 7th grader, who happens to be my son!), the children who volunteer have all had experience with a community children's theater program; they are good at projecting their voices and pacing the readings. I have had to work with my son at home to help him get the tempo right and the volume modulated.

Hope this helps.

- Anne D

Hi Liz,

What a wonderful idea! Our parish is now planning to train 'children' ages, 10 onwards to read at the children's Mass and hopefully, there will be a children's Mass every weekend!

A French priest, 35 years ago, inducted me into the 'reading' ministry. I was 15 then. Later on, that parish inducted and trained much younger lectors who grew up to continue serving the Lord at the ambo in beautiful and meaningful ways.

Jesus did love the children; even admonished his 'adult' disciples for preventing them from coming to Him. They may be playful, chatty and all. They are children/ teenagers. But befriending the Lord, by reading what He taught, not only gives them confidence and public speaking skills, they grow in the knowledge of the Lord in their own experience too.

These days, not many read the Bible personally or collectively. Even catholic schools have become more secular. So the opportunity for them to learn, understand and read is indeed a blessing.

May you be abundantly blessed opening the doors to these teenagers!

Joe Moreira

By all means get teenagers involved in lectoring. I had a positive experience with it when I grew up in a small parish. One of my daughters participated as a lector in youth masses at our current parish. They should go through the same training as adult lectors with special emphasis on the adage " If you think you are talking to slow, SLOW DOWN".

John Bohan Atlanta, GA, USA

Should we? Absolutely!

Why? For two reasons: 1) they are the next generation of Lectors, hence, it is with them our succession plan begins; and 2) they will serve as examples to other youth that involvement in the church is a "cool idea" and a good thing.

I was involved in training an entire team of teenage Lectors at a parish that was starting a Teen Life Mass. Their intention of having all teens serve as the ministers brought them tighter together as a community. Consequently, they were looked up to as their "church leaders" and perpetuated active participation in all aspects of liturgy, as well as other youth ministry activities.

These teens were trained along side adult aspiring Lectors and were held to the same standards for mechanics, technique, and spirit. They were all fully initiated having just been confirmed. They attended all six sessions of training and were there on time for two hours at a time. Interestingly enough, what I discovered is that the teens appeared more receptive to the training than the adults were. As a result, they ended up proclaiming better than a lot of the adults did. I suspect it's because the teenagers had no bad habits or hang-ups to overcome like a lot of us adults do. They are also bolder in their attitude to try new things and different approaches to doing things. They also seemed more enthusiastic, "wanting to be there", about this new endeavor of theirs.

After their official commissioning into the ministry and upon their first assignment to read, they visibly raised the bar giving a lot of the existing adult Lectors a run for their money by proclaiming with such skill and proficiency that the assembly was pleasantly impressed and delighted. Beyond that, it stirred other teens to want to do the same thing. Hence, the following year the first batch of Youth Lectors served as mentors to the newest group of young hopeful Ministers of the Word.

This took place three years ago. And now as young adults they are urging on today's teens to serve and get involved as they did so that these new teens, too, may come to realize the reward and fulfillment of answering the call of the Lord.

And guess what will probably happen as they start their individual families, eventually reaching middle age, and having teenagers of their own? The future of our Lector Ministry is secure.

So, should a parish recruit teenagers to serve as Lectors? Not only should we, but I believe we must!

Raul Villaruz
Holy Name of Mary
San Dimas, CA

In our parish we have trained and taken advantage of the many abilities of our teenage members for many years. We do not 'reserve' them for 'Teenage' or 'children's' Masses. They serve at all the Masses as do the adult Lectors. (They serve as Eucharistic Ministers, Ushers, Greeters, etc., as well.) They are required to follow the same training and participation as the Adults. We have found that they are involved, questioning and committed participants and for the most part continue their involvement when they leave for college or enter the 'workplace' we call life.

Some are even more proficient at Proclaiming the Word than our Adults. We require that all who are to Proclaim the Word attend not only an initial training session, but also attend preparation on Saturday Morning of the weekend for which they have been scheduled. (Our schedule is for 3 months at a time and sent to all Lectors.) At this preparation, we not only practice our delivery, word pronunciation, etc., but we also share what we are 'hearing' in the readings and from experience I can tell you that the Teenagers have some very deep thoughts.

Young adults (Teenagers) are waiting to be asked to participate in the Church and as adults, it is our job to do the asking.

Maureen McKee
St. Catherine of Siena
Carrollton, Tx

Our parish also has a 6pm Sunday LifeTeen Mass, and every week our teens proclaim at this Mass, which has contemporary music. The lector preparation is similar to the adults, but in a more intimate, less business-like setting with fewer trainers. It has gone over very well, and some of the teen lectors are better than some of our adult lectors. It gives them a sense of confidence in speaking in front of others, and hopefully deepens their spirituality and knowledge of scripture at the same time. It's been very positive for the teens, their families, and the entire congregation.

Judy Hoctor
The Woodlands, Texas
St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church

Does your parish practice any good ways of organized lector preparation?

Jerry Rodrigues of the parsish of Our Lady Star of The Sea in Singapore, writes:
I am a co-ordinator for the Lectors' Ministry in my parish. I have read several threads that many of you are trainers.
Just like to know how you train or prepare your lectors for the readings on that weekend.
At my parish we set aside Saturday afternoons whereby all the lectors for the weekend gather and reflect on the readings. We also go thru the Lectors' Notes and comment on each other's readings.
I would like to hear how others do it so that I can pick up some tips and use it.

Raul Villaruz sent this about lector preparation in Holy Name of Mary Parish, San Dimas, California, USA:

Following is the recommended schedule, starting seven days prior to scheduled day:

Day 1: Read the Gospel, 1st Reading, and 2nd Reading.

Day 2: Read your reading aloud.
Read the Background & Pronunciations
Read it aloud again.

Day 3: Read your reading aloud.
Break it w/ slashes, underline words of emphasis.
Read it aloud again.

Day 4: Read your reading aloud.
Pray over the reading or pray the reading to find the most important phrase.
Memorize 3 sections: Read it aloud again.

Day 5: Come to weekly lector practice.
Once a week (every Thursday) Lectors scheduled to proclaim for the upcoming weekend attend a practice session in the church where our ambo can be used. The acoustics, the page layout in the Lectionary, mic positioning, etc. are all available for familiarity prior to the actual mass. The readings are proclaimed (usually twice) by each Lector. Feedback is given by fellow Lectors on technique and spirituality.
At the practice, the following Rules of Feedback are observed:
Positive only. Uses of negative words (don't, not, no, shouldn't) are not allowed.
What was liked about the proclamation.
What can done to improve this proclamation.
The objective being: Not to be the best Lector ever created, just to be better than the last time one proclaimed.

Day 6: Rehearse.

Day 7: Pray with your partner before mass.

Click here to share your parish's "Best Preparation Practices" by email

David Ford asks about scheduling:
I lector at two churches in NYC. At the cathedral, I have a fixed mass on a permanent three week rotation. At the parish church where I lector, the schedule is disseminated month by month, with no level of consistent scheduling. I was interested in knowing how other parishes handling lector scheduling.

A reply from Greg Warnusz:
I used to schedule a roster of sixteen lectors for three weekend masses. Only a few preferred the Saturday evening mass, so they got only that assignment. The others were happy to rotate among all three masses. It was easy to use a spreadsheet for such small numbers of appointments, and keep the assignments distributed evenly.

When that parish and four others consolidated, scheduling got more complicated. Most lectors were used to serving at only one time of day, in a predictable cycle. None were used to a 7:00 AM mass, a requirement in the new parish, and only a few prefer it now. When the parishes numbered five, there were sixteen masses among them on a weekend. Now sixty lectors are available for four masses per weekend. Their preferences diverge widely. Some say, "any time," some say "8:30 only," many say "never the 7:00." I'm slowly perfecting a computer program that will suggest who should serve when, based on their preferences, the count of their prior appointments, and the interval since their last service.

Then there are the households with multiple ministers: lectors, ministers of communion, ushers and altar servers. It's not good when independent appointing authorities summon members of the same family to different celebrations of the Eucharist on the same weekend. Release 2 of my program will address that.

So scheduling here is a work in progress, so far no better organized than the one the keeps David Ford guessing. Sorry, Dave.

Click here to share your ideas about scheduling, by email

Responses to the editor's cover-page essay about lectors hurrying through their parts of mass:

From Raul Villaruz, editor of ProclaimNet, another site dedicated to the service of lector.

In Nick Wagner's book, Nine Steps to Becoming a Better Lector, he opens by describing the Lector as "a sculptor of silence." It is up to us in properly fulfilling our call to mold and shape these moments how we think and feel are most appropriate for the assembly. Breaking it at the right time can only enhance the worship experience of those charged to listen.

If one is in a hurry, then that person's objective is not to share what has been entrusted to him or her, but a selfish "get it over and done with" obligation. This person probably reads fast as well, and departs from the ambo quickly with no meditative pause after the reading nor takes into consideration whether he/she is turning in the right direction so as not to disrespect the altar and presider.

If this is the case of one Lector, then he/she needs to be made aware of the impression they are giving, i.e., if the reading isn't important enough for the Minister of the Word to give it due reverence, then it will be even less important to those in the pews.

If this is the case of the entire ministry, then the Lector Leader and Liturgy Director need to reassess the instructions they've given to the Lectors and their purpose for doing so.

If this is because the presider is always hurrying things up in the interest of shorter masses and less traffic congestion in the parking lot from one mass to another, then the solution is the proverbial "cut the nose to spite the face" approach. You want people to be refreshed in their faith when they come for liturgical celebrations not rushed like they already are during the rest of the week.

In any of these cases, to proclaim is not the intent but merely to blurt out words.

I would suggest, so as not to create a "two-ring circus", don't have the Lector start his/her ascent to the ambo until the acolyte is seated. That way, most of the movement in the assembly has already settled.

When we used to be in a church that had all-wooden pews, I used to train my Lectors to sit with the assembly after the opening prayer, and not to get up to approach the ambo until they no longer hear the "squeaking" of people sitting down. Moreover, once they are at the ambo, they are to take a 3-second scan of the assembly before saying, "A reading from ..."

When one's service becomes merely obligatory, "just going through the motions" so to speak, then one may have very well lost their passion and spirit for the ministry -- the "Why" they are a Minister of the Word. Maybe an introspective retreat to re-examine their feelings or reasons may be called for to gain a rejuvenated recommitment to serve as Lector.

Raul Villaruz

Holy Name of Mary

San Dimas, CA

Greg Warnusz's original essay about hurrying:

June 29, 2004: In this author's church the presider's chair is across the sanctuary from the ambo. After the Gloria and the opening prayer, the acolyte carries the sacramentary up steps to the center of the altar, places it there, and returns to a bench behind the presider. Meanwhile, most Sundays, the lector is eager to start reading, and eager, perhaps, to break the silence. And so often the lector begins the proclamation while the acolyte is still moving about on the other side of the sanctuary. This sets up the congregation to be distracted at the very beginning of the reading.

And it makes me ask, "What's your hurry? What's wrong with a few more seconds of silence?" A certain authority comes with your appointment as lector. Use it for the good of the listeners. Remind them, by commanding their attention with your poised silence, that they're about to hear the most important words they'll hear all week.

That ambulating acolyte wants to hear the reading, too. You show the acolyte respect when you wait for him or her to be seated before you even move to the ambo. Finally, you give the congregation time to get seated and recollected.

Queries about lector service as "acting" and about memorizing readings

A lector wrote in January, 2006:

For the most part, like what you are trying to do with regard to improving the ministry of Lector.

However, have several times seen indications that you lean to the side of drama on the part of the readers.

We are not thespians.

There are many elements in a good proclamation such as pause, projection, presence, punctuation (actual and implied) just to name a few.

Proclamation does not mean dramatic reading.

Again, we are not thespians.

A reply from Greg Warnusz:

One of our purposes as a worshiping assembly ought to be to name, own, celebrate and reinforce our corporate identity. That is, to figure out how we differ, as a group, from those who are not like us. So I want congregations to hear the Scripture as the normative, historical account of how God formed a people by leading them to distinguish themselves from their neighbors.

To hear Scripture this way, listeners need to know the struggles underlying the composition of the books of the Bible. Every passage is about a controversy, about how to be faithful to God in a new situation. That's why Lector's Notes always include a short treatment of the historical situation faced by the prophet, apostle or evangelist's people.

If one grants that the readings have this controversial nature, then being faithful to the text requires that the lector present them with some vigor. They're not dispassionate research papers. They were never meant to be "fair and balanced." The letters of Paul and the prophecies of Amos tried to provoke people to solve problems by changing their behavior and their sense of who they were as God's people.

I would hope that hearing the implied controversy in a lector's proclamation would pique the interest of the listeners, and prompt them to ask how to apply the Scripture to their own struggles, especially to our shared efforts to be a faithful people. (That way of hearing would also prepare members for the homily.) So if I lean to the side of drama in a proclamation, that's one reason why.

Another reason: People find God in the beautiful. The things we do for one another in the liturgy should be as beautiful as we can make them. Liturgy calls for our best artistic efforts. So church architects are visual artists, choir members are musicians, composers of hymns are poets, preachers are orators, and so are lectors. Doing any of those services in a bland or muted way does not disclose the beautiful, and so it does not honor God or build up God's people.

A reply from David Ford, January, 2006:

I appreciated the advice and assistance that Lector Prep has given me over the years. I am a health care marketing professional who lectors at two major Catholic churches in NYC. Though not a thespian, I have been applauded for making people feel the readings. I in turn applaud Lector Prep for being one of my primary guides for delivering "the word of the Lord". Any criticism of this site is off base. The Workbook for Lectors and Gospel Readers (by Martin Connell, Liturgical Training Publications), which the cathedral where I lector distributes, gives similar advice on the delivery of readings. We may not be thespians, but it behooves us to be as well prepared as possible.

David W. Ford

Sparking an earlier, similar discussion, a lector wrote in June, 2003:

As an Episcopalian lector I have found myself in a quandary over just how much emphasis to put into the readings, especially the quoted lines. The head lector has seminary training and acting experience and encourages lively and animated readings with changes in inflection as appropriately required. I'm not saying to go as far as evangelists or Baptist preachers but I think something more than a bland but grammatically correct presentation is called for.

I would like to hear other views and experiences please.

And a few months earlier, another lector raised questions about a practice of some fellow lectors, those who memorize the readings and recite them without referring to the lectionary. He wrote:

I train the lectors for our parish. Need your advice. How do you feel about lectors memorizing the readings and delivering without ever looking at the lectionary. My only complaint is that I get the impression from talking to members in the parish that they are more in awe of those who memorize wondering how they did it in the first place. What I do not hear is that they received any scriptural message from memorized readings. I gather that the focus becomes the individual's memorization skills instead of the Word of God. For this reason I have a hard time encouraging lectors to memorize the readings. Let me hear from you. THANKS!

I referred the latter writer to my windy
essay about signs, dated November, 2002, below. The gist is that liturgy is about signs, and the lectionary is a sign not to be dismissed. Then came all these responses from other lectors:

Michael Anselmi's early August, 2003, reply. A response from Raul Villaruz, also in August. Al Sablan weighs in. Donald Galli offered this on August 15. Peter Cook shared several ways he's tried it.
Maria Smith is brief and to the point. Bill Mader laid down a challenge. Jj2baker2 brings a varied background to bear. Tony Whalley offers an opinion. Tom Rowlett had this to say.
Doctor David Gould concurs, but describes an interesting exception. Anthony Attipoe shared his thoughts.

Back to start of thread

In early August, 2003, lector Michael Anselmi contributed this. He has handled the memorization issue both ways, and found a very elegant solution:

I have been memorizing the readings for years. I find I spend much more quality time in preparation than before. I really get to know the pericope and understand the message; this is especially helpful in determining how to deliver some of St. Paul's paragraph-long sentences. Proclaiming them from memory is quite a different thing. The comments I received after doing so seemed to be mostly of the "How are you able to do that?" variety. I have to ask myself, "Did they get the Lord's message or were they mesmerized by my delivery?" If they didn't get the message, that is a stumbling block and I have failed as a lector. I have learned to look down at the book before each major phrase as if I were reading it and then looking up and delivering that phrase with meaning. That way I can maintain eye contact, I can deliver the message as I understand it and the Word of the Lord is more likely to get through.
Michael Anselmi
Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA

Back to start of thread

Also in early August, 2003, came this most thoughtful essay from Raul Villaruz:

I believe "acting" is a loosely used word to describe a reading that is not "monotonally bland." But acting is also "being what we are not." In sharp contrast to the true role of the Lector - "believing what we proclaim and proclaiming what we believe." Unlike an actor or actress who assumes a role, we, as Lectors, are both messenger and message. This, I believe, is the Mission of the Lector: To enhance the worship experience of the assembly with the central purpose of celebrating and refreshing the faith of God's people by lifting His Word from the pages of Scripture and bringing them to life through skilled and spiritual proclamation. Hence, being bland and monotonous doesn't enhance anyone's worship experience nor does it celebrate or refresh anything. And if we are not bringing to life the living word that has been entrusted to us as Ministers of the Word, have we fulfilled our calling at all? We might as well go back to the Latin mass days with the Priest's back to us. We didn't get anything out of it back then either.

In training Lectors at my parish, I encourage (almost require) that three parts of each reading be memorized: the Opening (A reading from...) and the first line, the Most Important Phrase, and the last line of the reading plus the Closing (The Word of the Lord). During these critical parts of the reading, they are to maintain full eye contact with the assembly. It is through eye contact that a Lector builds a relationship with the assembly. It is by looking at the Lectionary that the Lector reaffirms his or her connection with the Word. Thus, we, as Lectors, are the medium by which the assembly connects to Scripture and the way Scripture comes to life for God's people. Proclaiming totally from memory is admirable but also distracting from the true purpose of the proclamation. Every now and again, we sometimes find ourselves so engrossed and passionate in what we are to proclaim that we end up memorizing it without realizing we did. At times like these do I tell our Lectors to look down anyway once in a while to give the appearance of what it was originally declared as - a reading, not a recitation. Apart from distracting people into awe of one's mental capabilities by memorizing a whole reading, the purpose of the Lectionary is nullified. When people see you stand behind a book, they expect some sort of a reading. When you don't, it bothers them. If you didn't need the Lectionary, why did you have it out or stand behind it in the first place? Notice that when the Presider steps out from behind the ambo, people no longer expect a reading but something else. Memorization, just like pausing, changes in inflection and intonation, facial expressions, and volume and projection, can be a tool that, when properly utilized, can greatly enhance the proclamation of a reading. Two particular sources you might want to check out are: Nine Steps To Becoming A Better Lector (Nick Wagner) and The Word Well-Spoken: Skills for the Lector (Nancy Seitz Marcheschi and Graziano Marcheschi). If you want to find out how to get copies of these, look it up on our website: and click the Resources link on the navigation bar.

I pray this helps.

Raul Villaruz
Holy Name of Mary Parish
San Dimas, CA

Back to start of thread

On August 11, 2003, Al Sablan contributed this:

Brother and Sister Lectors,

It has been my experience as part of the assembly that the proclamation of the Word must be illustrated both orally (spoken) and aurally (heard). I look for the Lector to use their voice with inflection and to capture the eyes of the assembly instead of having them read from the missalette. If the Lector can memorize the passage and deliver it with conviction, inflection, and capture the eyes and ears of the assembly, the Lector has fulfilled the mission of the ministry. This, I feel, is the ideal Lector.

Let's face it - you do no justice to the ministry if you simply stand in front of the congregation and your body language is saying, " Follow along as I read aloud". The shortcoming of most Lectors occurs when they spend much of their time "reading" versus "proclaiming" causing their voices to be monotonic, steady streamed, and having the assembly depend on the priest's homily to capture/summarize the main themes missed.

It is imperative that the Lector proclaim the word of God but not at the expense of altering, defering, or misinterpreting the word from the lectionary.

I try to understand my assigned passages by categorizing if the passage is a dialogue, a prophesy, a narration, a psalm. Each has its own inflection and emphasis and delivery is key to making the passage come to life for the assembly to witness.

If you have the gift of memorization, utilize this powerful tool and bring the passage to life like it is meant to. The more eye contact you have with your assembly, the more attentive they are in visualizing and understanding the word.


Al Sablan, Lector
St. Mark's Catholic Church
San Marcos, CA

Back to start of thread

And on August 15, Donal Galli said:

I train the lectors at our church here in Sacramento CA. I feel very strongly that to memorize the readings is not how the Word should be proclaimed. It then becomes an act, all about how well you are doing and it loses the meaning, it becomes "your" word and not the Word of God.

Back to start of thread

Peter Cook has served as lector in several American cities. He sent these observations on September 3:

Do I memorize? Yes. Do I read? Yes. Do I use inflection and em-PHA-sis? Yes.
Early in my lectoring I would read and read and read aloud and silently, till I felt that I "had it down pat." I would then come to the ambo and begin the reading. It would not come out the way I had prepared.
I would memorize. The same thing would happen.
I would fill in for an absent lector. I would read the reading a couple of times before mass, to refresh my memory, and then someone else in my body would present the reading.
At Christ the Good Shepherd in Houston' northern suburbs, we encouraged many people to join the ministry, even those who had never spoken in public before. One young man came to me during a recruitment period and asked what he should do; he felt he should lector, but he also had a very strong speech impediment. The short version of the story was that he became a lector on the basis that there were many people in this very large parish who had speech impediments. They would appreciate that they would not be excluded from participating.
(One point I always emphasize in all my training sessions is that you - the lector - want just ONE person to truly receive the message; that is the measure of a successful proclaiming of the Word.) The first time he lectored he received a large number of congratulations after the mass, possibly because the congregants had to 'listen hard' and probably heard more of the reading than they had in the past.
As long as the lector feels the reading, the reading will come out the way it is supposed to come out; the people who are supposed to hear the reading WILL hear the reading. If is read or if it is memorized, if it is spoken with what some would call drama, or if it is read in a manner that is more declarative, letting the words create the drama in each of the listeners, then the lectoring is being done in the RIGHT WAY.
One man's opinion....
Thank you very much for this website.
Peter Cook

Back to start of thread

Maria Smith, Lector Coordinator for English masses at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Miami, Florida, USA, wrote in late September, 2003. She draws on Jesus' example:

Let's place Jesus in the synagogue. He read (proclaimed) the Torah. Don't you think that Jesus would have HIS Word memorized? Why then would he read? Is memorizing just to bring glory to the Lector for having so great a mind? Who are we in need to give the glory to? STOP being self serving hypocrites. Proclaim the Word as Jesus did - in all humility but with strength, truth, and clarity so that it may touch the heart of those that God intends to touch.
Maria - Miami

Back to start of thread

Bill Mader wrote in November, 2003:

Have any of you "leaders" who profess to train your lectors ever read the Lectionary introduction? As lectors we are to read from the Lectionary, not photocopies or other facsimiles. As lectors, we are to proclaim the Word when reading it which includes the proper use of eye contact to enhance our proclamation. This is a very simple question with a very simple answer. If you memorize and don't read, you've not completed your assigned task. And if you train lectors to memorize and not read, you've failed to instill in them what being a lector is about. It seems to me there is too much analysis associate with this question when, as usual, a concerted effort to think about the question in the context of our guidance is all that is necessary to find the simple answer.

Bill Mader
St. Thomas Aquinas
Rio Rancho NM

Back to start of thread

Tony L. Whalley also wrote in November, 2003, with an idea about those who read along with the lector:

As a trainer of lectors for many years I always encourage the lector to make eye contact with the congregation during the reading. However, I always remind them that the word 'Lector' means 'Reader' in Latin. If Mother Church wished us to recite from memory, we would not be called 'Readers' or 'Lectors'. An experienced reader who has prepared adequately knows how to read ahead, enabling him or her to look up from time to time. I too have been distracted many times by persons who have memorized the 'readings'.

It is quite easy to deal with those who insist on reading along while you are reading. Proclaim the reading with confidence, show that you understand what the reading is about, if necessary, pause at an appropriate time, until the offenders look up, to see what the problem is, and then continue. If you tell the story properly you will find that people will listen and then realise that it is not so much that they are listening to a story, or even history, but that they are listening to the word of God. If you truly are a minister of the word, you will shortly find that the congregation will start paying attention, they will come up to you after mass to express their appreciation for helping them to appreciate the message of the readings.

Tony Whalley

San Diego, California

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Tom Rowlett wrote this in December, 2003:

I have comments on both the subject of memorization and acting.

I find that as I prepare and go over the readings several times, that a few phrases just click in my brain and I inadvertently memorize them. When I read these phrases, I am free to make full eye contact with the congregation, and find that it comes across quite effective. I would think in each reading there may be many such sentences that lend themselves to memorization, and if you can do it comfortably, without screwing up the message that was intended by the writer, go for it. I memorized an entire reading once in my life, and afterwards I felt too much like I was showing off, so I never did it again. But that's my personal feeling. We don't want it to come across that we are the show. Reading makes it clearer where the word is coming from. We have all see many homilists read their sermon. I find this just as effective as a free wheeling, or giving a sermon with an outline - as long as they read as though they are reading to us (the congregation) and not to themselves.

I am an actor. Have been one for as long as I can remember. I don't get paid for acting, but I do get paid for teaching and I find that acting can be a great way to get the message across. But as a lector I would say that acting should stop just short of a dramatic reading. What I tell my reading students is when you practice, practice will all the gusto of a dramatic radio broadcast. BUT THEN back it off. What is not effective is too much volume, emotion, or facial expressions. But a little of these can add to the congregation's understanding. Remember they do not have the advantage of preparation. So the question is: "how can I say this phrase to convey the original intent?" I cannot imagine reading the phrase "Shout for joy" with raising my volume just a bit, or having a large smile as I speak it. But these intonation should be subtle. I find I can use my eyes to convey enough of the emotion that needs to accompany the reading. If your not sure try practicing in front of a mirror. If the acting requires use of your body below the neck, its probably too much.

Tom Rowlett
Boca Raton, Florida

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Doctor David Gould wrote in December, 2004, concurring, and telling of a special Easter Vigil reading:

As a long time lector in my parish, and co-ordinator of lectors for several years I tend to agree that the Word was not intended to be memorized..but Proclaimed by the Lector. We try to encourage our parishioners to put down the missals and listen...not read along. By reading from the lectionary, it stresses that these are not merely our words...but God's Words...his message for us. Proper and careful preparation and a good, effective proclamation is every bit as effective as one done from memory, maybe even moreso.

This being said, at our Easter Vigil one year...the first reading from Genesis was done in total and complete darkness. We had lectors stationed at different places throughout the congregation and each lector had a different "day" to do. Of course these had to be memorized by the lectors. I must say it was quite effective having all these different voices come out of the darkness all through the church. At special celebrations such as this one can be a little more animated but preferably not to the point of "Acting".


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Jj2baker2, known so far only by email address, reflected on the question from an interesting background, in January, 2004:

I'm a convert, and was previously a Protestant minister. I'm now a lector, which I enjoy immensely. However, if we were told we had to memorize the reading, I would bow out. I believe memorization is little more than an ego trip. It reminds me of one of the facts in music history (my major) - which is that piano (and other instrumental) concertos were not memorized until Liszt came along. Before that, the soloist used the music just as other members of the orchestra did. But Liszt, being a bombastic showman, decided he'd memorize his, which of course "wowed" his audience. Soloists have memorized their concertos ever since, until today we don't realize it was ever any other way. Likewise, I think memorizing the Scripture readings would serve little purpose other than to impress the congregation and inflate the ego of the lector. A good reader knows how to read ahead quickly and then deliver the line while looking at the congregation. I was trained to do that in seminary. Moreover, I believe it's important that the congregation see the lector referring to the written Word; that way they know it's coming from the offical Lectionary, which they all saw the lector place on the Ambo during the processional. Third, I've never been a regurgitation fan - I think it's more important for a lector to understand the content of the reading than to spend time learning how to spew it forth sans notes.

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Anthony Attipoe, who has served as lector in Ghana, West Africa, and several states in the US, shareed his views in February, 2004

Dear Lector friends,01FEB04

A lector's maturity, faith and faithfulness to a reading, are transparent in their proclamation. The perceived pretentiousness or acting is not from 'acting,' it is the clearest sign of the immaturity of the lector, the easiest to be perceived by the congregation. It is mostly apparent in the pastoral exhortation gone overboard; the lector turned preacher etc. This is a training issue that is easily addressed.

It is possible to proclaim a reading by rote, devoid of acting and non-pretentious, however, the guideline is clear at the origination of the proclamation!!! Each lector asserts: "A reading from ...", hence the lector must and is required to validate and substantiate this assertion during the proclamation. The masters of our art, even when fully memorized, still include the lectionary as part of both their preparation and presentation.

The variety of subtle mental and physical sensitivities and faithful preparations required to accomplish our delicate art fully, sometimes enables the choice of the easier option of being memorized and circumventing the formation, reference, ritual. The results are apparent.

The utility of memorization however cannot be ignored in the ministry of the Lector. In fact memorization is required to be truly successful considering the literary elements of the bible, especially the pauses of Saint Paul which are daring to read and at times best articulated from memory. Memorization readily enables the Lector to lift the words off the page and bring them to life; it enables the pronunciation of the 'sense' of the proclamation. It allows the lector to optimize use of the key subtle elements of the proclamation, namely, poise/ confidence/ voice weight/ pitch/ eye contact etc. It is a great tool even for the novice that has such gift; however the rites of the ministry must still not be discarded and it must be utilized tactfully and in context.

In the Aural/Oral tradition of the Word, in which I was raised, there were no missalettes. This tradition celebrates the Word as proclaimed by the lector, in the hearing of the congregation. The congregation is mostly listening and the lector is entrusted with custody of the Word in his whole and own element.

The written tradition on the contrary fosters an individualistic element in the congregation where the lector must additionally win/wean the listener from the missalette during the proclamation. !!The word must eloquently emanate from the lector, adequately fill the auditorium, reach the listener, edify the listener to the extent that he/she starts to take it in (i.e. drop the missalette (J ) then return to the lector filled with enough subtle cues for the lector to continue to paint his pauses, periods, colons and vocal inflections to the end of the reading!!!!!!! In this tradition the listener must be more readily impressed that they will hear and understand the lector better than what they are reading, and or following. Memorization, especially of the opening and/or closing lines, aids this process.

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In November, 2002, a lector wrote:

As part of my preparation for lectoring, I annotate a copy of the reading with underscores, highlights, spaces, etc. This helps me remember where to pause, slow down, add emphasis, etc. Last week our assistant pastor informed me that I was forbidden (not his rule - a Church rule) to read from notes. He said that it was required that I read directly from the lectionary.
What is the basis for this rule, and do you know of parishes where lectors regularly read from their notes?

Lector's Notes editor Greg Warnusz responds:

This good question deserves a theological answer and a practical one, in that order.

God is invisible, and has chosen to become known to us through signs. These signs are not just things, but the actions we do with them, as well. Take water. To a thirsty person, it may be a sign of God's providence. To a congregation using it to baptize new members at the Easter Vigil, water is a sign of God at the creation, making dry land appear, fit for human habitation; it's a sign of God's liberating the ancient Hebrews in the Exodus from Egypt, a sign of God's raising Jesus from the grave. To the baptized, it's a sign of new life, and to the parish a sign of renewed vigor. We invest water with these meanings by the actions we do with it, and let it be for us a sign that reveals the work of the hidden God. This is what it means to be a sacramental religion.

The God-revealing sign that fills us with the most reverence is the Eucharist, not just the consecrated bread and wine, but the gathering of the people, the proclamation of our communal memories in the Scripture, the Eucharistic prayer of thanksgiving for Jesus' death and rising, our great Amen to that, the ceremonious breaking of the bread, the sharing of communion, even the dismissal to "go in peace, to love and serve the Lord." All these together are a sign of God's love and call.

The written word of God is a sign of God's covenant with us. So is the act of proclaiming that word in the assembly, which is why you prepare so carefully. Your more formal dress for lector service is a sign of how seriously you take your role, and of your respect for those to whom you are reading. The physical book of the readings, oversized and richly ornamented, recognizable as a special book from the far corners of the church, is a sign, too. It bespeaks our love for the written word of God, the scripture we call "sacred," and that reinforces our willingness to accept what is revealed in it.

Every ritual action is a sign of something. Most liturgies also suffer from contradictory signs, too. We have things and actions that are telling, but what they reveal should be more repented than celebrated. I mean signs of our disinterest, our preoccupation with other things, our self-importance, our fatigue, even our cowardice, personally or as a congregation.

My short answer to the original question: The basis of the guideline about reading directly from the Lectionary is the sign value of that act, as hinted in the description of the book, above. We revere what's revealed in the words in that book, and we express that by revering the book itself, and substituting nothing for it.

Practically, I'd try this. Photocopy the Lectionary pages for your Sunday well in advance. Mark up the copies for your practice. Before mass, out of sight in the sacristy, insert your photocopies into the Lectionary at the original pages. When you do the proclamation from the annotated copies, keep them discreetly out of sight. Thus you won't compromise the sign value of the act of reading from the Lectionary.

Incidentally, all of the above makes me question the sign value of using two books for readings. We've long distinguished the gospel reading by changing our posture, assigning its proclamation to deacons and priests only, greeting it with "Alleluia!" and occasionally with incense. That seems sufficient. Adding a distinct book for it may be an inadvertent sign that the readings from the other book are of lesser value. Why would we want to say that?

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A question about "rubrics"

In mid summer, 2003, a conscientious lector asked what to do in the absence of rubrics about issues like, "Should the lector bow toward the altar? Should there be two lectors at a mass?" (The word rubric comes from the Latin word rubrum. "Rubrum" means "red" (think of the English word ruby) and originally "rubric" refered to the detailed ritual/ceremonial directives printed in red ink between the prayers (printed in black) in the Roman Missal.)

I sent him a private reply, along these lines

  1. Rubrics are like creeds. Church authorities don't promulgate them unless there's a need, specifically a problem to correct. When heretical teachings threaten the unity of the Church, expect a creed. We'll need rubrics if lectors start doing silly things like bowing toward each other instead of toward the altar.
  2. In the absence of rubrics, we use our judgment, or better, the collective judgment of our parish's liturgy committee. What should guide that judgment are clear overall goals for the people participating in the liturgy. We can't make God do something specific to us or for us, but we can help each other recognize, accept, and respond to the love of God celebrated in the liturgy. We do that on the human level by expressing truth, goodness and beauty:
    • truth in the ways the lector and preacher proclaim the Word
    • goodness in the hospitality evident in the gathering, and in the charity urged on us as response to God's love
    • beauty in the care we take about good music, graceful ritual gestures, tasteful decoration of the church, the dress code of lectors (and of everyone else), etc.
    In short, know what you're doing and why, and do it well.

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Last modified: Tue Feb 7 21:42:25 CST 2006