Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Mass Etiquette – Part III: The Lector

January 8th, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

Part I – the Congregation

Part II – the Altar Server

One of the hazards of opening the sanctuary up to anyone in the congregation is that, inevitably, you have people who think themselves qualified to do a certain task, and yet, in all honesty, are not entirely prepared to do it. This can be seen quite plainly in some altar servers, some church musicians, etc. However, it is most notably seen in the person of the lector. The lector, reader, commentator, or whatever else he or she may be called in your parish, ought to have, primarily, a sense of dignity about himself/herself. After all, he will be reading out loud the Word of God, not some play or dramatic production. It’s not about charisma – it’s about presenting something sacred and doing so in a sacred way. It’s that simple.

This being said, far too often our lectors fall prey to hubris. They mount the pulpit, and suddenly they are the center of attention. Please note, this isn’t a condemnation of anyone – it’s just my observation. And so, flowing from this observation are the following points:

Thou shalt not:

  • Parade around with the Lectionary or Book of the Gospels. It’s the Word of God, and not some prize you just won at a carnival. If you are asked to carry the Lectionary or Book of the Gospels in the procession, do so serenely and with great humility.
  • Improvise the texts. Read what’s in the book, and refrain from making up words or saying what you think may sound better to contemporary ears.
  • Memorize or abridge the texts, and then choose not to use the Lectionary. You’re supposed to proclaim the readings, so it’s best to actually have them in front of you. Some local priests, through their evangelical zeal, have been seen roaming from the pulpit and giving a summary of the Gospel rather than actually reading from it. This is nowhere to be found in any the liturgy documents produced by the Second Vatican Council.
  • Talk with the congregation like you’re a stand-up comedian. I’ve seen some lectors who will get up and, rather than say, “A reading from the Book of _______” will say instead, “Hey there, how ya doin’?” I would hope this is common sense, but I guess it isn’t. In simplest terms, it’s just plain tacky. You might as well have an inflatable jack-o-lantern on the altar if you’re going to start having a conversation from the pulpit like that. They’re equally tasteless. (I apologize if any of you reading this have an inflatable Halloween or Christmas decoration you use. My “tacky” statement applies to their potential use at Mass, and not in your front yard.)

Thou shalt:

  • Speak calmly, loudly, and with great care paid to proper diction.
  • Preview the readings at least once before you get up to read them publicly. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people get up and say, “A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the . . . um . . . Thess – oooooo – lon – iiiiii – ans.” A one-time perusal will give you an invaluable safety-net.
  • Dress appropriately. Dress shirts, ties, sport coats, sweaters, dress shoes, dresses, are all what one would consider “decent apparel.” Hoodies, sweat-shirts, polo-shirts, T-shirts, jeans, sneakers, tube tops, skimpy skirts, and the like are not appropriate attire for someone entering the sanctuary of God.
  • Be happy, not gloomy! Don’t make it look as if you’re petrified, even if you have a fear of crowds or public speaking. You ought to reflect the joy of someone who is ministering before God in His “holy dwelling place.” This being said, don’t get up there in the pulpit and act like you’re the most care-free person in the world. Make your demeanor like that of a cross between Jerry Seinfeld and Winnie-the-Pooh, i.e. excited, but still restrained enough not to look like a fool.

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3 Responses to “Mass Etiquette – Part III: The Lector”

  1. Sfomo says:

    I am distracted by a lector who is overly dramatic. Proclaim the Word of God; don’t act it out.

  2. Mike says:

    Thou shalt bow to the altar when passing in front of it.

    Thou shalt not bow to the congregation.

  3. Snowshoes says:

    Excellent, thank you. Also, have a friend who will tell you the truth sit in the congregation and critique your reading of the Epistle. Do you enunciate your words? Do you tend to run your words together? Do you drop your voice at the end of sentences? Do you speak into the mike at your church so you can be heard? (There are different kinds of mikes.)
    In the “thou shalt not” category, number one in my book is if you are chanting the psalm, move away from the mike. Real musicians/cantors NEVER sing into a mike at church (or anywhere other than a sports stadium, and only for the National Anthem) Our buddy the blind Italian singer who sings so nicely is considered a second rate singer by the pros because his voice is too wispy to carry by itself without amplification in the concert hall. I’m all but deaf, but my my, the volume of some of these so called “cantors” who scream into the mike make my head hurt! This is the main reason why all the teenagers leave the church, if it sounds like hell they reason, it probably is… And ladies and gentlemen who know better, whose fault is it? I say something when I visit a parish with this abuse, do you? Mr/Miss Cantor (or choir member), if your voice doesn’t carry in church without a mike, become an usher! Happy Feast of the Baptism of the Lord!

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