A Few Good Lectors Are Not Enough
Jesus' words, The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few,
apply as much to the lector ministry today as to the ministry
of saving souls he assigned his apostles.
Imagine how inspired those 12 men were as they spent time
with Jesus face-to-face. Can parishes today inspire its lectors
to pour themselves into their ministry with that same fervor?
It depends how much parish leaders are willing to "raise the
bar" with ongoing training and enrichment, and a pledge to
no longer accept mediocrity.
Unlike the quality and professionalism parishes demand from their musicians or cantors, few make comparable demands on their lectors. And in comparison to ministries where participants gather frequently such as the choir or various other ministries, lectors are too often left on their own to pursue sources of inspiration and enrichment.
Though many parishes do put on annual or semi-annual lector meetings, these occasional "eureka" moments are not enough to retain that sense of awe of the kind that Jesus inspired in his followers, and usually dissipate pretty quickly.
It takes frequent gatherings for prayer, weekly prep, faith sharing and fellowship to continually fuel the lector's passion for this ministry. As a lector coordinator, I've held such gatherings and even if only a handful of lectors showed up, we always departed uplifted and with renewed fervor and awe for our privileged calling.
Though much of a lector's preparation does require internal "alone" time, regular gatherings with other lectors for encouragement and fellowship offer many ways to keep the ministry alive and burning in their hearts between their assigned Sundays, which can often be weeks.
Aelred Rosser, in his book, A Word That Will Rouse Them, says "It is time to define the ministry and its requirements in more specific terms. With an accurate understanding of the importance and dignity of the reader's ministry, we will expect from readers no less than what we expect from presiders, deacons, musicians and preachers... all of whom undergo extensive formation for their ministries."
One of my recent pastors once grabbed a local TV celebrity to read at our Christmas Vigil, 10 minutes before Mass. Despite the newscaster's platform skills, he really didn't know what he was reading, and the parishioners were the first to pick it up.
What he did not have was, as said in Isaiah 50:4, "a well-trained tongue to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them", because to do this it takes far more than
speaking and presentation skills.
Great lectors can envision themselves washing the feet (figuratively) of their listeners with God's word. They can visualize the humility and love that Jesus showed when he actually did wash the feet of his apostles; then work at proclaiming their readings with the same humility and love; and in so doing, touch the hearts and minds of their listeners more deeply.
They can "speak to the weary" of our modern-day life: their fellow parishioners in the grind of making a living during tough economic times: those who've recently lost a loved one, are ill, are uncertain about their future, whose marriage is on the rocks, whose child is on drugs, and on and on. Fellow parishioners who are desperate to hear God's word, and dependent on the lector to speak it to them in a way that will rouse them and send them away feeling better.
There will always be that remnant of lectors who work on their own pursuit of excellence. But it doesn't have to end here. All a parish needs to do to grow this remnant is embrace the ministry's importance and take the training and enrichment of its lectors more seriously.