Lector to Lector
My wife, Carol, and I recently gave a witness talk to our church on stewardship. After Mass, a well-dressed couple came up to tell us how much they enjoyed it. When we asked them what Mass they usually attended, they said, "We don't worship here. We're Lutherans and were just passing through."
My first thought was, "Wow! What an opportunity we have as Catholic lectors to demonstrate our church's love for Scripture to people of all denominations. And also a responsibility because if we do a great job of proclaiming God's word, we can help silence the impressions among many non-Catholics that we are not a Scripture reading church.
The view among most Evangelicals about Catholics is that we are a Sacramental church with the belief that to save our souls, it's more important to receive the Sacraments than to read the Scriptures. Whereas Evangelicals cling to the Scriptures, Catholics cling to the Eucharist, so to speak.
And so we do, but not only to the Eucharist. Fr. Dwight Longnecker in his compelling piece, Why Catholics Don't Read the Bible, says that Catholics do focus on the Scriptures, but a different way than Evangelicals.
Where Evangelicals use the Bible as a sourcebook for doctrine, moral teaching and inspiration, Catholics use it for worship. Longnecker notes that in one survey, 30% of the Catholic Mass was taken from Scripture versus only 3% from one Evangelical church.
The Catholic church is without question a Sacramental church. But what a blessing it is to have both Sacraments and Scripture, because the knowledge we gain from Scripture both nourishes and reinforces our belief in the Sacraments.
What a privilege we have as lectors to empower our listeners with our forceful, loving and passionate proclamation of God's word, and prepare their hearts to receive the Eucharist more passionately.
And as for our non-Catholic brethren who may be just "passing through," they could become the biggest trumpeter of our Catholic faith to their non-Catholic brethren when they observe us making great proclamations from the ambo.
I recently observed a young lady being called at the last minute to replace another lector. As she began the reading, she turned to the wrong page of the Lectionary from Cycle B instead of to the correct page from Cycle C.
The priest who was to do the homily noticed the error and quietly leaned over to mention it to the presiding priest. But unlike some priests who may have darted up to the ambo and corrected the lector on the spot, he simply let it go.
the Gospel, the priest began his homily, which was to be tied to the correct Cycle C
reading that was never read. But since both the Cycle B and Cycle C readings
were about Peter proclaiming the risen Christ in the Book of Acts, the priest made
no specific references to either reading and by doing so, graciously prevented any attention
toward the lector's mistake.
As I observed the lector from a nearby pew, I could see how badly she felt after realizing her error, even though most people in the assembly probably never even caught it. Aside from the few who carry their missals to Mass, and perhaps a few others who actually study the upcoming Sunday readings, the number who noticed the mistake was probably quite small. I also never noticed anyone commenting about it after Mass.
Even though the lector read the wrong reading, she proclaimed it quite well. And if I had to throw my two cents in about it, I'd vote that it's better to read the wrong reading well than the right reading poorly.
What's your opinion? Should the priest have stopped the lector on the spot, disrupted the flow of the liturgy and embarrassed the lector so that his homily could be in perfect sync with the correct reading? Or did he do the right thing by just letting things move along?
When we cast aside our self-consciousness about our performance or appearance and shift our full concentration to God's word, we'll have a better chance to engage and hold our listeners.
We must get out of the way and become transparent to our function, so our listeners can hear our reading through us without being distracted by our signs of self-consciousness. When we're thinking about ourselves at the ambo, they'll know it first.
The word of God only becomes alive when we abandon ourselves to the text and pour it out to our listeners; and the more we pour ourselves into our preparation, the more we'll have to pour out to them in our delivery.
When we grasp and feel the reading's central point; the arguments, motives and attitudes of the people; its tone and spirit whether to comfort, warn, inform or give hope; its meaning in our own lives; the characters we identify with and where we can place ourselves in the scene... we'll then have something to pour out for our listeners to savor.
The next time you approach the ambo, pray for abandonment. And in your preparation time ahead, pray for power, conviction and sensitivity, openness, humility, gratitude and personal growth through the text you'll be proclaiming (See our "prayers" page on this site).
God pours out his spirit upon us. Strive to pour more of it out on your listeners, perhaps as St. Paul refers to himself as "pouring himself out like a libation" in Philippians 2:17.
Become a servant of his word by abandoning yourself to it; not a master of it by self-conscious performance.
How different the person who devotes himself to the study of the law of the Most High! He explores the wisdom of all the ancients and is occupied with the prophecies; He preserves the discourses of the famous, and goes to the heart of involved sayings; He seeks out the hidden meaning of proverbs, and is busied with the enigmas found in parables... Sirach 39: 1-3
In this post, we'll refer to two-timers as those who come out of the woodwork to attend Mass twice a year, give or take, such as on Easter and Christmas. But rather than judging or looking at these folks as slackers, these principal Mass events of the year could be viewed as a chance to lure them back into the swing of regular attendance.
Easier said than done eh? We've all likely seen presiders at these Easter and Christmas Masses throw out platitudes such as, "You're welcomed to join us again next Sunday" or "We hope you'll come back soon," usually falling on deaf ears. So what can a lector do to help?
As I approached the ambo last Easter Sunday morning, I gazed around at our packed house of about 1,000 with its standing-room-only isles and thought to myself, "Wow! What an opportunity today to put an extra effort into the reading I'm about to proclaim. Who knows? I just may be able to clear the path for God's voice to reach some of our friends who've been straddling the fence about coming to Mass more often."
The most attractive and engaging parts of the Mass for most Catholics are usually the music, the homily and of course, the Liturgy of the Eucharist. But we can also add to the attraction by preparing to proclaim God's word with more power and passion, especially during these major annual celebrations. Professional entertainers often "rise to the occasion" for their largest audiences, and we can do the same.We must never underplay what we may be able to add to the "two-timer's" Mass experience. And if we only get a couple of opportunities with them each year, perhaps we ought to seize these times with all the fervor we can muster.
I recently attended a "70s" party with fellow parishioners and danced like a beast with various women besides my wife. After arriving home, I wondered about the impression I made "off the ambo" until the following morning after Mass when everyone started "confessing" how much fun they had.
Is there a line to draw on our behavior out of the pew? Certainly, but we can still preserve our credibility as a minister of God's word without hiding behind it. We can still be physically connected to the world while being inwardly disconnected from it. Christ managed to do this quite well as he ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners, as well as David did when he danced with abandon in 1 Chronicles 15:29.
If we allow ourselves to be piously aloof in the pew or parking lot because of our special calling to proclaim God's word, I believe we'll be less effective at the ambo. But what a joy it is to rise from our pew and head up to the ambo among our friends whom we've made by being our true selves instead of among people we barely know because we haven't yet "undressed" ourselves.
Oswald Chambers in his classic, My Utmost for His Highest, says about Christ, "He did not physically cut himself off from society, but he was inwardly disconnected all the time. He was not aloof, but he lived in another world."
And we should do the same, shouldn't we? As our Easter morning reading in Colossians 3:1-4 reminds us, "For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."
We can die to the world and still dance, not necessarily with our feet, but with our hearts. Do it more often, and watch how many more of your fellow parishioners will be drawn to you.
One of the best examples of financial stewardship I recently saw was a priest slicing a grapefruit with a kitchen knife on the altar. The point of his homily was to show how easily our finances can slip through our hands each month to the point where there's nothing left for God.
The first chunk of our monthly income, or slice of grapefruit in the priest's example, understandably went for necessities such as mortgage, food, car payment, etc. The second chunk for "conceived" necessities; club memberships, iPhones for the kids, top-shelf wines, pay-per-view TV, and on and on with each so-called necessity stealing another slice of "God's grapefruit" until what was finally left for him was a pittance. Tithing? Not a chance in this case.
The more I thought about this example, the easier it was to see how it could apply to the amount of time we invest in our self-improvement as ministers of God's word. Is it possible to tithe our time; to give God a regular piece of our busy schedules in order to do a better job of representing his voice?
If out of our 168 hours a week, we allocated, say, 56 for sleep, 50 for work, 30 for personal and family business, 14 for additional church ministries and 18 for fun and frivolous things, where in this mix could we pull out a couple hours a week for further study and deepening of our commitment as ministers of God's word?
How big a slice of our "time grapefruit" would we be willing to give to God in thanks for the privilege to serve him in this awesome and exalted ministry?
Could we tithe from our 168 hours a week? Probably not, but how about one-tenth of one-tenth for starters? That's one one-hundredth; 1.68 hours per week stolen from, well, you decide.
An admired pastor in our diocese recently voiced his concern over the ignorance and passive attitude among many Catholics toward the Sacred Scriptures, and how our more learned Protestant brethren can often embarrass us when discussing the Bible.
Though Vatican II gave the proverbial green light encouraging Catholics to read the Bible, not much has changed over the past 50 years because it hasn't been stressed enough at the diocesan and parish levels.
Let's be honest. How often do we hear any messages or promptings from the pulpit about the importance of reading Scripture on a regular basis? And after centuries of Catholics hearing their priests read and recite Scripture to them in the Liturgy, getting them to start reading God's word on their own can be like making a battleship do a 180 degree turn on a dime.
Can a lector help turn this battleship? Absolutely, because the better we proclaim, the more of our fellow parishioners we'll get to raise their eyes, listen better and perhaps say to themselves things like, "Wow, I'm going to go home and look that up," or "I need to read the rest of that story as soon as I can."
Just doing our
part little by little can make more inroads into the minds and hearts of our listeners
than we may ever imagine. As the title of A.L Williams' New York Times best seller says, "All you can do is all you can do, but all you
can do is enough."
So let us all just "stick to our knitting" with this wonderful privilege we have to slowly, bit by bit, transform the lives of our listeners with God's word.
We may never see the results short-term. But like the Chinese bamboo tree with its seeds planted for five years until it suddenly sprouts to 90 feet in height, our results as proclaimers of God's word can follow similar patterns.
Just keep watering.
When two lectors are assigned for Sunday readings and one of them doesn't show, is it all that catastrophic?
In some parishes it may not be considered a big deal to just grab any lector in the pew 10 minutes before Mass; but in others with higher standards, it's a practice in which every effort is made to avoid.
When a lector doesn't show up or get a sub, it can put a huge strain on the sacristan to find a last-minute replacement. And when one can't be found, an added strain on the remaining lector to do both readings plus the intercessory prayers.
In addition, when a lector has poured his or her heart into preparing their one assigned reading, taking on additional readings can dilute their focus on doing a great job and knock the wind out of their sails.
Scrambling around to find last-minute lectors is also a disservice to the parishioners, especially to those who come expecting to hear the word of God proclaimed well. When a replacement can't be found, one lector doing all three readings can also appear odd to the parishioners when they're used to having God's word read to them by two different and well-prepared lectors.
Of the many parish websites I've scoured, the most that's said about lector no-shows is what to do about it after it happens, but little about the importance of avoiding these situations in the first place.
In one of my past churches, our pastor would fire any lector or Eucharistic minister if they didn't show up or get a sub. A little extreme, perhaps; but a good policy in any church might be to give one or two (at most) warnings to repeated offenders before removing them from the schedule.
But how does a lector coordinator know who shows up and who doesn't when they can't be at every Mass? They make friends: lots of friends with sacristans, ushers, greeters and other lectors who give feedback on no-show incidents. It works well for me and should for others too.
One of the most striking examples of the ultimate lector is in the reading from the Book of Nehemiah 8 on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) just two weeks ago.
Picture the scene as Ezra the priest reads the law of God, standing aloft on a platform as the crowd watches him unroll the scroll. Seem a little familiar? Though we may not unroll the Lectionary, our modern-day scroll, most of our listeners will respect the fact that it's the word of God we're proclaiming.
Ezra's deep knowledge and dedication to the Torah resulted in a delivery so powerful that he captured the full attention of the people, had them prostrating themselves, saying "Amen, Amen" and bringing them to tears: so much that Nehemiah and some of the clergy had to step in and sooth the people over with a few messages of gladness. The tears were due to the people's realization of how far they had drifted from God and his laws during the time of their Babylonian captivity.
Who was this man, Ezra? The Book of Ezra which precedes the reading from Nehemiah 8 describes his crucial role in unifying a vulnerable Jewish community still subjected to the influences of Hellenism, and in bringing them back to their one true God.
Though most of our fellow parishioners may not be adrift from God's laws to the extent of that post-exilic Jewish community, we can still help them "stay the course" with God when we proclaim with the conviction and passion Ezra had for God's word.
Chapters 7-10 in the Book of Ezra give us more insight into this role model of a man. Perhaps a bit of him can rub off on us.
Those “deadly seven” sins of Sloth, Envy, Gluttony, Pride, Lust, Anger and Greed can find their way into our lector ministry as easily as other parts of our lives. Though not all neatly listed together anywhere in Scripture, they are referred to throughout God’s book.
Whoever originally penned them is not certain, but it's largely believed that the artists and philosophers of the 14th century ingrained them into the Christian consciousness. They are not direct violations against God’s Commandments, but they are the vices, or stepping stones, that can lead to serious offenses against God.
How do they apply to the lector ministry? The following questions can help us keep ourselves in check against them:
SLOTH: Am I dedicating ample time to prepare my readings, or merely doing the minimum to get by?
ENVY: Do I view lectors who proclaim better than me as an example to strive for, or as competition that overshadows me?
GLUTTONY: Am I an "ambo hog" who seizes every chance to proclaim while not giving consideration to other lectors?
PRIDE: Do I ever consider myself a little more "special" than those who serve in other ministries that may not be considered as important? Am I ever disappointed when I don't get compliments after I feel I've "nailed" a particular reading?
LUST: Do I thrive on the exposure, attention and admiration a lector can often get? If so, I may want to go through this discernment exercise and assess my reasons for being in this ministry.
ANGER: Do I ever get rude, cocky or condescending with other liturgical ministers. Do I ever argue with a sacristan about who to assign as a last-minute sub for a no-show lector.
GREED: If I ask a lector to sub for me, do I insist that we trade slots so I don't lose my turn, or am I content with giving it up for one round?
You could probably spend hours with your fellow lectors coming up with more of these questions. And if you're looking for something new to do at your lector meetings, give this exercise a try and you just may stir up a flurry of discussion.