Blog for Lectors and Messengers of The Word
Shortly before a recent Sunday Mass in our church, one of our lectors walked up to the lectern and carried the lectionary back to his pew to practice his reading.
The rule may vary from church to church, but in our church, the lectionary remains on the ambo at all times. It's a great sign of disrespect to take the Word of God from its stationary place and walk around the church with it slung under your arm.
Using the beautiful lectionary for the first and second readings before the Gospel elevates the dignity of the Word. When we proclaim from workbooks, prayer cards, missalettes or sheets of paper, we diminish God's word. Worse yet, when we attempt to recite the Word from memory, we diminish it all the more. See our post, To Proclaim from Memory or Not.
We use sacred vessels made of precious metals for the Body and Blood of Christ, not ceramic or paper plates and cups. The lectionary deserves the same degree of respect.
In the Introduction to the Lectionary, Number 37 in Chapter II states, "Because of the dignity of the word of God, the books of readings used in the celebration are not to be replaced by other pastoral aids, for example, by leaflets printed for the preparation of the readings by the faithful or for their personal meditation."
Also when feasible, the lectionary ought to be surrounded with as much beauty as possible such as lighted candles at the ambo, and a sizeable investment from the parish in an attractively bound book.
Out of all those we serve in ministry, there will usually be that small core of appreciative people who respond to us with thanks and enthusiasm, right along with those who make us wonder if our work is ever bearing any fruit.
As lectors, we proclaim to many nominal Catholics. As Eucharistic ministers, we serve many who grab the Host as if from a vending machine. As ushers and greeters, we offer warm smiles to scores of apathetic Mass-goers... and so it goes with other ministries as well.
Even with this website, out of all those who stumble on it, most are gone in a few seconds. But among the casual surfers is that tiny minority of ambitious and self-motivated who will spend 15 or 20 minutes, or even an hour, absorbing all the info they can to keep getting better at what they do. And that's the remnant that makes it worth preserving this site for.
walk, there's always a remnant that's distinguished from the crowd. Even after the end of the Babylonian captivity,
not all the Israelites journeyed back to their homeland
So let us all press on... knowing that there will always be those few who hunger and are grateful for our service to them.
And may we always remind ourselves of those brilliant words of the late Dag Hammarskjold.... It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.
In their book, Rebuilding Your Message, authors Fr. Michael White and Tom Corcoran note how St. Paul knew that the words he spoke were not where his message started.
It started with a demonstration of the Spirit; a wordless revealing of the way God was working in his life.
In 1st Corinthians 12, Paul says: My message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power.
And how does this relate to us? Can this demonstration of the Spirit work for us the same way in our short 1-2 minutes up at the ambo?
Perhaps not to the extent as it did with St. Paul, but enough for our listeners to see the difference between the presence, or lack of, the Spirit in us.
The question Fr. White and Corcoran say that we should ask ourselves as we approach the ambo and look out over the assembly is... What is it that I'm telling my fellow parishioners about myself before I even say a word?
Is it my goodness, my gentleness, my joy, my
love, my peace?
What fruits of the Holy Spirit are working in me and shining through?
This may not be our primary message, say White & Corcoran...but it is our initial message.
And as I pondered all of this, it certainly gave me some things to question myself about, and the impression I was giving to my fellow parishioners up on that ambo.
That "demonstration of Spirit" in our body language, demeanor and countenance can raise or lower our listeners' expectations of what they're about to hear from us. And it starts the moment we leave our seat.
Approaching ambo too quickly can
convey a "let's get it done" attitude; too slowly, an overdose
of piousness or even a lack of interest, and too confidently, a hint of
So here are three ways you can show your show your listeners more of your spiritual side:
baggage out in your car: your outside world, your problems, anxieties, plans
for day, etc, etc, etc.
for Mass 15-20 minutes early and set aside some spiritual warm-up time. Find a
quiet spot to pray and ask the Lord to make you a worthy vessel for proclaiming
· Better yet, say a short prayer with the presider and other lector(s) before processing to the altar.
That's the ideal. And if it's never been done in your parish before... ask and you just might receive.
We all know that Mass for many parishioners is their only point of contact with the church, and their only opportunity to kindle their faith in a welcoming community atmosphere.
So here's an exercise:
Gather with your fellow lectors and discuss how you can contribute to your parish's welcoming atmosphere by your presence, demeanor, spirituality and effectiveness when you're up at the ambo.
In this exercise, think about the following goals a parish might pursue to be more welcoming; not just to the regulars, but to those who've drifted away and also our non-Catholic visitor friends:
- Transform their traditional views of Mass being a dull and routine obligation, or duty to attend.
- Change their spectator attitude of looking for what you can get out of Mass instead of what you can put into it.
- Help your fellow parishioners become more deeply connected, not only with God vertically, but with their fellow parishioners horizontally.
- Shift away from a private ‘me and God’ spirituality to a more ‘me and my beloved parishioners’ community spirituality.
- Become more a part of the sacrifice. Instead of leaving their lives at the church door, bring their hearts and minds, experiences, toils, tears and joys into the celebration as a living sacrifice.
How much of an impact could we have on the achievement of these goals by doing an outstanding job of our part in the liturgy... our small, one- or two-minute part at the ambo within the whole liturgical agenda.
Our "little" part in the big picture doesn't need to be that little.
This morning, I had a chance to give a short talk on the lector ministry to the leaders of other ministries in our parish. It's not a training piece for lectors; just a brush-over for a general audience. Feel free to use all or any part of it if you find it useful to share in your church.
There's more than meets the eye to the ministry of lector.
Beyond those one or two quick minutes we spend up at the ambo, we could spend a week or more in advance preparing for it in order to grasp the substance and feeling of our assigned reading, and then deliver it in a way that our listeners can grasp and feel it as well.
And if we don't prepare enough to know what we're reading about, they'll be the first to pick it up.
When we walk up to that ambo, we must aim to help
uplift this first part of the Mass, The
Liturgy of the Word, by our delivery; impress upon our listeners that Jesus is
truly present in the words we're proclaiming and that it's he who is actually speaking
through our voice.
When we do this well, the people will begin to digest the word of God and better prepare their hearts to digest the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
When we look out over the people from that ambo and sense their interest and curiosity for God's word, we become inspired to do our job better. The better we proclaim, the better they listen.
And the more engaged they become,
the more inspired we become. It's a mutual encounter where each party, lector
and listener, feeds the other.
Many of those to whom we speak to are the weary: our fellow parishioners in the grind of making a living during tough times, who've lost a loved one, are ill, whose marriage is on the rocks, whose child is on drugs, and on and on.
But we also speak to the unweary: the happy and successful who are grateful and anxious to absorb all of God's word they can with joy and thanks.
So we must always speak God's word in an inclusive way that will send everyone home feeling better.
Our foremost goal in our ministry is an ongoing one; to keep on raising the bar of our effectiveness on our fellow parishioners; to help them become more engaged in the readings and become as passionate about them as we are.
But we must be the catalyst to start that cycle of mutually feeding each other with that passion, and we're always open to your feedback on how we're doing that.
When my wife and I sold our home recently, the realtor we chose gave us more added value to result in a successful sale than we ever expected. Their staging and decorating skills were amazing, and we couldn't have asked for more thorough and timely follow-through on every aspect of the sale transaction.
Never did we need to call them about anything. They were on top of things and always seemed to beat us to the punch every time with answers to our questions before we even voiced them.
They were totally committed to enriching our experience in the same way that great financial advisors, pharmacists, doctors, teachers and other professionals are for the people they serve.
They elevated themselves above every sign of mediocrity; above the level of being a commodity where there are no variables or distinctions in what they offer.
And we too, as proclaimers of God's word, can rise above this commodity level by continuously striving to enrich our listeners' experience from the pew, and never being satisfied with mediocre performance.
When we revere our higher purpose, as Pope Benedict explains in his 2012 Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, of helping our listeners "cross the threshold into a life of communion with God, when the word of God is proclaimed," we can then rise above the level of a "reader" to an authentic pastoral minister.
Back around 2011, I spent a ton of time scouring the Web for quality resources to help us do a better job of proclaiming God's word. And what I found was a sea of articles, books, parish websites, videos and guidelines, scattered around and buried everywhere, and taking forever to find what I needed.
So I thought, there ought to be one place online... a lectors "Home Depot" where we could quickly and easily find all the tools we needed. And hence, this site was launched and is now being tapped today by lectors, priests, deacons and preachers in the Catholic church and other denominations throughout the U.S. and worldwide.
LectorResources.com has become a one-stop gateway to weekly preparation aids, articles, books, DVDs, CDs and self-improvement tools covering everything we need to raise our bar of excellence, and fuel our passion all the more for this awesome ministry we're so privileged to serve in.
But there's a hole here that needs to be filled... by you, the user of this site. Up to now, this blog has been my one-man show, but I'd really like for it to be more of "your show."
Maybe you’ve got a story or
incident to share about your experience in this ministry that could comfort or
uplift a fellow user of this site in Sydney Australia, Johannasburg or Geneva, Chicago,
Omaha or Dubuque Iowa. And I'm certain there's a whole lot more expertise and wisdom out there among many of you than I've offered here.
A "Lectors Unleash" column would be an exciting place for you to voice yourselves. So talk to me. Tell me your stories. Send me your stuff and let's make this blog yours, not just mine.
In his philosophy for business success, The Strategy of Preeminence, well known marketing expert Jay Abraham says, "If you can't fall in love with your clients, you don't belong in the business you're in."
"Fall in love" by being so caring, passionate and desirous for their success in all aspects of their lives that it becomes your primary purpose for being in the business you're in.
What about "our business" as proclaimers of God's word? Are we in love with our listeners?
Abraham notes, "When I look at an audience, I don’t see people who've been burned and have become bitter. I see a bunch of little innocent children at the beginning process of their lives, with a lot of trust, with innocence and a sense of curiosity and discovery. And if you can look at your clients that way, it gives you an incredible context of nurturous appreciation for them."
What do we see when we look at our listeners? If we can see them as having a lot of trust, innocence and a sense of curiosity and discovery for God's word, we too can acquire that nurturous, respectful and loving attitude toward them.
And the more we do this, the more they'll look toward
us with trust and confidence, and the more we'll be inspired to proclaim God's
word better and better for them going forward.
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal... I Corinthians 13:1
St. Paul had it right. The Beatles had it right. Jay had it right... All you need is love.
At a Friday morning Mass recently, I walked into church about five minutes early, and the sacristan waved to me to read. No problem, right?
Except that of all the mornings I usually go through the readings in advance, I barely scanned this one, which had a slew of unfamiliar names and was one of the longest readings in the Weekday Missal preceding the Gospel. Take a look at 2 Kings 11:1-4, 9-18, 20... Reading II, 11th week OT, and you'll appreciate the challenge.
When my sacristan friend waved to me, I thought, "Oh, No! Of all the mornings to read, did it have to be this one?" So I quickly darted up to the ambo, gave the reading another brief glance in the minutes before the priest processed in, and then prayed to Jesus to carry me through the reading without destroying it, or the tone and momentum of the Mass.
Miraculously, aside from slurring through some of those strange names, I got through it pretty well, even to where the priest complimented me at the opening of his homily.
As I shook my head in relief, the assembly even chuckled a bit, which reminded me that no matter how difficult our readings can be, the worshippers are usually pulling for you, and are looking through you into the Word of God... not at you.
If I had any success that morning. I'm certain it was because I was able to take myself out of the whole situation and lift everything up to our Lord at that crucial time of need.
Sound easy? To simply turn things over to Jesus, become a child and go along for the ride? It is! Even for this 25-year ministry warhorse.
What are we really achieving in a mere one or two minutes at the ambo?
Let's hope it's a sense of Christ's presence among our listeners through the words we proclaim, and then leading up to an even stronger sense of his presence into the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
A U.S. Catholic article notes that 63 percent of today's Catholics personally believe that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ at the consecration. But how deep is that belief? Can we, by putting forth our best effort as proclaimers enflame that belief in our listeners and launch them into this pinnacle part of the Mass with more anticipation?
Take a look at John 6:48-59, and picture yourself in that crowd of Jews arguing over Christ's message that the true and real bread from heaven is in the form of his flesh and blood, and that it must be consumed to gain everlasting life with him.
Which side you might you have taken? Though Scripture has taught us to believe Jesus' words today, would we have done so back then, while even standing in his presence?
Would we, in the words of the Benedictine Monk Calmet, "have been able to raise our hearts to a more elevated and spiritual way of understanding Christ's words?"
Concerning those obstinate Jews who didn't understand Jesus, St John Chrysostom in the Fourth Century said, "If they were blamed for making foolish and blasphemous statements like 'How can he give us his flesh to eat,' are those who refuse to believe in his real presence in the Eucharist today any less blamable?"
Let us also do all we can in our one or two minutes at the ambo to encourage and uplift that "other 37 percent" according to the U.S. Catholic article who are still blamable.