To Proclaim from Memory or Not : Blog for Lectors and Messengers of The Word

To Proclaim from Memory or Not

by George Miller on 04/09/12

When you practice a reading enough, you'll often have it down to memory; or at least close. But to then deliver it from memory is usually going a step too far.

The biggest problem with reading from memory is that you can shock people into a "Wow, he's reciting from memory" reaction and distract them from hearing what you actually said. The real attraction shifts to the messenger instead of the message

Anoher problem is that you can get labeled as "the one who recites from memory." It becomes your individual mark distinct from the usual expectation for lectors to read from the book.

The worst part is that if you forget your lines, you're done. I've seen lectors make fools of themselves by stammering midway through their proclamation, and then bowing back to the lectionary to save face.

There's nothing grandiose about displaying our ability to speak God's word from memory. We are granted an awesome privilege to read from God's book; not to take matters in our own hands and push it aside. We'd never begin our reading with "A Speech from the Book of Isaiah." It's a reading: not a soliloquoy. It's God's word: not ours. 

 Aelred Rosser in his popular book for lectors, A Word That Will Rouse Them, says "Readers who believe that the word is powerless without them will overshadow it. Any attempt during the liturgy to 'stage' or 'act out' the biblical text will put the reader in the foreground at the expense of the word.

After practicing a reading several times, I'll often have it down to memory. But on the lectern, I'll always read from the lectionary to display my respect for God's written word, and show that I have no right to recite it as my own monologue.

Even if you memorize your readings, if you can seamlessly move your eyes back and forth from the lectionary out to the congregation without bobbing up and down like a ferret, you'll be inviting them to "come along with you" and bask in the beauty of God's word.

The late Ray Lonergan in his workbook, A Well-Trained Tongue, does say that there are special occasions when proclaiming from memory may be appropriate, but should only be done by seasoned lectors, and with caution to avoid false theatrics.

For more on memorizing readings, you can view a broader discussion among a variety of lectors at lectorprep.org here.

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The grass withers, the flower wilts, but the word of our God stands forever... Isaiah 40:8

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