Some Reflections and Guidelines for Lectors

Theme reflections are offered to help you become the finest reader possible and to enjoy this ministry of Christian service.

1.   Because the lector is “one who proclaim the Good News they should lead a life that reflects their belief in this " Good News". We convey our attitudes toward scripture by the way we read it. People sense you believe what you read. The most effective sign of a good reader is a person reading with life, energy, intelligence, and enthusiasm. Remember the people come not as critics to pass judgement - their silence and attention show good will. We are not performers trying to captivate an audience but servants of God and God's people. Both reader and the assembly are ministers of the word.

2.   Your reading should be preceded by prayerful preparation, in anticipation of the contact made with that person most in need of God's message at that particular Mass. A lector, as any minister, needs to be a person of prayer. (A prayer before you leave the sacristy will do wonders for you and remind you that God is with you as you go forth as God's instrument).

3.   Your Proclamation of God’s Word may prove to be the chief nourishment that worshippers will receive. You are ministers of the Word. In a real sense, you break open God’s Word so the people might experience Jesus through God's Word, just as the priest breaks open the Bread so that people experience Jesus through the Eucharist. The people of God expect the Liturgy of the Word to strengthen and prepare their faith for a more meaningful celebration of the Eucharist. There is also danger here. We should never read over dramatically. That pulls people’s attention away from God's Word toward the lector and we do not want that to happen either. We do not want people to notice howyou are reading but what you are reading. The Sunday Liturgy is the only time many people are exposed to Scripture. It is important that it be presented in such a way to have a real impact on them. For we desire not only to interest people, but also to move them, to elicit a response. For a few moments you are the voice of the Lord, calling, challenging. encouraging, inviting God’s people to a deeper experience of faith and life. Jesus has something to say to thisassembly at this time about the needs of this moment. Like Ezekiel's dead bones, it is through the Spirit of Jesus. God is creating new life bringing this people who are dead to life again. Through the word Jesus is calling on this people to help Him make the kingdom happen in this area. To be a sign and vision of hope in a world shattered with loneliness and hopelessness.

4.   Be aware of the background of the readings. For most of the lectors it means some extra study in Scripture. Get to know St. Paul and St. Luke and the Prophet, Jeremiah, so well that you can anticipate the way they think. Remember scripture is also literature written in a particular historical contexts and so we need to understand these aspects. In this light, take advantage of any Bible Study the parish offersThis way you can understand the overall meaning of the book. Who knows what marvelous surprises await us when we serve God through the word? So try to read the Bible privately on a regular basis in order to let God speak to you in your heart. (There was an ancient saying: “Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.)

5.   Different materials require different treatment. Read the theological part of a letter or epistle of St. Paul as if you were conducting an argument. Read Sirach or Wisdom so as to bring out the individual wise sayings of which those writings are composed. Read the denouncements of the prophets with ardor, the admonitions of Paul with regret, the love poetry of the Songs of Songs with passion, Revelation of John in the tradition of apocalyptic literature, and the narrative of the Exodus as a story. In other words, put some feeling and mood in the readings to make them come alive for the people, trying to make the author's thoughts one's own thoughts so as to convey the spirit and the personality of the original speaker. We have some books with background to the scriptures available in the sacristy. Please take advantage of them.

It is Important to understand the movement for the Mass and the liturgical season in which the Word is located. We have literature on this if you are interested.

6.   The task of readers is NOT to read the scriptures “to people at mass on Sunday. Rather it is the task of readers to communicate how they think and feel about the reading with those who are supposed to be listening.

7.   The goal of proclaiming God's word at Sunday mass is to help create for the members of the assembly an experience of God's presence, of Jesus' presence, in the Word. The goal is not to get the Word only into heads but also into hearts

If readers and listeners conspire together to make a life-giving proclamation, we have some chance of experiencing the presence of Jesus in and through His Word, as did the people of Christ's time, who were amazed by the authority and clarity of how Jesus spoke. We form a link with the first disciples of Jesus and the assemblies of the apostolic church. Both experiences are 'faith experiences'. The only difference is that the disciples did have a memory of Jesus' physical presence.

8. Proclaiming God's word is storytelling. When you read you are “telling a story. You must get into the storytelling mode. When you tell a good story, both storyteller and listeners get inside the story and start living it over again. That is what sharing God's story with your people is all about. So God’s story and the people of God’s story is your story as well. For we are not just transcribers of the Word, but interpreters of the Word.You must try to get into the mood and feeling of the story you are telling. You must try to get into the skin of the person who speaks or writes. You must try to tell it like it really is through your own personality.

9.   Proclaiming God's word is also a conversation. Readers need to think “conversation when they do public reading. (Yet done slower than normal conversation.) It is an important way to avoid the very artificial mode of so-called “public reading.

10. Don't read, but speak. Speak ideas, not words. Speak it as if it were your own fresh idea. Read in such an attractive way that you would want to listen to it. Read ahead. See phrases, not words. You have to know the meaning yourself before you can convey it to others; therefore, good reading is a matter of getting the meaning, then giving the meaning. Readers must thoroughly understand the copy so that they can unfold the thought naturally for the listener, so that people are totally unaware of the amount of work you have put into it. Readers must speak it as their own idea and give the listener the Impression that the words are fresh. Be natural. Make sense out of the words. Reading lacks expression chiefly because of a misunderstanding of the meaning of words. Think the thought and then feel the emotion--think and feel while you read. You have to call upon the images in your own mind and let them live. You should make the listener forget that you are reading. Good “idea diction is the proper grouping of words. Put the words together that belong together. Read ideas, not words. Be careful not to stress the weak words (such as: a, the, and, or, from, by). (Giving these words too much vocal attention is a dead give-away that you are reading words, not speaking and communicating ideas.)

Usually, you will place emphasis on nouns, action verbs, and you will color adjectives. Know the theme and establish it with some sort of emphasis, some indication of its importance to the listener. Avoid singsong sameness of emphasis and/or pitch. The idea is for the pitch of your voice to avoid being too high or too low. Color and inflect each word and phrase as you would in natural conversation. Speak to the listener. Keep this in mind throughout the reading. Effective emphasis consists of contrast. Strive for effective emphasis. If you emphasize everything, you obviously emphasize nothing. The secret of effective emphasis is in knowing how to throw away unimportant things. You can emphasize by voice intensity, color, and pace. One of the best ways is by use of the pause--you set a word apart for emphasis by pausing before that word.

Pause before all quotations. Pausing gives your listener an opportunity to contemplate what you just said (to be brief but not too brief, extended but not too extended). Yet at the same time we don't want too many pauses because they can chop the life out of the reading. Good cadence turns the control of punctuation (which is for the written word) over to the reader. The goal of the pause is to charge the silence that will highlight or emphasize a certain feeling or meaning. Pause is one of the reader’s most powerful tools. Pause between phases, at the end of sentences and between paragraphs or main ideas. Pause to point up a special word or thought. Also, pause for a period, semi-colon, colon or question mark.

11. Never read publicly what you have not first read privately. Even the most seasoned reader can be caught off guard by a passage that he or she has not seen recently, whether because of content, unexpected punctuation or the lack of it, or unfamiliar proper nouns. Remember to pick up your workbook as early as possible on the shelf in the sacristy. Don't be afraid to mark the workbook to help remind you where to pause, what to emphasize, etc. (Please don'tmark the Lectionary book that is used for Mass!)

Please remember to return it when you are finished. Try to read over the readings (Including the Gospel of the day) and prepare them well so the "Good News" may sound like just that and flow easily.

Perhaps the simplest way is to set aside about 20 minutes on the day before you are scheduled to lector at Mass. The procedure during this time could be as follows:

a. Find a quiet place where you are unlikely to be disturbed.

b. Prepare yourself to be open to the Word of God by a short prayer, perhaps to the Holy Spirit.

c. Read the readings ... slowly ... trying to understand the general idea each contains.

d. Now read each reading out loud while standing in the room. If you find yourself stumbling over a sentence, stop and go back until you can read it smoothly. Be careful of the pronunciation of proper names... they're generally not too complicated if you take them apart by syllables.

e. Read each reading out loud again now that you have worked at making sense out of it. (It is good to rehearse it at least 5 times before reading at Mass.)

12. Pronounce words correctly. There will be books on biblical pronunciation available in the sacristy or feel free to ask the celebrant ahead of time.

13.Speak slowly and clearly. In doing so, we permit the sound to travel better. We also become free to regain our composure should we lose our place. It is better to err on reading too slowly than too quickly; (although you don't want to speak too slowly, for the flow is destroyed). You also want to read briskly, brightly, for the Bible is the Good News. We don't want to read in a monotone or so drably that we cause a worshipper to groan inwardly as we approach the lectern "Oh, oh. Bad news". Pacing or deliberation is not a matter of reading more slowly. It is a matter of stretching and reducing. Your ability to pace your reading is a sign of how much control you really have over your reading. Many readers do not have control over their speed. They are helpless, like the driver of a car with no brakes. The medium (that's you) is inevitably the message.

14. Do not swallow the word with which a sentence ends. Each vowel and consonant must be correctly formed so that the listeners hear every sound that is necessary for them to get the “Good News. Enunciation becomes a primary factor because, not only is each word expressed correctly, but also ideas are phrased so that the last word is heard. If you do not, the listener, having heard every other word can lose all. If you must drown or swallow an occasional word, never let it be a verb. The verb is the word that holds a sentence together. Also, emphasize the last sentence. This is important. Over 30% of all readers read too quietly. Make a special effort to read loudly enough to be heard. Start the reading in a strong voice. Often the first sentence or two hold the key to understanding the entire passage.

A very practical guideline, one that never fails: always begin the next sentence on a different pitch than the one you just finished. Sounds like an artificial rule, but it never fails. The other way of saying it is, never start the next sentence at the same pitch level where you left off.

Another suggestion: Always do dialogue at different pitch levels and with greater inflection than you do narrative.

15. Good volume is assured by good breathing. If you are a bit nervous, you may tend to be breathless. Before beginning, take a couple of good breaths to settle down and be ready. Don't be afraid to pause and breath but do it quietly so that the others nearby won't pick it up. Don't begin speaking until you have "breathed" yourself into a state of calm. When you are tense concentrate on the people and God's Word instead of on yourself. Realize that a certain amount of tension is natural and good. Trust in God's help. 

16. You don't want too many or too few words in one breath or too few. Gradually you will understand your abilities well enough to strike a balance.

17. Approach the place from which you will read with modest, attentive, but confident and relaxed bearing as if something important were to happen. Indeed, it is, have both feet firmly planted on the floor; and both hands resting on the lectern (not fidgeting). You are ready to begin.

18. It is important to acquire the skill (if you do not already possess the habit), of maintaining some eye contact with your hearers. Eye contact conveys a personal immediacy. It takes time to learn this (as it does other skills). Catch the eyes of several in the congregation or maybe one person who is looking at you. Calmly assure your audience that you are about to read to them, not at them. Many congregations still read the missalettes silently because they are expressing a lack of confidence, because of a lifetime of bad pulpit readers, microphone and church acoustics. Even though we have a microphone, it is important to project your voice well.

19. Hold the book in your hands; stand up straight in a position that says "energy". Look directly at your listeners. In this posture you appear to your listeners as If you have something worthwhile to say and want to say it as well as you can. You are already making a life-giving sign before you start reading. It helps.

An effective reader learns to look at the listeners more than at the book. Skillful readers speak out what they have just looked at in the book. Effective readers pick up the material with their eyes before they speak it. They are reading out loud what they have just looked at. It's like you pick up a shovel full and then deliver it with all your attention on the listeners. Then you go for the next shovel full, and so forth.

Make reasonable efforts not to read from the book lying on the lectern. When you do this you are forced to bend your head down. When you bend your head down you cut yourself off from your listeners. You break most of the possible connection that you must have with them for the sake of communication. You also cut off a considerable amount of the wind that you need to produce adequate and interesting sound. You can't bend your Windpipe too much, you know.

If the book is too heavy and too awkward, then get one from the sacristy that s not too heavy or too awkward. Books are for people, not the other way around.

20. What is being asked of you s a lot, but your ministry is such an important one. I know also that what is being suggested is going to take time, practice, study and prayer, but we need to have this vision of where we should be going to become the most effective reader possible. There is only one way to acquire the skills we have mentioned - do it! Practice over and over again until you get it. It is reasonable to expect the lectors to make sure they take their turn and do top quality reading. Most importantly, we can be sure that God's help will be there all along the way. God desires the Word to be heard more than we do. So we can be assured that God's grace will be sufficient to fulfill our ministry.

21. If you think you might have trouble reading, find a competent critic. Find a person who knows how to read well publicly and who will tell you the truth (they also serve as a good model of reading for you). For it is important to seek out regular evaluation of our reading style. It takes courage and humility to do this. Most of our readers do very well, but we still need to improve. There are very experienced public speakers like teachers who are willing to help you. This is another reason we offer periodic workshops. If you cannot make your voice do what you want it to do or cannot find adequate time to prepare the readings, yield up the office of reader. You can serve the worshipping congregation best by performing some other ministry.

Good liturgy needs the gifts of others so we prefer that lector not do other liturgical ministries. It is better to do one ministry well, plus it allows others to share their particular gifts.

Here are some final points:

A. You are a formal minister of the Eucharistic Liturgy. Since there is no specific garb for our lectors, please dress in accord with the dignity of your ministry as a lector. We desire the focus to be on the reading not the clothes the lector is wearing. We suggest simple, neutral, tasteful clothing that is not distracting.

B. If you are unsure of the reading look in the Ordo in the sacristy (it provides readings of the lectionary) or the workbook or ask the celebrant. Double check with the homilist to avert an embarrassing situation.

C. When processing in and processing out of Mass, try to make a reverence along side the priest. We convey meaning and communicate by our posture and movement.

D. The new liturgical directives call for only the Book of the Gospels to be brought in the procession.

E. Make sure you know your place in the Lectionary when you place it in the pulpit.

F. Try to arrive at least 15 minutes before Mass. It gives you time to prepare yourself by praying for awhile and also to know your place In the Lectionary.

G. It is possible that at times the choir will not always be singing the responsorial psalm. This could be proclaimed by the lector. The psalms are really meant to be sung. At these Masses, please be seated while the psalm is sung, then return to the pulpit after the psalm to begin the second reading; or you can step back just a little from the lectern space and turn and face the music ministers (not the people).   This is to show you are handing over the leadership role to the choir while the psalm is sung.

Overall, everyone is very responsible when it comes to his or her turn at lectoring. Yet, there are still some missing their turn. Please make sure you check the list. Please get a substitute if you can't make it. Give the substitute enough notice to adequately prepare the readings. If there is a last-minute sickness, try to call someone to take your place.

One final but very, very important point:

We need to pause more before and after the readings. It is probably because we are uncomfortable with silence. There should be several pauses: 

a. First pause before you even begin to read the first reading to allow people to settle down. (Especially when the children leave for their Liturgy of the Word. Please wait until every child has left before you start the first reading)

b. Secondly, after you finish the reading, pause at least five seconds and then say;  the Word of the Lord.                               

c. There should be a significant pause after the first reading (approximately 30 seconds). A yardstick might be to say silently and slowly the Our Father to yourself. It may seem like a long time to you but it really isn't.

d. There should be a pause after the responsorial psalm before the second reading. Maybe long enough to silently and slowly say a "Hail-Mary".

e. When you are reading the petition prayers, there should also be pauses after each of the petitions, and a significant pause after we pray for our own intentions. Sometimes these are read very fast and without pauses like we are trying to rush through to get them over with.

f. Becoming a good lector is a process. The Word continues to take flesh through our humanity. Be yourself. Remember God calls fallible people to serve. God chooses humans; and God makes up for our inadequacies. People make mistakes. It is not the end of the world (in fact when a mistake is made it is better to just keep reading along instead of going back; unless your mistake changes the sense of the passage - then go back and correct it slowly). The main thing is to learn from them (maybe you did not prepare enough or concentrate or were too tired or too hurried) and dedicate yourself to being the best instrument of God you can.

Thank you for sharing your time and talent with our Parish family.