Thursday, July 5, 2007


One of the greatest sadnesses of my priesthood is that I rarely get to proclaim Paul anymore. Like him or hate him, you have to admit his passion and his gut wrenching emotion shine through in these powerful epistles. This is true even for those who think that our current translations are abysmal. So it kills me to hear somebody proclaim him with all the passion of reading aloud a grocery list.

Love is patient
Love is kind
Love is not jealous
Love is not pompous
Love is not inflated
Two cans of tomato paste
Bag of Dan Dee Cheese Curls: economy size

On Pentecost Day there was a reading form the Acts of the Apostles (2:1-11). The people, it says, were astounded and amazed! They were all from different places where different languages were spoken yet each heard what was being said in his native tongue. It would be as though we were saying, “There were guys there from Italy and Greece. There was a couple we met from Zimbabwe and a nice lady from El Salvador. There was a youth group from Russia and some sisters from Argentina, brothers from Singapore, priests from Hong Kong and some teens from Canada yet all of us heard what the apostles were saying in our native languages! It was mind blowing! We all stared at each other filled with the Holy Spirit and amazement!” Yet one of the renditions I heard was a close imitation of the teacher in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” reading the attendance sheet, “Bueller . . .Bueller . . .Bueller . . .”

I will grant you there is a fine line in proclaiming between simply reading and being theatrical. Grandiose theatrics can be as annoying as reading deadpan can be uninspiring. Read it like a letter (which it is) written specifically to you and this community (which it is) with the awe and wonder of having the privilege of reading to this people as if it is new for you and the first time those gathered to hear it. To that end, here are a few humble suggestions (HA!) I offer lectors in their ministry.

Never (make it an exception to the rule when you do) emphasize a pronoun, they emphasize themselves. When you do over emphasize them your listeners may miss the truly important point of the sentence. For example, do not read, “Not that HE might not offer HIMSELF repeatedly . . .” but rather, “Not that he might not offer himself REPEATEDLY . . .”

To that end, it is wise to find the important words in a sentence (this gets easier with practice) and make sure your inflections emphasize them. For example, “May the EYES of your HEARTS be ENLIGHTENED . . .”

When reading lists of things do not read them like a grocery list nor read everything as if it were all equally important (even if it is). To deemphasize everything is to lead your listener into daydreams of the BBQ that they will be having later, and to emphasize everything as being important is to render everything bland. The trick is to find gems in the list that are important to you and emphasize those. That will catch your listener’s attention.

Love is patient,
Love is kind.
It is not pompous.

Study what you are going to read. What is the point of the whole reading? Make your proclamation build to that point. Is there more than one point? Choose one to emphasize. Talk to the homilist of the mass, is there a particular line from the reading that he is building upon which you can help emphasize? Determine what kind of writing it is. Is it a story? Is it an admonition? Is the writer angry, excited, or happy? All these will determine how you proclaim the reading.

Practice. Record yourself occasionally. Do you sound interesting to you? Do you sound like a credible witness to the truth of the message?

Buy yourself a little pronunciation guide. Look up words. There has been more than one parish that has had “flaming brassiere” read instead of “flaming brazier”. Don’t be that person!

Forever I would preach on a certain passage that came up every year during the week. As fate would have it, each year the same lector would read about the “Eeknocks.” Year in and year out, “Eeknocks”. And year in and year out I would say, “And then the Eeknocks, some people call them eunuchs . . .”

In all seriousness lectors, you have a terribly awesome responsibility. It is not to be taken lightly. If you feel this is too much work, think about stepping down. For those who strive to carry on this ministry, remember to pray. Pray the readings to be proclaimed, pray that you proclaim them well, pray for those who will hear you, pray that all who hear including yourself will be challenged and transformed by Him.


Anonymous said...

I think I just laughed myself out of an appendix. Omigosh, you are hilarious, while unfortunately accurate.

All we in this family have to say is, "Remember Elaine on Good Friday?" and everything about the importance of Reading/Lectoring well comes rushing to us with a gasp and a laugh. First, we had to get through the elder Fr. G's singing of the petitions. It was too soon like listening to metal brakes trying to grasp those pesky train tracks. It hurt. But then came the reading of the Passion, by an even older fellow who apparently had never encountered the material before. He adorned it all with hiccups, belches, unfathomable pauses, skipping some paragraphs, losing his place.. but it was just before each and every upcoming word other than "the" or "He" that we took to wincing. On his 48th mispronunciation or so, and all of this in a monotone, yes.. Elaine had started to boil. She'd been looking so forward to her first experience of Good Friday in RCIA, and then, by gaffe'n'stumble #75, she almost quietly exploded beside me. Just exploded. She was furious. We didn't blame her for feeling gypped. She was.

Eventually, she too, laughed, but it took a good long while-- and the most beautiful Easter vigil entry into the Church. :-)

Odysseus said...

As I am returning, in some sense, to my home parish and taking a reluctant break from the TLM, I will probably be picked for lector.

And I can't stand it! I actually like reading at mass, but I have a couple of problems with the set-up.

Remember that change we all (I think) went through a few years ago? It used to be Commentator and Lector and now it's Lector 1 and Lector 2 (or vice versa, I can't remember). That didn't solve the problem of having too many people up there. I always hated being the first guy, because I could never be sure of when I was done. "Deacon, am I doing the psalm today, or is the cantor?" "I don't know Rob, I'll ask. Oh, it looks like I can't find him. We'll just have to play it by ear." "Am I doing the intercessions, or not?" "I don't know if father wanted you or me to do that." AAAAAAAAAAAH!

Give me the second reading anytime. I could go up, read, and sit down. Job finished.

Another problem is this: I am a great reader. I mean it. I read aloud very well. I have people go out of their way to thank me for my reading. It just comes from having read to students for so many years. I can put just the right amount of drama into it. With Isaiah I can make grown men quiver (His hand is still outstretched!).

But that's what I don't like. The attention should not be on me, nor, really, on the priest. I think that is what I particularly liked about ad orientem. There are only the words, not the actors saying the lines. And, preferably, that "actor" is the priest, so we don't have so many people up there that the priest feels like he needs to roll credits at the end of mass.

I wish, in the Novus Ordo, they would just have one person assighned to help the priest, have that person read and help with communion and cut down on the army of "active participation" that goes stomping all over the altar.

Okay, I'm going to go somewhere and calm down now. :)

Fr. V said...


I think it would be very beneficial for the good of the Church that you and I never be in the same parish together - ew think too much alike and would become too powerful of force to reckon against.

I thought of mentioning how much of this is solved with the mass of John XXIII, but that was not the point of this post. I enjoyed reading the Scriptures the way that touches me that day as they are being proclaimed in a universal language. But that is not my situation now so the prompting of this post.

There are those who vehemently disagree with my position and would much rather have the readings proclaimed in a very dry manner so as to not inject too much of the individual's personality into it and to focus more on the word of God. I understand the position and see merit in it, I just don't prefer it. As the person above mentioned, I find powerful readings done in the vernacular in a bland way for more distracting - but that is me.

And I really, really understand your frustration with your description of the problem of reading at mass. Actually, if the parish would A) actually plan better and B) follow the promptings of Vatican II, most if not all of those problems would dissappear. It calls for A (one) reader as prefereable and the deacon is always to do the petitions. The Responsorial should always be sung and if it isn't, you should know at least a week in advance so that you can practice and be prepared.

As for being complimented, I see your point - one step short of applauding musicians at mass - BUT - see it as people appreciating you doing your ministry well, not that you were distracting them from worship - but you aided them well like when a priest is extra reverent or gives a good homily and people compliment him. That compliment is about being able to pray better, not be distracted by the man.

In fact, I would say (as the first commentor did) that doing a poor or bland job at your ministry draws more attention to you than if you did well. What did the first commentor remember better, the readings or how bad the reader was?

THis is getting long - perhaps should have been another post! Thanks for the comments - I took them as food for thought for a long spell before responding.

Odysseus said...

-I thought of mentioning how much of this is solved with the mass of John XXIII-

Of course, I don't advocate wholesale, blind return to 1962. I was glad to hear the rumor today that the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum (sp?), will allow the old mass with the new lectionary. I love that new lectionary, regardless of some bits that I am not totally pleased with. On the whole, I think it is a great idea and have yet to hear an argument against it other than that a) it's not five hundred years old and b) it is associated with the Novus Ordo.

If we could just push the "table" against the wall and have an altar, cut down on the Lay Ministry Squad a bit and get some gregorian chant going, people would have fewer complaints about the Novus Ordo (in fact, they might see it as an organic growth from the old missal!).

That's part of the reason I am going, slowly, back to my parish. I should help out, not complain. The problem's I mention are not due to "irreverence". Everyone there is doing the best they know how, not trying to undermine Catholic worship and piety. We, and I include myself, suffer from poor catechesis and just have to teach ourselves Catholicism.

Blogs like this make that job easier!