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Practical Preparation for Lectors 

Practical Preparation for Lectors is a basic resource for liturgical ministers.  This resource provides guidance to empower lectors who proclaim the Word of God so that during the liturgical celebration, “the Bible …from being a written word from the past becomes what it is:  God’s addressing us here and now” (Spirit of the Liturgy, Ratzinger p.72).  

Each topic begins with a brief quote, usually  from the Lectionary for Mass, that highlights the importance of the lector’s role and his/her Prayer, Preparation and Presentation.  Additionally, a simple, one-page document, “Lector Basics” outlines the lector’s responsibilities and when they should be performed.  A separate section expands on the “Lector Basics” by providing practical guidelines for their implementation.  Lastly, a list of recommended sources is included.    

PRAYER, PREPARATION AND PRESENTATION

“The Word of God … proclaimed in the Liturgy  is always … a living and effective word through the power of the Holy Spirit.  It expresses the Father’s love that never fails in its effectiveness towards us … Christ is present in His Word, as He carries out the mystery of salvation, He sanctifies humanity and offers the Father perfect worship…When God communicates his word, he expects a response, one, that is, of listening and adoring “in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23).  The Holy Spirit makes that response effective, so that what is heard in the celebration of the Liturgy may be carried out in a way of life: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only” (Jas 1:22) … As [the faithful] listen to the word of God proclaimed in the Liturgy, they strive harder to commit themselves to the Word of God incarnate in Christ.  Thus, they endeavor to conform their way of life to what they celebrate in the Liturgy, and then in turn to bring to the celebration of the Liturgy all that they do in life.” (Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass, #4, 6)

The above quote from the Lectionary for Mass communicates the importance and effectiveness of the Liturgy of the Word.  Proclamation of the liturgical readings makes present the living Word of God, Christ incarnate, and His salvific action in the world.  The Word manifests God’s presence, and through the actions of the Holy Spirit, has an effect on the faithful community.  Proclaiming God’s Words in the Liturgy is, in some way, a mysterious participation in the accomplishment of God’s glorious work of salvation.

During the Liturgical celebration, it is the Lector’s humbling privilege and responsibility to be the human voice of God’s Living Word.  Proclamation of the Mass’ Scripture readings is more than simply reading.  The Lector’s proclamation engages the community of faith and prompts their response to God’s Word.  The proper exercise of this important ministry requires Prayer, Preparation and Presentation.  

PRAYER

“It is out of the Word of God handed down in writing that even now ‘God speaks to his people … The word of God proclaimed in the celebration of God’s mysteries does not only address present conditions but looks back to past events and forward to what is yet to come…The working of the Holy Spirit is needed if the word of God is to make what we hear outwardly have its effect inwardly … the Spirit brings home to each person individually everything that in the proclamation of the work of God is spoken for the good of the whole gathering of the faithful.”(Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass, #7, #9)  

Pray and meditate on the Scripture Readings.  Be open to what the Holy Spirit is saying.  Consider:  What strikes you as you read the text?

  • What feelings or images are evoked by the text?
  • What is the message of the text?
  • What is the Spirit telling you?
  • What response is the Spirit calling for from me?  From the community?
  • Are we being called to conversion, to repentance, to forgiveness, to belief, to God and neighbor?

When praying and practicing, make the message of the Spirit your own.  Your heartfelt, faithful response will be conveyed through your proclamation.  The Spirit will affect the open-hearted faithful assembly and enable each person to hear the unique message that s/he needs to hear.  Their response will affect some change in the community’s members that conforms them to Christ.  

PREPARATION 

“It is Christ himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church…It is not enough that the biblical passages are read in the vernacular, if they are not also proclaimed with the care, preparation, devout attention and meditative silence that enable the Word of God to touch people’s minds and hearts.”  (John Paul II,  Mane Nobicum Domine, 13)

  • Read all of the texts for that day’s Liturgy of the Word: the readings, the responsorial Psalm, the alleluia verse and the Gospel.  Understand and pray about the content, purpose and message of the passages.  Consider:  How does the Psalm respond to the first reading?  How is the Gospel message connected to the other readings?  What is the theme of the day and the meaning or message that is conveyed?
  • Understand the readings in their Biblical context.  Your understanding of the day’s Scripture passages can be enhanced by reading the verses in the Bible that surround the designated text.  Biblical commentaries are helpful tools for the Lector’s deeper understanding.  (See bibliography for suggested commentaries.)
  • Understand  the readings in their Liturgical context.   (Readings can be found at http://catholic-resources.org/Lectionary/1998USL.htm ).  Become aware of how this particular reading relates to the Scriptures that are read on the weekdays and Sundays prior to and following the reading you will proclaim.  The readings generally are complimentary or continuous, and reflect the Liturgical year.  Consider: How does this passage make clear the theme of the surrounding days and the Liturgical year?
  • Become familiar with the Lectionary.  Read the introduction at the beginning of the first volume.  In particular, Chapter 4 “The General Arrangement of Readings for Mass” and Chapter 5 “Description of the Order of Readings” can help the Lector understand the choice and order of the readings throughout the liturgical year.  The 3-year cycle of readings for Sunday Mass also can be found in the New American Bible.  This is the Bible translation used in the Lectionary. The Lectionary can be found on-line at http://catholic-resources.org/Lectionary/Introduction-1981.htm.
  • Understand the text’s literary genre or style and consider its appropriate mood or tone.  The proclamation of a gifted Lector should be in keeping with the tone of the passage.  The Biblical author chose a particular literary style or genre to help convey a specific purpose, message or theme with an appropriate mood or tone.  Consider:  Is the passage part of a narrative (story)?  Discourse (explanation or argument)?  Exhortation (persuasion)?   Poetry (with metaphor and parable)?  Is the tone joyful, exultant or awe- inspiring?  Encouraging or consoling? Is there repetition or opposition of thought?  Practice proclaiming the text with the appropriate tone or mood in mind.  

PRESENTATION:

Practice and Proclamation

“A speaking style on the part of the readers that is audible, clear, and intelligent is the first means of transmitting the word of God properly to the congregation.”

(Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass,  #14)

  • Know the message of the Sacred Scripture and why it is important.  When proclaiming, focus your attention and energy on the intention of God’s Word.  When the Lector consciously puts God’s Word first, his/her demeanor will reflect an attitude of service for God’s Word and His people.  
  • Your vocal presentation can help convey the message of the Scripture. 
  • Practice by reading the Scripture conversationally.  This may help convey the sense of the text.
  • When practicing and proclaiming, speak more slowly than you would in normal conversation.
  • Enunciate so that the assembly can understand all the words of God that you proclaim.
  • Pronunciation guides can be found in dictionaries and in your Lector’s handbook. If you aren’t sure how to pronounce particularly difficult names of places or people, then ask the celebrant, deacon or another liturgical minister.   
  • Proclaim the Scripture expressively, not dramatically.
  • Vocal variety helps to engage the listener.  Avoid a monotone voice.
  • Strive for a subtle variation in volume (loud or soft), pitch (high or low), tempo (fast or slow) intonation (the rising and falling cadence of the voice), rhythm (the recurrent alternation of sound and silence that can provide emphasis) and inflection. (Raise your vocal energy at the beginning of a new or significant thought or phrase. The end of a sentence often calls for a downward inflection.  Questions usually end with an upward inflection.)
  • Some words are more important than others.  Emphasize important words by saying them more slowly.
  • Misreading the text can occur.  If you misplace a word or mispronounce it, just ignore your error and continue reading unless the sense of the text has been changed.  If your misreading has significantly altered the meaning of the text then correct it immediately by re-reading the word, phrase or sentence so that the intended meaning is evident.  
  • Manage anxiety.  One’s desire to do well may heighten anxious feelings.  Your confidence level will improve with preparation, practice and prayer.  Use the energy associated with your anxiety by focusing yourself and your energy in the humble service of the Holy Spirit. 
  • Proclaiming from the Ambo.   When proclaiming God’s Word, Lectors praise and glorify God and engage in an act of loving service for His faithful.  The Lector provides the voice for the Holy Spirit to make known the Word of God.  So that the faith community hears God’s Word, the reader does not distract his fellow believers from the Holy Spirit’s message. You are a servant of God’s Word. Your manner, appearance and proclamation should draw attention to the Scripture readings, not detract from them.  When standing at the ambo, the Lector’s stance should project a sense of the importance of the proclamation.  Be aware of your posture:  stand straight, both feet flat on the floor and shoulder-length apart, maintaining a secure but relaxed stance.  Fidgeting, repeatedly shifting your weight and inappropriate attire can be distracting.  Your relaxed hands can rest gently on the ambo or Lectionary.  Discreetly and unobtrusively using your finger to mark your place when you read can be helpful.  If necessary, adjust the height of the microphone.
  • Managing Pauses While Reading.  Lectors can help their faith community connect to the Word of God by managing pauses.   Taking a breath while reading can create a brief pause.  A Lector can use this brief interlude to re-focus his attention and energy on humbly serving God and community through his/her proclamations.  Pauses convey meaning. Properly placed pauses can convey the message, mood and weight of the text.  Brief pauses can separate, emphasize, and conclude important thoughts, phrases or statements.     Momentarily pausing at key points in the reading can help the assembly understand the text by creating a brief interlude for a message to “sink in” and be processed by the listener.                                                                                                              Pause according to the sense of the phrase or the sentence.  Listening to yourself read the passage aloud can help you sense when it is appropriate to pause.  Punctuation marks, commas, periods, etc.) can help you decide where to breathe.  Mark your text when a pause is appropriate.  
  • Practice pauses.  Carefully manage the length of your pauses before and after a reading.  Briefly pausing before beginning the first reading’s introductory words can allow time for the assembly to sit, get comfortable and get ready to listen.  A pause at this time also creates a brief moment of expectation which invites the congregation’s attention.   Pausing at the end of a reading invites a moment of silent reflection.  Always pause at the end of the reading, before saying “The Word of the Lord”.
  • Engage the Assembly by Establishing Eye Contact.  The proclamation of God’s Word should affect a response from the community.  The Lector can use eye contact with the assembly to invite their engagement, personal involvement, and response to the Words proclaimed.  Eye contact can be used to emphasize important phrases.  Effectively engage the assembly by making eye contact with different areas of the congregation – look slightly above the congregation, look towards the people in the back, and look slightly right or left of center.  Engage the whole assembly.  Make eye contact at the beginning of the passage and at the end of some sentences.   While practicing, decide where in the reading it would be natural to make eye contact.

  LECTOR BASICS

o  Arrive early

o Check in

o  Look at the Lectionary on the ambo

o  Be seated and pray until Mass begins

o  Alternatively, participate in the entrance procession

o  After the opening prayer, the assembly sits

o  The first Lector approaches the ambo

o  Lector manages a brief pause

o  Lector looks at the congregation and makes eye contact

o  Lector proclaims the ritual liturgical language “A reading from …”

o  Lector proclaims the first reading

o  Upon completion of the first reading, the Lector pauses briefly, looks at

    the faithful and begins the closing ritual dialogue “The Word of the Lord”

o  Lector waits for the congregation’s response “Thanks be to God”

o  The Lector returns to her seat after a brief pause   OR

    The Lector remains at the ambo if s/he will be reading the responsorial Psalm

o The Psalmist or Cantor proceeds to the ambo to proclaim or sing the Psalm

o  The Psalmist or cantor begins with the response, then with a gesture prompts

    the community to repeat the response.

o  The Psalmist returns to his/her seat when the Psalm is concluded 

o  The reader of the second reading rises from her seat, approaches the ambo 

  and proceeds as for the first reading 

o  When a Lector has agreed to read the Prayers of the Faithful, the Lector

    approaches the ambo immediately upon completion of the creed.  The Lector

    concludes each petition with “We pray to the Lord”   The congregation

                 responds:  “Lord hear our prayer”. PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR LECTORING

o  Arrive early

    Arrive in the Sacristy 15-20 minutes before Mass is scheduled to begin.

o Check in

  Check in with the priest or other ministers so that they know you have arrived.

  Inquire if something special will be added to the Mass between the opening

    prayer and the first reading.   

o  Look at the Lectionary on the ambo

    Prior to Mass, approach the ambo.  The Lectionary should be on the ambo

    and open to the first reading.  Look at the text in the Lectionary so that you

    become familiar with the format of the page from which you will actually read

o  Be seated and pray until Mass begins.

    Pray silently that you may humbly serve God and his people

   

o  Alternatively, participate in the entrance procession

    In some parishes you may be part of the opening procession.  If so, take your

    place behind the cross and candle bearers.  When the procession reaches the

altar, make a simple bow of the head, then proceed to your seat.  If you have been asked to carry the Book of the Gospels in the opening procession, then do so while holding the book upright with the lower corners cupped in your palms.  With your arms raised and elbows bent, hold up the book slightly above your face.  When the procession reaches the altar, place the Book of the Gospels reverently upon the altar.  Then, without bowing, go to your seat.

o After the opening prayer the assembly sits.   

o  The first Lector approaches the ambo

    The first reader approaches the ambo after the opening prayer is concluded and

    while the assembly is sitting down.    

o  Lector manages a brief pause

    Pause at the ambo and begin proclaiming the reading when the assembly is

    ready and attentive.  A moment of silence allows late-comers to be seated and

  gives the assembly time to sit, get comfortable and become attentive.

o  Lector looks at the assembly and makes eye contact

    The Lector establishes eye contact, breathes and re-focuses his/her attention

    and energy on proclaiming the Word of God.  

o  Lector proclaims the ritual liturgical language “A reading from …”

    While looking at the congregation, reverently proclaim the ritual language that

    introduces the Scripture:  “A reading from …”

o  Lector proclaims the first reading

    It is helpful to memorize the introductory words and the first line of the reading so as to maintain eye contact with the assembly. This             helps keep the assembly engaged and responsive. 

o  Upon completion of the first reading, the Lector pauses briefly, looks at

    the faithful and begins the closing ritual dialogue “The Word of the Lord”

 

o  Lector waits for the congregation’s response “Thanks be to God”

    The assembly responds “Thanks be to God”

o  After a brief pause at the ambo for silent reflection, the Lector returns to his/her seat. 

o  The Psalmist or Cantor proceeds to the ambo to proclaim or sing the responsorial Psalm

    The Psalm usually is sung by a Cantor at the ambo.  However,

    when it will not be sung, the Lector remains at the ambo and serves as the

    Psalmist.  

o  The Psalmist (Lector) or Cantor begins with the response, then with a 

    gesture prompts the community to repeat the response.

    The Psalmist begins by proclaiming the response.  The congregation then

    repeats the response.  The Psalmist reads the Psalm verses and signals the

    community to respond at the appropriate times.  The Psalmist may use a simple

    gesture to invite the community to respond.  A gently raised hand, palm up and

    held no higher than the shoulder, can be a gesture that invites response.    

o  The Psalmist/Cantor returns to his/her seat upon conclusion of the Psalm.  

o  The reader of the second reading rises from her seat, approaches the ambo 

    and proceeds as for the first reading. 

o  The second reader proclaims the reading while managing pauses,

    establishing eye contact, and prompting the ritual dialog.  At the

    conclusion of the second reading the Lectionary may be moved to the

    ambo’s lower shelf in order to make room for the Book of the Gospels

   which the presider or deacon brings to the ambo.  The Lector returns to his/her seat.

                                   

o  When a Lector has agreed to read the Prayers of the Faithful, the Lector

    approaches the ambo immediately upon completion of the creed.  The

    Lector concludes each petition with “We pray to the Lord”   The

    congregation responds “Lord hear our prayer”.

    Before the Prayers of the Faithful, the Lector’s role as a proclaimer usually is

    completed.  However, when the Lector does read the Prayers of the Faithful

    s/he should approach the ambo immediately upon completion of the creed.

    After the petitions and the appropriate ritual dialog is complete, the Lector

    returns to his/her seat.  

RECOMMENDED READING

Catholic Resources, Lectionary http://catholic-resources.org/Lectionary/1998USL.htm

New American Bible:  www.usccb.org/nab

A Simple Guide to the Daily Mass Readings.  

Chicago, Illinois: Liturgy Training Publications.

Anchor Bible Dictionary.  Des Moines Iowa: Anchor Bible, 1992.

At Home with the Word.  Chicago, Illinois: Liturgy Training Publications.

The Catholic Bible, Personal Study edition: New American Bible.  Jean Marie

     Heisberger, general editor.  New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

The Catholic Study Bible: Second Edition.  Donald Senior and John J. Collins, editor.

     New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

New Jerome Biblical Commentary.  Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall,

     1989

Meagher, Virginia and Turner, Paul.  Guide for Lectors.   Chicago, Illinois: Liturgy Training Publications, 2007.

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal.  The Spirit of the Liturgy.  Ignatius Press, San Francisco,

     2000.

Rosser, OSB, Aelred.  A Well-Trained Tongue: Formation in the Ministry of Reader.

    Chicago, Illinois; Liturgy Training Publications, 1996. 

LITURGICAL MINISTRY:  PRACTICAL PREPARATION FOR LECTORS

SAMPLE TRAINING SESSION

WHO SHOULD ATTEND:

All new and returning lectors should attend a training session, so that they will have a firm grasp of their duties and responsibilities and when and how they should be performed.   When lectors are prayerfully and properly prepared, they can more fully understand and execute their role as the human voice of God’s Living Word in the liturgical celebration.  Optimally, the person who will be training the lectors should be an experienced presenter and a well-trained lector.  It is possible for the diocesan Director of Worship to recommend an appropriate person who can conduct the training sessions.

WHERE:

 Ideally, training sessions for lectors should take place in the church or sanctuary, because lectors will practice proclaiming from the ambo.  (Additionally, they will practice processing while carrying the Book of the Gospels when it is the custom of the parish for the lector to be part of the opening procession.).  

WHEN:

Training sessions should be offered at a time when it is most convenient for busy individuals to attend.  Training sessions should last two hours or less, depending upon the number of lectors trained.

BLESSING:

Upon completion of training and after the lectors have followed the parish’s procedure for committing to serve as lectors, the pastor may want to formally bless the ministers.  He may choose to administer a blessing at the end of the training session.  Alternatively, a blessing of liturgical ministers at weekend Masses gives the entire parish the opportunity to pray for these ministers.  The diocesan Director of Worship can recommend an appropriate blessing. 

SAMPLE AGENDA FOR TRAINING SESSION

INTRODUCTION

Presenter introduces him/herself, welcomes the attendees, and thanks them for coming.

OPENING PRAYER

OVERVIEW:

Thank the trainees again for their time today.  Tell them what you will be doing today:  

You will be reflecting on the ministry of lectors; and on the importance of prayer, preparation, practice and presentation. You will model a way to practically prepare for your Scripture reading by going through, step by step, what the lector does to prepare to proclaim the Word of God at Mass.  Instruct them regarding the appropriate procedure to sign up and get on the schedule to lector at Mass.  Inform them of their term of service.  For example, a lector may be committing to serve for one year, and their service term may be renewable each year.

REFLECTION ON THE MINISTRY OF LECTORS

The lector is the human voice of God’s Living Word, who engages the community of faith and prompts their response through the actions of the Holy Spirit.  The presenter can use the section of this document entitled “Prayer, Preparation and Presentation” for reflecting upon the lector as a servant of the Word of God, as one who proclaims Christ, the living Word to his assembly.   

REFLECT ON THE IMPORTANCE OF PRAYER

Use the section of this document entitled “Prayer” to help communicate the importance of praying the Scripture readings.  The presenter should choose a reading from the coming Sunday’s Liturgy. The presenter can use this reading to model how to effectively and prayerfully read, reflect upon, and understand the Spirit’s message so as to conform one’s heart and mind to the Lord.  Begin by reading the Scripture passage two or three times, then prompting the trainees to answer the questions posed in the section titled “Prayer”.

REFLECT ON THE IMPORTANCE OF UNDERSTANDING CONTEXT 

Understanding the Biblical, liturgical and literary context of the Scripture passage that will be proclaimed helps to uncover its meaning and message.  The presenter can use the section entitled, “Preparation”,  which highlights the importance of context. 

REFLECT ON THE IMPORTANCE OF PRACTICE AND PROCLAMATION

Christ is present at the Mass in four ways:  in the consecrated bread and wine, in the person of the priest, in the assembly, and in the proclaimed Word.  The lector presents Christ in his proclaimed Word.  How the lector proclaims God’s Word can have a profound influence on the Spirit’s effect in the faithful assembly.  The presenter can use the section entitled, “Presentation:  Practice and Proclamation” to emphasize effective practice and presentation techniques.  Be sure to communicate the following guidelines:

appropriate stance and attire, proclaiming from the ambo, managing pauses while reading, managing anxiety, engaging the assembly with eye contact, vocal presentation.

DISTRIBUTE HAND-OUT ENTITLED:  Practical Guide for Lectoring

This hand-out documents exactly step by step what a lector does and when s/he does it. Read through this hand-out with the trainees.  This is a good time to answer any questions that arise.

DISTRIBUTE HAND-OUT ENTITLED:  Lector Basics

The Lector Basics hand-out can be carried by the lector to Mass as a handy reference guide.  Ask for volunteers who would be willing to come to the ambo and proclaim the Scripture reading that this group meditated upon earlier.  One volunteer at a time will proclaim the Word from the ambo.  All will benefit from each other’s experience by offering positive and constructive comments, especially since both new and returning lectors will be present.  

Thank attendees for their time, and remind them of the appropriate procedure to sign up and get on the schedule to lector at Mass.

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