Guidelines for Lectors

Guidelines for Lectors
St. Joseph Catholic Church
The Effective Lector

When we gather together to celebrate the Mass, God is increasingly present in the assembly, the presider, the scriptures, and the Eucharistic bread and wine.  The first part of the mass, the Liturgy of the Word, focuses on the scriptures.  The lector is the servant of the Lord who brings them to life for all to hear.

To be able to do this, the lector must first understand the scripture passages and then successfully communicate them to the assembly.

The lector proclaims the Word of God to the assembled faith community.  Men and women who accept the call to this ministry are presumed to be people of faith and lovers of Scripture, eager to serve the Christian community and willing to engage in ongoing formation and education. 
To make the service of the Word effective, all lectors are expected to be prepared for their ministry.  Preparation should be spiritual, scriptural, and practical.  Spiritual preparation involves prayer over the text and reflection on its message.  Scriptural preparation involves understanding the text.  Practical preparation involves mastering difficult words, learning the right pronunciation and practicing the delivery of the text aloud, ideally in the presence of someone who is able to critique delivery.

Punctuality: Immediate preparation is also expected of all lectors.  This requires arriving in ample time before the liturgy, locating and knowing what the readings should be for that mass in the Lectionary, arranging the microphone, and making sure that the sound system is properly functioning.

The guidelines of the Church for lectors read as follows:  It is necessary that those who exercise the ministry of reader….be truly suited and carefully prepared, so that the faithful may develop a warm and lively love for Sacred Scripture from listening to the sacred texts.

Here are some practical thoughts for the lector on how to bring this about.
Scripture is fundamentally oral and aural.  It is spoken and heard.  The lector proclaims it, the assembly listens.  This is the mechanism which brings the Word of God to life.

The lector must be skilled in this form of public speaking and must have mastered the specific reading to play his or her part in this essential process.  The assembly must listen and NOT follow along in their books (unless hearing-impaired).  If the Missalettes are used by the Assembly, people should put them down and listen attentively during the readings so that this essential dynamic of speaking and hearing can occur.

An effective lector will bring so much to the reading with voice and gesture that people will automatically shift their attention away from their booklets if they’ve not put them down.

To be effective, the lector must be prepared.  Technical expertise is essential, as is a preparatory study of the particular reading.
It helps to read to someone informally, perhaps to a family member, as part of your study.  Practice aloud.  Get used to the sounds of the readings, and gain insights as you practice.

Start your preparation early in the week before your assigned day.  Begin by understanding the gospel, even though the presider or deacon will probably be reading it.  In our current Lectionary, the Gospel usually relates to the first reading in particular, so it will provide a context for the first reading.  (Occasionally, it also relates to the second reading).

Prepare to read both readings, even if one will be assigned to another lector.  That way, you’ve prepared to substitute if needed.  At St. Joseph, situations arise where one functions as both lector and announcer, reading the texts assigned for the day, as well as the prayers of the faithful and announcements.  Thus, you should be ready to read all/any of these.  Remember that the Alleluia and its verse which are sung immediately before the Gospel are considered a rite of its own.  Instructions indicate that it should be sung.  If not sung, it should be omitted.

As you study a reading, reflect on its fundamental nature.  Is it a letter?  A discourse to a crowd?  A story?  Is it dialog?  A poem?  A song?  A metaphor?  A warning?  What is the passage’s context in the  Biblical book?  Who wrote or said it?  What are the emotions to be conveyed?

To read a reading well, you must have a deep understanding.  A publication such as the Workbook for Lectors and Gospel Readers (Liturgy Training Publications, Chicago) is an excellent resource, but be careful; that whatever resources you use for study, you make the text your own; be sure you really master it.  And do not necessarily use someone else’s ideas of where to pause, how to inflect, of which words to emphasize.  These actions must come spontaneously and honestly from only one place; from what the reading means to you.  Another excellent place for help is

As the weekend approaches, review the readings.  But don’t wear them out by reading them too often.  Stop when you feel they really make sense to you, and when you have enough understanding of their historical and contextual significance to bring them to life with authority.

 Arrive at least fifteen minutes before mass starts.  Make sure you sign the sign-in sheet when you arrive at Church.  Consult the other lector if there is one.  Look over the intercessions and any announcements for you to read, reading them quietly aloud, getting comfortable with any people’s names, so you avoid surprises at the ambo.  Then read your assigned reading(s) quietly aloud a couple of times, recalling your earlier study, placing the meaning in your “short term memory,” reminding yourself of what the material means to you.

Besides the words you say, there are many non-verbal communications important to the lector’s ministry.  Be attentive to these, since you do them even if you don’t notice that you are doing them.  Consider your attitudes, your gestures, the tone of your voice, how you go about contacting your listeners with your eyes.

Realize that people are watching you and that you are silently telling them about this book with the language of your body 

THE BODY: When it’s time to address the assembly, hold your body straight, but not rigid.  Don’t slouch.  Look like you want to communicate.  Have authority.  Be genuine, be unpretentious. 

THE FEET: Keep your feet firmly planted while you speak.

THE FACE: Use it to convey meaning, but avoid all artificiality.

THE EYES: Have eye contact with people when you talk to them, but not at the expense of losing your place in the text.  Have an awareness of all the people, but talk to them one-to-one.

A good time to establish contact is during the opening “A Reading from…”  Stand still before you begin reading.  Put the whole opening phrase in your short term memory right before you speak it.  Create a significant silence before you begin speaking.  This will compel the assembly’s attention.  Look across the entire room as you say the opening phrase.  Then pause again, and begin the reading. 

Have your attention on your “audience” as you speak.  If you do this, eye contact will take care of itself.  Have respect for the Assembly, remembering that you are conveying God’s Word to God’s people in God’s presence.

THE HANDS: If your height and eye-tracking abilities allow, hold the book while you speak to provide a visual reminder of the source of the words.  This is good but not essential.

Whether you hold it or rest it on the Ambo as you read, you may find it useful to run your finger along with the text as you read so you can freely maintain eye contact with the assembly without the risk of losing your place.

Hand gestures are occasionally appropriate.  But use them only if they clearly enhance the reading.  Avoid all gestures that do not actually help communicate the reading.  Never look artificial or “theatrical.”  The operative word here is honesty.

THE VOICE:  The lector obviously must be heard to be effective.  To be heard by all in the assembly, you must understand the acoustics and public address system in your church.  In most buildings, if you can hear your own amplified voice from the speakers as you speak, you’re close enough to the microphone and the system is working adequately.  Understand your PA system well so you can use it correctly. 

THE PUBLIC ADDRESS SYSTEM: If your PA system has not been professionally calibrated lately, several lectors should critique the system’s performance during a Mass.  If the sound is not loud and clear throughout the church, you’ve got a problem that should be immediately addressed.  A lector must be heard to be a lector.

For the typical PA system to work well, you must project your voice toward the tip of the microphone.  The microphone should be positioned so that you can comfortably see your listeners.  Don’t ignore the microphone, don’t avoid the microphone, and don’t be obsessed with the microphone.  Use the microphone. 

When it’s time to read, walk to the ambo and take a deep breath as you arrive there.  Realize that the sound of your voice originates in your diaphragm (your solar plexus).  Breath from there as you would sing from there.  Do not strain your neck or vocal cords. 
Let the power of your voice
come from your diaphragm
through your vocal cords…, -to the assembled people. 
Project the sounds and do not force them.

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