In the Ten Commandments, God ordered His people to “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.” As part of their obedience to God’s command, the people of God gathered together and listened as words were read. These were the most precious and special words that had ever been written, read, and listened to by people since the beginning of time. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, these words had been carefully recorded, divided into sections called “sedra” or “parashah”, and read aloud to the congregation. Thus, the tradition of reading holy scripture as part of public religious worship, or liturgy, was begun. It is a tradition that was adopted and incorporated into Christian worship during the time of the apostles and the early church, and continues today.
The reading aloud of scriptural texts was performed by a lay-person referred to as a Lector. During this period of world history, the vast majority of people were non-literate. In the Greek and Roman world, literacy and its implements were cultural capital. Books and lectors were prized possessions that were used not only to access literature, but as a means of displaying wealth and power (Starr, 1990). As with any valuable commodity, frauds and forgeries abounded, and before being accepted as a lector for the liturgy, the candidate was examined by the local church leaders to verify the candidate’s qualifications.
Historically, the lector became the second of the minor orders leading to the priesthood. Readings from the sacred books are an important part of Christian worship and by the end of the second century it had become the function of a special order. As time went on, however, the lectorate lost its importance. In the Western Church the reading of the Epistle and Gospel was reserved to the sub-deacon and the deacon respectively.
Pope Paul VI addressed and revised the minor order of Lector in the apostolic letter “Ministeria quaedam“, August 15, 1972. Among other things, the requirements for admission into the ministry of lector are: (1) the presentation of a petition freely made out and signed by the aspirant to the ordinary (bishop) who has the right to accept the petition; (2) a suitable age and special qualities to be determined by the episcopal conference; (3) a firm will to give faithful service to God and the Christian people. The lector is appointed and instituted to fulfill the following functions in the liturgy: (1) to read the lessons from sacred Scripture, except for the Gospel, in the Mass and other liturgical celebrations; (2) to recite the psalm between the readings when there is no psalmist; (3) to present the intentions for the General Intercessions in the absence of the deacon or cantor; (4) to direct the singing and the participation of the faithful. The lector “may also instruct the faithful for the worthy reception of the sacraments,” (and) “take care of preparing other faithful who by a temporary appointment are to read the Scriptures in liturgical celebrations” (Britannica).
While institution in the lay ministries is required before diaconal ordination, it is not limited to candidates for the order of deacon or priest. However, the exclusion of women from institution in the ministry of lector has made of this office a step before ordination in the U.S. and in many other countries, much as the former minor order of lector was a step on the way to priesthood. Both women and men without formal institution may fulfill all the functions of a lector by temporary designation under the provisions of CIC canon 230 §2.
Service to the Church
When the Sacred Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself speaks to his people, and Christ, present in his word, proclaims the Gospel. Therefore, the readings from the Word of God are to be listened to reverently by everyone, for they are an element of the greatest importance in the Liturgy. Although in the readings from Sacred Scripture the Word of God is addressed to all people of whatever era and is understandable to them, a fuller understanding and a greater efficaciousness of the word is nevertheless fostered by a living commentary on the word, that is, by the Homily, as part of the liturgical action. (General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM], no. 29)
The Liturgy of the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to favor meditation, and so any kind of haste such as hinders recollection is clearly to be avoided. In the course of it, brief periods of silence are also appropriate, accommodated to the assembled congregation; by means of these, under the action of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared. It may be appropriate to observe such periods of silence, for example, before the Liturgy of the Word itself begins, after the First and Second Reading, and lastly at the conclusion of the Homily. (GIRM, no. 56)
A profound bond links sacred Scripture and the faith of believers. Since faith comes from hearing, and what is heard is based on the word of Christ (NRSV Rom 10:17), believers are bound to listen attentively to the word of the Lord, both in the celebration of the Mass and in their personal prayer and reflection.”
Lectors are members of the parish who proclaim the Word of God during the liturgy. The ministry of Lector requires skill in public reading, knowledge of the principles of liturgy, and an understanding and love of the scriptures. Lectors should thoroughly prepare themselves to proclaim the Word of God through study, prayer, and practice.
Interested in becoming a lector? Please contact Father Flores or Father Infanti at Christ the Good Shepherd Parish. Then, go to the website camdendiocese.org, and at School of Liturgy, under the Education menu, download and complete the registration form for Lector training.
Gamble, Books, 91; Raymond J. Starr, “The Used-book Trade in the Roman Empire,” Pho 44 (1990):148-157, esp. 156.
Encyclopedia Britannica, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, www.usccb.org, accessed 3/28/2022.