Jesus’s words, The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few, apply as much to the ministry of lector today as to the ministry of saving souls he assigned his apostles. But if most churches seem to have enough lectors on hand, what do we mean by “few”?
Imagine the awe of the 12 apostles as they received instruction from Jesus – face to face. Is it possible for parishes today to inspire its lectors to pour themselves into their ministry with that same awe? It depends on the effort parish leaders are willing to put into “raising the bar” with ongoing training and enrichment; along with a commitment to no longer accept mediocrity.
Unlike the quality and professionalism parishes demand from their musicians or cantors, few make comparable demands on their lectors. And in comparison to ministries where participants gather frequently such as the choir or various other ministries, lectors are too often left on their own to pursue sources of inspiration and enrichment.
Though many parishes do put on annual or semi-annual lector meetings, these occasional “eureka” moments are not enough to retain that sense of awe of the kind that Jesus inspired in his followers, and usually dissipate pretty quickly.
It takes frequent gatherings for prayer, weekly preparation, faith sharing and fellowship to continually fuel the lector’s passion for this ministry. As a lector coordinator, I’ve held such gatherings and even if only a handful of lectors showed up, we always departed uplifted and with renewed fervor and awe for our privileged calling.
Though much of a lector’s preparation and study does require internal “alone” time, regular gatherings with other lectors for encouragement and fellowship offer many ways to keep the ministry alive and burning in their hearts between their assigned Sundays, which can often be weeks.
Aelred Rosser, in his well-known book of reflections, A Word That Will Rouse Them, says “It is time to define the ministry and its requirements in more specific terms. With an accurate understanding of the importance and dignity of the reader’s ministry, we will expect from readers no less than what we expect from presiders, deacons, musicians and preachers – all of whom undergo extensive formation for their ministries.”
In his 1999 Gather Faithfully Together pastoral letter, Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles says, “Lectors for each Sunday should strive to be part of the group that meets with the homilists early in the week, say, Monday evening to read, pray with and talk about the scriptures for the coming week.”
And in its lector guidelines, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles adds, “It is highly recommended that lectors in each community meet together regularly to discuss the theological as well as the practical and spiritual aspects of their ministry.”
What is it that gives the lector a “well-trained tongue to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them,” as said in Isaiah 50:4? For starters, it goes far beyond speaking and presentation skills.
One of my previous pastors once grabbed a TV celebrity to read at our Christmas Vigil, 10 minutes before mass. Despite the newscaster’s platform skills, he really didn’t know what he was reading, and the parishioners were the first to pick it up.
But “a well-trained tongue” also goes beyond knowledge of scripture. Great lectors can envision themselves washing the feet (figuratively) of their listeners with God’s word. They try to visualize the humility and love that Jesus showed when he actually did wash the feet of his apostles; then work at proclaiming their readings with the same humility and love; and in so doing, touch the hearts and minds of their listeners more deeply.
They try as best as they can to “speak to the weary” of our modern-day life: their fellow parishioners in the daily grind of making a living during these tough economic times: those who’ve recently lost a loved one, are ill, are uncertain about their future, whose marriage is on the rocks, whose child is on drugs, and on and on. Fellow parishioners who are desperate to hear God’s word, and dependent on the lector to speak it to them in a way that will rouse them and send them away feeling better.
In addition, great lectors have a deep desire to please our Lord by preparing to offer him a pure and unblemished lamb of a proclamation from the lectern: a perfect lamb that can be digested by their fellow parishioners with earnestness, devotion and joy. This is just some of “the stuff” that makes up a few good lectors.
There will always be that remnant of lectors who diligently work on their own in constant pursuit of excellence. But it doesn’t have to end here. All a parish needs to do to grow this remnant is embrace the ministry’s importance and begin taking steps toward the kind of ongoing enrichment and inspirational gatherings mentioned above.