Bishop Peter Ingham - address to Bishops' Synod on the Word of God in the Life of the Church
Competent Well-Prepared Readers of the Word (Instrumentum Laboris 37)
"In the Liturgy of the Word, maximum attention should be given to a clear understandable proclamation of the texts..." This requires competent, well-prepared Readers who, for this purpose, need to be formed in schools, even ones which might be established by the Diocese (Inst Lab 37).
If the Liturgy of the Word is to be given the chance to arrest the attention of the Liturgical Assembly, the selection of suitable and competent people to proclaim the Word of God is vital. This is not a ministry just any one can exercise. In Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict said "it is to be entrusted to well-prepared Readers" (45).
My experience for over 40 years is that the standard of proclaiming the Scripture by laity and even by some clergy is patchy and so often quite poor. Proclaiming the Word in the Assembly needs to be greatly improved otherwise the Word of God will not have the impact "of God speaking to us" (GIRM 29), which the Church envisages and which we all desire.
In my experience, many Lectors read far too fast for the Word of God to be able to be grasped by the heart of the listener.
Many do not give every word in the sentence its proper value (eg. the verb is the active word in a sentence.) Many do not obey the punctuation by modulating their voice so as to bring out contrasting phrases. Some Readers wrongly emphasise prepositions. Many others do not project their voice nor use the microphone effectively. The key idea (the punch line) of a Scripture reading is often missed through lack of emphasis by a Reader who doesn't really understand the context of the passage.
Sometimes classic Scriptural words and expressions are mangled or distorted by inexperienced Readers.
One problem is lack of confidence by the proclaimer. That is why to practice reading out loud is essential training. I believe Readers have to seem to be exaggerating in their own estimation so that their public proclamation will arrest the attention of the Assembly successfully.
Liturgical Readers can well learn better vocal communication skills by observing the general clarity, the enunciation and the good diction of radio announcers, TV presenters and stage professionals so as to become more proficient announcers themselves of the saving message of God.
Q. How do you and I become a better proclaimer of God's Word?
A. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare! How?
1. Prayerfully read the Word of God with a small group or as a private study with resources to help you understand the context, meaning and sense of the passage. "A need for solid and continuing Biblical formation for all who are called to proclaim... the Word of God" (Ecclesia in Oceania 38).
2. Imagine or visualise the congregation to whom we will communicate God's Word. Pray God will touch their hearts. Be ourselves, in our own life a witness to the Word of God. "Doing the Word - a conduct of life in keeping with the Word" (Instrumentum Laboris 41)
3. Always look at the Reading we are assigned in the context of the whole Liturgy of the Word for that day.
4. Read and re-read the Scripture text silently several times to get a sense of its meaning, its pace and its flow.
5. Identify the type of passage - is it historical, prophetic, a parable, an instruction, poetry, etc?
6. Consider the meaning of the passage in its context. Where is the climax or punch line? Is its tone and spirit: comforting or, warning, or informing, or intimate?
7. Check the pronunciations of proper names.
8. Practise reading the passage aloud several times or record your reading and play it back to yourself.
Our challenge is how to educate our Readers to pray the Word of God they are to proclaim, how to help our Readers take up the opportunities dioceses and parishes provide to grow in their knowledge and love of Sacred Scripture, and learn communication skills so as to become a better proclaimer and disciple of the Lord ourselves.
It is a courtesy to the people of God assembled to be able to hand on the Word of God to them in such a way that the saving message may grow strong in the hearts and minds of all who both proclaim and listen to the Word of God.
As we proclaim the Scripture to the Assembly, we want to ensure that God's Holy Word:
• is heard,
• is understood, and hopefully
• is appreciated.
The Reader has a very vital ministry!
Most Rev Peter W Ingham DD
Bishop of Wollongong, Australia
President of the Federation of Bishops Conference of Oceania
See also: Diocesan Policy on the Reader in the Celebration of the Eucharist, available in our resources section.