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Lectors and Readers: Reading and Explaining the Word of God
According to the promulgation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) when the Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself is speaking to his people, and Christ, present in his own word, is proclaiming the gospel. The readings of God’s word must therefore be listened to by all with reverence; they make up a principal element of the liturgy. In the biblical readings, God’s word addresses all people of every era and is understandable to them, and a fuller understanding and efficacy are fostered by a living commentary on it, that is to say, by the homily, understood as an integral part of the liturgical action (GIRM 29).(1)
Because of the importance of the Liturgy of the Word in the formation of the faithful, specific laws determine who may read. Only those who have received Holy Orders — a deacon, priest, or bishop — may proclaim the Gospel. As a rule a deacon or, in his absence, a priest other than the celebrant, should read the Gospel at Mass. If there is no deacon or another priest present, the celebrant himself should proclaim the Gospel (General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM), nos. 59, 99). However, in certain circumstances, lay people may proclaim the Gospel at children’s Masses.
Regarding the other readings and the responsorial psalm, only a person properly instituted for the purpose of reading during Mass should read them. The Church first prefers a man installed into the ministry of lector to read the readings (cf. Canon 230 §§1, 2). In the absence of such a man, other laity, women included, who have received proper training and authorization as a reader may read. In the absence of either, anyone who meets the requirements established by the local bishop can be asked to read. If no one is available, the priest or deacon must read the readings.
As noted in canon 230 §1, “Lay men who possess the age and qualifications determined by decree of the conference of bishops can be installed on a stable basis in the ministry of lector.” The use of the word “vir” [Lat. “man”] in the original Latin precludes women from participating in “the stable ministry” of lector. However, paragraph two of this same canon notes that “lay persons can fulfill the function of lector during liturgical actions by temporary deputation.” According to canon 230 and liturgical law, in the absence of a man installed into the stable ministry of lector, a man or woman can be authorized to act as reader during the celebration of Mass.
The USCCB provides norms for instituted lectors: A layman who is to be installed in the ministries of lector or acolyte on a stable basis must have completed his twentyfirst (21) year of age. The candidate must also possess the skills necessary for an effective proclamation of the Word or service at the altar, be a fully initiated member of the Catholic Church, be free of any canonical penalty, and live a life which befits the ministry to be undertaken. (Complementary norm to Canon 230 §1, November 17, 1999).
In order for an individual to be regarded as “truly suited,” it is required that they be a fully initiated Catholic living in communion with the Church. Thus, a lector should have received both First Holy Communion and Confirmation, and should not be living in an invalid marriage or in any other state of grave sin. Being “truly suited” also implies the necessary native talents to serve as a lector. Thus, individuals who are not able to proclaim the readings in a clear manner that expresses the dignity of scripture may not be suited for this service in the church.
How great the arrogance when one approaches the Almighty Mystery without a clean conscience and heart!
That’s odd. I could have sworn I saw Jerry Deluca, investigator, Town of Coeymans police department, at the lecturn, as reader, on Palm Sunday (April 1), at Church of St Patrick (Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany), in Ravena, NY. Couldn’t have been! But did anyone else see him there?
Read our Signs of Hypocrisy posting at
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