Reader (liturgy)

Portrait of a Russian Orthodox church reader (1878).

In some Christian churches, the reader is responsible for reading aloud excerpts of the scripture at a liturgy. In early Christian times, the reader was of particular value due to the rarity of literacy.

Catholicism (Latin Rite)

In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, the term " lector" or "reader" [1] can mean someone who in a particular liturgy is assigned to read a Biblical text other than the Gospel. (Reading the Gospel at Mass is reserved specifically to the deacon or, in his absence, to the priest.) But it also has the more specific meaning of a person who has been "instituted" as a lector or reader, and is such even when not assigned to read in a specific liturgy. This is the meaning in which the term is used in this article.

In this sense, the office was formerly classed as one of the four minor orders and in recent centuries was generally conferred only on those preparing for ordination to the priesthood. With effect from 1 January 1973, the apostolic letter Ministeria quaedam [2] of 15 August 1972 decreed instead that:

  1. What up to now were called minor orders are henceforth to be called ministries.
  2. Ministries may be assigned to lay Christians; hence they are no longer to be considered as reserved to candidates for the sacrament of orders.
  3. Two ministries, adapted to present-day needs, are to be preserved in the whole Latin Church, namely, those of reader and acolyte. The functions heretofore assigned to the subdeacon are entrusted to the reader and the acolyte...
  4. The reader is appointed for a function proper to him, that of reading the word of God in the liturgical assembly. Accordingly, he is to proclaim the readings from sacred Scripture, except for the gospel in the Mass and other sacred celebrations; he is to recite the psalm between the readings when there is no psalmist; he is to present the intentions for the general intercessions in the absence of a deacon or cantor; he is to direct the singing and the participation by the faithful; he is to instruct the faithful for the worthy reception of the sacraments. He may also, insofar as may be necessary, take care of preparing other faithful who are appointed on a temporary basis to read the Scriptures in liturgical celebrations. That he may more fittingly and perfectly fulfill these functions, he is to meditate assiduously on sacred Scripture.
Aware of the office he has undertaken, the reader is to make every effort and employ suitable means to acquire that increasingly warm and living love and knowledge of Scripture that will make him a more perfect disciple of the Lord.

Canon 1035 [3] of the Code of Canon Law requires candidates for diaconal ordination to have received and have exercised for an appropriate time the ministries of lector and acolyte and prescribes that institution in the second of these ministries must precede by at least six months ordination as a deacon.

Instituted lectors, who are all men, are obliged, when proclaiming the readings at Mass, to wear an alb (with cincture and amice unless the form of the alb makes these unnecessary). Others who perform the function of lector, but who are not instituted in the ministry of lector, are neither required nor forbidden by universal law of the Latin Church to wear an alb: "During the celebration of Mass with a congregation a second priest, a deacon, and an instituted reader must wear the distinctive vestment of their office when they go up to the ambo to read the word of God. Those who carry out the ministry of reader just for the occasion or even regularly but without institution may go to the ambo in ordinary attire, but this should be in keeping with the customs of the different regions." [4] Like other lay ministers, they may wear an alb or "other suitable attire that has been legitimately approved by the Conference of Bishops". [5] Neither the England and Wales episcopal conference nor that of the United States has specified a particular alternative attire., [6] while in the dioceses of the United States of America, a cassock and surplice may be worn as "appropriate and dignified clothing" [7]

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal speaks as follows of those who, without being lectors in the specific sense, carry out their functions at Mass: "In the absence of an instituted lector, other lay people may be deputed to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture, people who are truly suited to carrying out this function and carefully prepared, so that by their hearing the readings from the sacred texts the faithful may conceive in their hearts a sweet and living affection for Sacred Scripture." [8]

The General Instruction thus makes no distinction between men and women for proclaiming the scriptural readings in the absence of an instituted lector.

In its sections the same document lists the lector's specific duties at Mass. [9]

Traditionalist Catholic organizations such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest and the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney are authorized to use the pre-1973 rite for their members who receive the office of lector. [10] The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and other traditionalist Catholic bodies in dispute with the Holy See, such as sedevacantists, use it without seeking authorization.

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