History of this Ministry:
Before Vatican II, there were FOUR MINOR ORDERS,.
lector, exorcist, acolyte and porter. There was also subdiaconate. These were required before one could receive the Sacrament of Orders as a deacon or priest. Vatican II called for the revision of sacraments and liturgy. The revisions came about because almost no one performed the ministries of porter, exorcist, and indeed, even lector. Pope Paul VI issued the defining document in 972, the Motu Proprio entitled Ministeria Quaedam. This eliminated minor orders completely, eliminated tonsure and subdiaconate. He established two “offices” of reader and acolyte, which will include the functions of the subdiaconate.
“It is especially fitting that the ministries of reader and acolyte should be entrusted to those who, as candidates for sacred orders, desire to devote themselves to God and to the Church in a special way. …Both by study and by gradual exercise of the ministry of the word and of the altar, candidates for sacred orders should through intimate contact understand and reflect upon the double aspect of the priestly office… In this way, candidates are to approach holy orders fully aware of their vocation, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, constant in prayer, and aware of the needs of the faithful.”
“Candidates for the permanent deaconate and for the deaconate leading to the presbyterate, as well as candidates for the presbyterate itself, are to receive the ministries of reader and acolyte, unless they have already done so, and are to exercise them for a fitting time, in order to be better disposed for the future service of the word and of the altar.
Comments on Ministeria Quaedam. According to Pope Paul VI, these are not so much a share in the priesthood of ordained priests, but ministries for the laity, who by Baptism share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. They are seen as a good preparation for priesthood, but not so much as a stage in the process towards ordination. They do have canonical status, and have a special Rite of Installation. In some ways, Paul VI was dismantling a clerical system that had existed for centuries by emphasizing non-clerical, lay ministries. But the surprise or irony is that these two ministries are very rarely given to laity, and almost exclusively are given to seminarians on the path to ordination. While there are many lay men (and women) serving as readers and ministers of Communion, they are usually commissioned in a parish, by a parish priest. They are not officially installed by the ordinary (bishop).
How does one become a Reader?
It is conferred By “institution” rather than “ordination.” One does not become a cleric by being instituted as a Reader. “ministries may be committed to lay Christians; hence they are no longer to be considered as reserved to candidates for the sacrament of orders.” As a matter of fact, very few strictly lay persons are readers or acolytes in the sense of “instituted”. Many serve in those capacities (altar servers, lay readers, through simple commissioning by the parish priest, or even without that commissioning. The Rite of Institution would be not a sacrament (as is Orders) but a sacramental. The ministries are conferred by the ordinary (the bishop, and in clerical institutes, the major superior).
a) a petition freely made out and signed (Cf. Form)
b) suitable age and special qualities to be determined by the Episcopal conference
c) a firm will to give faithful service to God and the Christian people.
Only men can become stable, readers (and acolytes) even if women can become temporary readers and altar servers.
Function, Responsibilities of the Reader
From Ministeria Quaedam. “He may also, in so far as necessary, take care of preparing other faithful who by a temporary appointment, are to read the Scriptures in liturgical celebrations.
From the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, 2000, No. 99.
The reader is instituted to proclaim the readings from sacred scripture, with the exception of the gospel reading. He may also announce the intentions for the general intercessions, and in the absence of the psalmist, sing or read the psalm between the readings. In the celebration of the Eucharist, the reader has specific duties which he alone ought to perform, even though ordained ministers may be present.
No. 101. In the absence of an instituted reader, other lay people may be designated to proclaim the readings from the sacred scriptures.
“…You will proclaim that word in the liturgical assembly, instruct children and adults in the faith and prepare them to receive the sacraments worthily. You will bring the messages of salvation to those who have not yet received it…In proclaiming God’s word to others, accept it yourselves in obedience to the Holy Spirit. Meditate on it constantly, so that each day you will have a deeper love of the Scriptures and in all you say and do show forth to the world our Saviour, Jesus Christ.”
Reflections on the Ministry of Readers:
“The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord, in so far as she never ceases, particularly in the sacred liturgy, to partake of the bread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ” (Vatican II, Divine Revelation, No. 21)
Cf. Introduction to the Lectionary, no. 55 - preparation needed for those who will be readers – “spiritual and technical” (know Scriptures and know the Liturgy, and know how to read in public). Note that this is directed to those who serve temporarily as readers, and so it applies even more to those who are “stable” readers, namely those who are installed officially as lectors.
“Tell me, which seems to be greater – the body of Christ or the Word of Christ? If you wish to answer accurately, you must say this: the word of God is not less than the body of Christ. Therefore, as the solicitude which we observe when the body of Christ is ministered to us is such that not a particle of it falls from our hands to the earth, so too, with as much care should we see to it that the word of God, which is his gift to us, does not perish from our heart, while we are thinking or talking about something else. Because we will be no less guilty.” (Caesarius of Arles, 6th century).
- Proclaim rather than read
- Overall responsibility for the Word of God - bible study, divine office, liturgical services, parish societies using the Word of God.
- Different types of texts in the Scripture - Warm letters, prophetic denunciation, poetic
- Know the Lectionary, Cycles, How it is put together, which readings relate
- How to Prepare for your assignment as lector (Irish broadcaster, “four days – not enough time!”
- Qualities of a good reader - dignity, clarity, eye contact
- Improving your speech, diction, presence
- Ministry = service - responsibility