MINISTERS OF THE WORD
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40: 8)
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119: 105)
The Word of God endures, creates, gives life.
The importance of scripture in liturgy was perhaps lost to some extent in the Catholic Church until the reforms of the second Vatican Council reminded us of its central place.
“The Church has always venerated the Divine Scriptures just as she venerates the Body of the Lord.” (Dei Verbum 21)
“Christ is present in his Word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the Church.” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy 7)
The Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass spells out the link between scripture, faith and worship.
“The preaching of the word is necessary for the sacramental ministry. For the sacraments are sacraments of faith and faith has its origin and sustenance in the word. The Church is nourished spiritually at the table of God’s word and at the table of the eucharist.” (LMI 10)
The only contact that many Catholics have with the living word of scripture occurs at Sunday Mass. It is vital that this encounter be a positive experience so that they will develop over time a “warm and living love of scripture”.
Those who are called to be readers at Mass, then, take on an important ministry. In fact they are not ‘readers’ at all. Almost everyone can read, but only some can effectively proclaim the word of God. Those people who serve the liturgical gathering by proclaiming the scriptures are best described as ‘Ministers of the Word’.
What is needed to someone to carry out this role effectively? The basic requirement is faith in the word of God. A reader must be someone with a love of scripture who believes that it is alive and active and gives guidance.
Readers must understand what they are reading in order to clearly convey the meaning of a passage to others. Such understanding is achieved by careful preparation, starting well before the person is scheduled to read. This involves reading the scripture passages through several times, slowly coming to grips with what the words are saying. Readers should also have access to a readers’ workbook or scripture commentary to assist them. Practising reading the passages aloud is another important aspect of the preparation process.
Finally, ministers of the word need to have the skills required for reading aloud in public, including a strong voice which can be projected clearly and the ability to use speech techniques such as pace, pause and pitch to give vitality and variety to their reading.
I am often asked by parishes to recommend resources for training their ministers of the word. It seems that not everyone has discovered the addition that was made to Break Open the Word, the preparation book for readers published by The Liturgical Commission in Brisbane, several years ago. In the back of the book are a number of Readers’ Formation pages covering topics such as the arrangement of the lectionary, reading skills and a model for preparation. This material may be used with groups of readers in a parish setting or by readers individually who wish to improve their understanding and skill.