Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Just a Mouthpiece

Hearing Sacred Scripture is a key element of Catholic worship. Usually, from the Old Testament, we hear a reading from the Law, Prophets, or Writings and sing a Psalm responsively. Then we hear a reading from one of the New Testament books other than the Gospels. Finally a selection from one of the Gospels is read by an ordained priest or deacon and heard with special reverence, followed by a homily. Often some important theme connecting the readings is reflected in the homily as well.

Though a lector at St. Peter’s Catholic Church for a few years now and, before that, at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, it was Dr. Monte Luker, professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, who first instructed me in lector best practices. I’m not going to try to blame any of my bad habits or errors on my friend and former teacher, but will try to explain what I took away from the directions he offered and why I read as I do.

The objective of a lector in worship is to draw the attention of the worshipers to the words without any injection of personality or slant or opinion and without calling any attention to himself or herself. This principle links back to the first sentence of the blog which states the importance of “hearing” over that of reading. I believe this is the reason that, at Ebenezer Lutheran, lectors wore simple robes at the ambo. Even clothing and style should not distract from the hearing of The Word.

My way of fulfilling that objective is to read with sincerity, reverence, and awe, slowly and carefully pronouncing and emphasizing each word, completely without drama, while avoiding a monotone. I admit that may be a fine line. But, if I am reading the words of St. Paul, I want the hearers to hear and consider all the words but not any interpretation I may have of them. I am not playing the role of St. Paul, trying to imagine how he might have spoken, but am simply conveying what he wrote, omitting or diminishing nothing. To quote my former Pastor Frank Honeycutt, “There are no throwaway words in the Bible.”

So, I keep my eyes on the written page and do not try to make eye contact with listeners. Intermittent eye contact seems to me would imply that the words being spoken at the time of eye contact are especially important and are from me to the hearer. Even if I were to memorize the scripture to be read, I would still consider it important to keep my eyes glued to the printed page to assure accuracy and to avoid the impression that it is I doing the speaking or that I am emphasizing one point more than another. As a lector, I am only a mouthpiece.

Let me hasten to say that these guidelines I try to follow do not apply in any way to the pastor or priest or teacher charged with exegetical responsibility. The best delivery for such persons is without script and with continuous eye contact and appropriate drama and emphasis to make the points deemed most important for the persons present, at the current time, after careful, prayerful, and inspired study of the written expression of the Word of God. That is a much heavier burden than just reading it.

And, I must confess that my practices are contrary to the instructions in the Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word, United States Edition, produced by Liturgy Training Publications. But, I do the best I can and am always willing to step aside for someone who wants to serve.

Yes, it is I at the ambo, reading, eyes down as promised. I do look up for the announcement, "A reading from the____ chapter of ______," and for the closing, "The Word of the Lord."