So as not to embarrass the lector in question, I attended mass tonight (which is unusual for me to go to a Saturday night vigil mass but we were out and about and the timing was right and we can now spend the next two days more lazily) which featured possibly the worst proclaimed first reading I have ever heard. Now I’m nearing 40 and I haven’t missed mass much over my 40 years of life so a generous estimate would be that I’ve attended mass about 2000 times (it’s actually a lot more, but who’s counting?). So I’ve heard some pretty poor proclamations, but this one may indeed have been the worst. The reading is from Acts and it concerned the election of a disciple to replace Judas Iscariot. They nominate two people: Another Judas, called Barsabbas and Matthias. The lector not only mispronounced these two names but she called them (you can’t make this stuff up folks): BARRABBAS (I don’t think the guy who Pilate set free instead of Jesus was going to be named a disciple!) and Matthew (the first time) and then later, Matt, um, us (or something even weirder that certainly was not Matthias.

If I took a poll of that congregation and asked who did the disciples vote in as Judas’ replacement, I doubt that anyone would get it right unless they read along in their missalette (which I usually do, as a strong “sensing person” on the Myers-Briggs).

Now not to be a snot, or even a liturgy ogre. But you have got to do better than that. She also messed up a bunch of words that changed the meaning of the whole reading in places. Clearly this was the first time she was reading this at all, never mind reading it aloud.

To contrast, there was a young woman who read the second reading who was a phenomenal lector. She read slowly and clearly and got all the words right. She garbled one word which happens to the best lectors from time to time. But here was a woman who was more than 30 years younger than the first lector who really just did a superior job. Just a note: the parishioners noted this as well.

So with all of my ranting here are three quick tips for lectors from a lector who thinks he knows what he’s talking about:

1) Read the readings beforehand several times
OK this should be the minimum of preparation you do–just to recognize the words that might be difficult or any names that are really hard. This is especially important for the prayer of the faithful where the names of several parishioners may be read. If nobody knows how to pronounce someone’s name, pick a pronunciation and stick with it. If you’re wrong you may have annoyed the family of the person but the rest of the parish will never know you goofed if you proclaim it confidently.

I mean this one always seems obvious to me–but it’s clear to me that many times the lectors just don’t even know the story–or they don’t think that they are TELLING a story. An old lector trainer that I had told all the lectors in training the following: “I know you all can READ, but what I don’t know is if you can PROCLAIM.” That indeed is the difference between a great lector and a lousy or even a mediocre one. People shouldn’t need to look in their missalettes to understand the story if you proclaim it well. So know what the story is and then think about how you would tell the story in your own words. Then go back and see how the writer tells the story. What point is he trying to make? You need to proclaim that purpose in your reading. The Pauline letters can be particularly tough in this regard–but it helps if you remember that they are letters and usually they are trying to exhort or praise a particular group of people. I tend to try to read those letters as if they are political addresses at a city rally. What point does Paul want to get across to the people of that town?
For the readings that actually tell a story (like today’s first reading, sigh) these are among the easier readings to proclaim. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE STORIES!! Read them as if you are telling a story to someone. I often try to picture myself telling the story to a small child or someone who has no knowledge of the story at all. It allows the story to come alive once again for me –and I can act as if the congregation doesn’t know what the ending is and they are waiting for me to tell them. It works well as a device and people tell me they appreciate it.

3) Proclaim with confidence and read slowly and deliberately:
Read each word as if it is important. Don’t gloss over them. There is no rush. Read it too fast and people get distracted and can’t follow you. Read it without confidence and people won’t pay attention because you haven’t convinced them that this is important. Read it carelessly and people will be confused. If you happen to mess up, be honest and do what you can to correct it–but don’t call attention to a minor error. As an example, I once read a line wrong and it changed the entire meaning of the reading. I knew that what I read didn’t make sense–the sentence didn’t follow from what was read before. So I paused and said “Sorry, I read that last sentence wrong. Paul didn’t exit the city–he ENTERED the city.” The congregation even chuckled a bit at that. There have been other times that I’ve missed a word and just kept going–if the word is innocuous enough that practically nobody would notice because it’s not central to the story it’s not a huge deal–but be careful next time. After all this is the Word of the Lord–we need to treat it with respect.

Now that THAT’S off my chest…I’m going to read next Sunday’s readings as I’m lectoring next week. Maybe I’ll create a short podcast of it and y’all can rip me apart when I mess it up!