When I was little, I remember noticing certain people during Mass and wondering why they were allowed to do the “special jobs.”
A teenager carried the cross and wore a nice white and black robe. A few adults read from this fancy book (which I later learned is called the lectionary) before the priest shared the Gospel. There was usually a family (including my own on occasion) that brought up the bread, water, and wine, and then some others who would collect money from people and later hand out bulletins to everyone before they left the church.
Fast forward many years. I have since had the pleasure of assisting in various roles during the Mass, including altar server, lector, Eucharistic minister, and part-time Sunday School leader. I can speak first-hand to the many benefits of becoming involved in a local church beyond simple participation in the pews.
With so many opportunities available at Mass, below is a description that may encourage you to serve as a lector—a role the Catechism describes as exercising “a genuine liturgical function” (CCC 1143).
Jump In, Commit Little
Acting as a lector—or reader, as it is more commonly known—is the perfect way to volunteer in a church community without taking on too much responsibility.
Depending on the number of lectors active at your church and your own availability, you may only be needed every so often—once every month or two, for instance, based on schedule rotations. Then again, whenever you are attending Mass and are not scheduled to read, you can always check with the priest in the sacristy, in the event there is a last-minute need for a lector.
In terms of time required, a lector might be asked to arrive at church about 15 to 20 minutes before the start of Mass to review the readings and go over any special announcements.
During the celebration, the lector is generally active at only a few points. For example, a lector typically welcomes the congregation to the church prior to the formal commencement of Mass, sharing certain information about parish events noted in the bulletin. (This may take place at the conclusion of Mass instead, depending on church practice.)
The lector returns to the pulpit during the Liturgy of the Word portion of the Mass. Subject to the number of readers present, this “workload” can be shared among a few volunteers. For instance, one lector may read the First Reading and Psalm (if not sung), while another handles the Second Reading and prayers of intercession.
As you can see, lectors do not have to worry about putting in twenty hours of volunteer service a week, should that be a concern. In addition, lectors are not likely to ever get injured because of heavy lifting, as they are simply asked to hold the lectionary or a light folder containing papers.
Get Involved, Grow in Confidence
Having the chance to stand behind a microphone and in front of a congregation provides tremendous practice for public speaking.
Reading at Mass can offer growth in confidence, as you are challenged to project yourself audibly so that all in attendance can receive and appreciate the Word of God as well as other valuable faith information. Upon receiving compliments regarding your reading from parishioners after Mass, you are also likely to feel a little boost in your self-esteem.
Serving as a lector can also aid in professional roles where speaking before an audience is a requirement. For example, teaching in a classroom or delivering budget reports to a company’s board of directors can feel a lot more comfortable when you are used to reading from a church lectionary on Sunday mornings.
Serving as lector can also help you grow more familiar with many others involved with the Mass.
Speaking from experience, as a lector I’ve gotten to know priests, deacons, altar servers, ushers, Eucharistic ministers, and other volunteers beyond a surface level. Being “behind the scenes” in the sacristy, lectors can get a glimpse of the many others with roles and responsibilities in a Mass. As you see one another more frequently, there may be occasions to form friendships and have enjoyable conversations both prior to and at the conclusion of Mass.
Furthermore, you can come to grow closer with the Lord and deeper in your faith when acting as a lector. Preparing for the readings before Mass and sharing God’s Holy Word with the congregation during the Liturgy, a lector enjoys a wonderful opportunity to learn and appreciate Sacred Scripture.
It Can’t Be All Good, Can It?
If you are wondering about drawbacks, serving as lector does carry a few.
Your reading duties may require you to depart from loved ones occasionally when the time comes for you to approach the pulpit. Depending on your reading roles and church practice, you may also need to sit apart from them during Mass when you are scheduled to read.
Given that the Bible contains names of people and places that are sometimes difficult to pronounce and that you will be reading before a large audience, you could be forgiven for feeling a little self-conscious. Whether it be jittery hands, a cracking voice, or a few stumbles over some words, serving as lector can present humbling reminders that we are not perfect. Just the same, these experiences of nerves—as rare as they may be—should never deter us from bravely sharing God’s Word with his people.
Finally, if you are involved in other ministries during Mass (such as children’s liturgy), chances are you will have to sit out that week, as doing double-duty might be impractical.
Looking at the pros and cons, you’ll see that reading at Mass has several advantages and very little downside.
So the next time you are browsing the church bulletin and notice a need for readers, or you simply feel like trying something new, be sure to consider the role of lector.
The experience can be extremely gratifying as you develop and share spiritual gifts, benefiting both you and your church family.
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Matt Charbonneau is a high school religious education teacher who inspires his students to explore a deeper relationship with God. Applying uplifting lessons, engaging activities, and insightful experiences, he strives to demonstrate the powerful presence and unconditional love of God in everyday life. For more of Matt’s writing, visit God’s Giveaways at www.mattcharbonneau.com.