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Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Word Can Speak for Himself: Stop Being So Dramatic!

Point 1: Lectors vs Readers

I am a huge proponent of using proper terms in the proper settings. The word "Lector" is one of them. Canonically (ie referring to Canon Law), there is no such thing as a "Lector" in our parishes, and no, Vatican II did not do away with this appointed position. The reality is this: only men can be appointed  Lectors, although the 1983 Code of Canon Law allows uninstalled men and women both to READ during the liturgy, and for both, it is a privilege. Still, only MEN can be appointed, and so I find it both insulting and irritating that we continue to call READERS "Lectors" as this misuse and overuse of terminology denigrates the Office of Lector itself, and leaves us to wonder if the Readers at Mass are in fact installed Lectors or are just filling the role because the Bishop refuses to install the proper men or because not enough have stepped up to the plate.

I suspect it's more a lack of education on the part of all lay people. I had to pay thousands of dollars and get a Master's degree to obtain this simple information that should be readily available and explained to the general populace of any given parish. It's not like Canon Law is a secret.

Lest someone protest, indeed, as a Minor Order it was suppressed, but the new Code did NOT suppress the installation of the position or the obligation upon those installed to serve in that capacity during the Liturgy. Ergo, if an installed Lector is in attendance at a given Mass, there should not be an uninstalled Reader performing the liturgical role.

Point II: Dramatic Readings of the Lectionary

It has become the fashion at my parish for the readings to be read dramatically, according to the whims of the canonically not-installed Readers, both male and female, although I cringe to admit the problem seems to have been introduced by a woman.Still...the virus seems to affect men, too.

Nearly every time I have attended Mass at my parish within the last year or so, I have had to look around to see if, in fact, I was present at a "Concert" given by an Elocutionist as portrayed in "Anne of Green Gables."

To be clear; I am not saying the readings should be proclaimed in a monotone! That is just as awful! Rather, I am merely suggesting that those doing the Readings for the Mass each week follow the description given in the GIRM, paragraph 56:

"The Liturgy if the Word is to be celebrated in such a way as to promote meditation, and so any sort of haste that hinders recollection must clearly be avoided."

Yes, indeed. However, pausing dramatically after every few words and over-emphasizing every third word a la melodrama does not meet the theological understanding of "meditation". It falls to "dramatic interpretation" and is TERRIBLY distracting!

So as not to be uncharitable, I quote the continuing context of the GIRM, paragraph 56:

"During the Liturgy of the Word, it is also appropriate to include brief periods of silence, accommodated to the gathered assembly, in which, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, the word of God may be grasped by the heart and a response through prayer may be prepared. It may be appropriate to observe such periods of silence, for example, before the Liturgy of the Word itself begins, after the first and second reading, and lastly at the conclusion of the homily." 

This puts the first part in context. I suspect that the more dramatic Readers tend to read the first part of this paragraph (assuming they have actually read this very important document) and stop there, thinking that their idea of "meditation" and "silence" is the proper one. Therefore, we in the pews are afflicted by their own PERSONAL reading versus their reading of the Word for the rest of us, who are trying to meditate upon it.

Appreciation for a Role Carried out Appropriately

One of the things I most loved about my  various monastery and convent visits was this: they all understood meditative reading in accordance with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Not a single Sister got up and read according to her own interpretation. Certainly her voice rose and fell for general emphasis, but it was always carried out to foster our OWN meditation, so that we could allow the Holy Spirit to emphasize words and phrases...not the reader.

Every time a Dramatic Reader takes the pulpit in my parish, I consider fleeing. The first time it happened, the woman actually looked at the audience congregation and BEAMED at us as though we were supposed to applaud. And I suspect that were it not for the venue, we would have out of pure reflex. I seriously hadn't heard such vocal inflection since the melodramatic celebrity Elocutionist in Anne of Green Gables. I had to look down to see if I was wearing white gloves and a formal gown, wondering if perhaps Anne herself would get up to give us her rendition of "Our Lady of Shallot" or "The Highwayman" right there in the middle of the Liturgy.

Since that time, this behavior has become all the rage of our parish Lectors  Readers. When certain personages step up, I confess I inwardly groan and pick up the missal, realizing that I need to read it for myself and entirely tune the Reader out until she or he has completed their torture routine. If I don't pick up the book, I miss the reading entirely as the drama is just far too distracting to understand what God is trying to  say to me (other than to pray for my lack of patience and to pray for the person reading...yeah, I got THAT loud and clear. Anything else?)

I'd say I'm sorry, but I'm not. We in the pews have a right to speak up, too, and it's not proper to throw tomatoes at Mass or cut the cords to the sound system. That kind of thing is generally frowned upon.  Unfortunately, it has become the culture in our parishes that those who speak up, even gently, are cranks, and no real criticism is tolerated, for fear it might hurt someone's feelings.

God forbid someone in a liturgical role is introduced to the GIRM and therefore has their feelings offended by official documentation.

The Readings at Mass are not meant to be read as though proclaimed in a theatre, but are meant to be proclaimed in a worshipful setting, open to be received by the people in the pews, all ranges of people. There is a place for drama, but the Word of God doesn't need any help from we lay people; He can stand alone just fine on His own if the Readers would only stand aside enough to let Him speak.

I long for the monastery, and the sober, truly meditative reading of the Word of God, in the Office, in the Lectionary, and pray that one day, our lay Readers will also cultivate an appreciation for this lost, yet simple, art of proclaiming the Word to the Faithful devoid of their own personal dramatic interpretation.


Chloe said...

I just learned something new, and I thoroughly approve! I had a feeling something like this was the case, but had never seen it explained.

My only question, then, is how to bring up the subject / ensure that properly installed lectors again see the light of day?

Adoro said...

Chloe ~ Great question! When you figure it out, let me and the rest of us who labor under this objective knowledge know!

DominiSumus said...

Dramatic readings are awful. I once worked at a parish where there was a reader who would do different voices for the different characters. She used to drive me insane.

3puddytats said...

I think alot has to do with the fact that public speaking is not taught in school, and most people are terrified to stand up and read or speak in front of others.

The folks that DO have any kind of training are usually the drama/theatre types....and there you have it.

I see the lack of public speaking skills in my line of engineers can barely make it through a job interview, much less stand up and give a formal presentation on a project. I find though, being here in Utah, that members of the LDS church stand up and speak in church from an early age, so they are more comfortable with public speaking. The Catholic Church does not encourage that or have a forum for young people (or any people for that matter) to hone their public speaking skills.


Just another mad Catholic said...


At the Cathedral one lay reader has a wonderful shakespearian (read queen's english) voice which really carries the content of the readings and which gives dignity to the WORD himself.

I much prefer this to the mumbling, accented drivel which normally passes for reading after which at top-notch spead the reader proclaims "this is the word of the Lord" without so much as taking a breath.

Yours from England

Bunny Boy

Adoro said...

3puddytats ~ I agree in part - it's not the role of the Catholic Church to teach public speaking skills, and in fact, around here another thing that sticks in my craw are all the "school Masses" involving a parade of kids up to the ambo to tag-team the readings and psalm during Daily Mass - another atrocity requiring us to actually read from the Missal ourselves.

While the school is right to be teaching public speaking, the Mass is not the forum for that, and I see that although when I was in school we had to spend time "up front" in the classroom, that is done less and less. (public or Catholic schools)

I was actually on my high school speech team, and my category was Creative Expression (ergo a bit dramatic), yet it was clear even to us that context is quite important: who is our audience and what are we trying to present?

As much of a musical diva I was in those days, I would never have gone up to the pulpit and dramatized the readings of the Mass; it's simply inappropriate in a common sense sort of way.

LOL - but then that's another thing lacking in our world today, isn't it?

Seriously, though, a classical education has been lost to "theories" now inflicted on the children in schools, taking away from the foundation they SHOULD have - such as the basic premises of public speaking.

Incidentally, the "dramatic readers" at my parish have nice vocal quality, but they need someone to explain to them that "meditative reading" is not THEIR meditation, but is to allow the meditation of the congregation!

That would probably go a long way towards correcting the problem!

Bunny Boy! ~ LOL, I miss you!

It's wonderful when you have a reader with good diction - and from what you're saying, she's not reading dramatically, just using her vocal skills to enable the congregations meditation. Awesome! :-)

Thankfully, other than school children at "school Masses" (which I avoid), we don't have mumblers - at least not that I've heard.

Anonymous said...

The only thing worse than the overly dramatic reader is the reader who doesn't take the readings seriously enough to, you know, actually read them ahead of time, and ends up faltering in the middle of a reading because s/he has never seen some of these words before.

Terry Nelson said...

Very good post - every pastor should read it. An Orthodox monk from the 19th century felt that the readings should almost be chanted without any emotional inflection so that the Word might speak for itself - just as you say.

Just another mad Catholic said...


Actually the Reader at the Cathedral is a man, he's so good that I think he must be a trained actor.

All we need now is to ordain him to the dicaconate and he we have chant the readings about at High Mass in the EF.

3puddytats said...

Adoro--Personally I think it's great with the "school Masses"--i assume these are at the Catholic schools??-- that the young people have the opportunity to read, even though it may be "tag team" and perhaps mumble or not speak as clearly as they should. It is their setting and that is how they learn. The Lord loves their little voices.

Good Lectors or Readers or whatever we want to call them are made, usually not born. I just love it how so many folks in the church will complain about the readers, or the music,or the choir, yet the church will not fork over money to hire a consultant or university professor to conduct a week-long public speaking seminar for the lectors, or pay for voice or music lessons for their music ministers..outside consultants can objectively critique individuals without worrying about "hurting feelings" and improve what is already there...the church expects everyone to "volunteer", or bring previous skills to the table..and as we all know alot of the "volunteer" efforts can be greatly improved upon...

Michael--Lots of times I am called upon to read the readings for Daily Mass, especially for the little chapel at the military base I work at..there is not an assigned reader, we wing it on whoever shows up, especially since it is during a work day. I MIGHT have one "dry run" and that is it. If people don't like it because I might stumble over a word --especially some of the Old Testament words-- here and there they are more than welcome to do it themselves.


Adoro said...

Sara ~ The problem with the "school Masses" is not that the children are reading and singing per se. The problem is that the way it is done turns the Mass into "look at ME and what I can do!" which is teaching the children the wrong lesson.

Mass is about worship of God; not performing for an audience. In our world of the emphasis of lateral theology, it is no wonder people attend Mass and want it to be about them and their feelings as opposed to elevating us all to God's level as He intends.

You're quick to complain that people are complaining, then say that "The Church" should fork over the money for training. I agree - it would be WONDERFUL to get consultants in. But guess what? That money doesn't trickle down from somewhere; it comes from the people in the pews.

Have you ever considered perhaps donating the cash for that endeavor yourself, or finding a donor for it? You have a great idea but now you're sitting back saying "The Church" has to do it. you is or is you ain't a member of the Church fully qualified to step up to that plate and donate or find other donors?

In Michael's defense, I don't think he's speaking of people who step up on the spot, but people who are regular readers and CHOOSE not to review and practice the readings ahead of time. My own parish has that happen for Daily Masses, too, people often asked at the last minute with no time to prepare. No one bats an eye if they stumble a bit. No one is attacking you, either, for stumbling if you have no time to prep.

Context is everything here, isn't it?

Unknown said...


Last Mo;nday I was the reader at a noon Mass and the first reading was a very memorable one from Genesis when Abraham was begging the Lord not to destroy all the people in Sodom. It ends in a conversational tone:

June 27; Reading 1
Gn 18:16-33
. . .Then Abraham said, “Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on.
What if only thirty are found there?”
He replied, “I will forbear doing it if I can find but thirty there.”
Still Abraham went on, “Since I have thus dared to speak to my Lord, what if there are no more than twenty?”
He answered, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the twenty.”
But he still persisted: “Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time. What if there are at least ten there?”
He replied, “For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it. . . .”

I used normal conversational question and answer voice inflections. Is that what you are referring to?

Adoro said...

Ray ~ Not having been there, but still, knowing you, I'm guessing you read it properly and without melodramatic theatrics. I can't imagine you standing at the ambo nearly pounding it for emphasis on every word and pausing dramatically whether there is punctuation or not. It just isn't your style.

I'd rather have you read at my parish any day than some of the people who get up there on a regular basis and wow us with theatrical interepretation.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Adoro. My only theatrical move generally is to raise my head and look at the congregation when I am done with a phrase of the Responsorial Psalm.

No pounding of the pulpit (boy do I hate the word "ambo").

Adoro said...

Ray ~ That's not theatrical; that's basic public speaking 101! (I'm not in love with the word "ambo" either, but it's there so I have to use it whether I like it or not).

Chloe said...

You mean there isn't a foolproof formula you forgot to mention in the original post? :o)

Our bitty mission parish has just come under a new head deacon and he has enlisted help making some (good) changes. I'll bring it up and see what happens.

Adoro said...

Chloe ~ LOL - "foolproof" when dealing with people? ROFL!

If you can maybe encourage your deacon to help people understand that a simple and sober reading of the Word is much better than melodrama according to the reader's own definition of "meditation", that would be HUGE probably. And for the monotoners - to let them know that a bit of vocal inflection is totally ok and even necessary.

Hmm...maybe I should see if I can find, online, a religious community doing the Office Readings of the day. That might help.

Mrs. Andy said...

HA! I am in a fit of giggles over this post! Were you lucky enough to have attended the mass with the Maccabees reading where they were to have their wrists slit? The lector read loudly, dramatically ...and....she *pretended to slit her wrists* while staring steely eyed at the congregation. It's true! I dared not look at my husband for fear that we would shake the pew with laughter! I don't look at the lectors anymore. Ever. I'm afraid. But TODAY! I got to hear a barbershop quartet during the offering. Ah, yes. Good times.
~Mrs. Andy
We need to catch up over dinner soon!

Adoro said...

Mrs Andy ~! *ROFL*! Someone needs to get that woman under control! You know EXACTLY where I was and who I'm talking about and I thank God I attended a different Mass that day!

Oh, yes, the barbershop quartet. *eyeroll* I don't attend that Mass anymore.Especially considering they are the BEST group. (Well, I don't mind the cantors, they at least keep it simple and without performance.) But one can't bet on the lounge performers for that Mass so it's easier to attend a different, more predictable one.

PS ~ I'm mostly free for dinner these days. When should we get together? ;-)

Dymphna said...

3Puddytats, the LDS is a cult so they are constantly working on smoothe presentation in their members. I don't care about speaking skills. The reader could stutter for all I care but the dramatic readings just make me want to laugh at the show off performer at the ambo.

Adoro said...

Dymphna ~ Well said! There is a difference between a person who is just trying to do a decent job versus a show-off!

amethystmenace said...

And please, let's do some basic vocabulary/word recognition! There is a HUGE difference between "immorality" and "immortality". And if the parish had a nickel for every time I've heard those mixed up -- they could re-roof!