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Age Requirement for Readers
In last week’s column, I did not respond directly to the question of a minimum age requirement for readers at Mass, but digressed into the area of participation in liturgy. I will do so now, although it is difficult to give a hard-and-fast answer because so many different factors come into play.
At a school Mass, it would be fitting for a 14-year-old student who has the required skills and has done the necessary practice to serve as a Minister of the Word. On the other hand, it would be quite inappropriate for someone of the same age to be asked to read the scriptures at the funeral liturgy of a close friend or family member.
The Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass does not stipulate a minimum age for Ministers of the Word, but rather spells out the skills and formation that are required for this ministry.
It states that those who exercise the ministry of reader must be “truly qualified and carefully prepared”. They require biblical formation in order to be able to “perceive by the light of faith the central point of the revealed message”. They need liturgical formation so that they are familiar with the structure of the Liturgy of the Word and its connection with the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Finally, technical preparation is needed to make the readers more skilled in the art of reading publicly. (#55)
This high standard regarding qualifications and preparation is a lot to expect of anyone, especially a teenager, but it is certainly not impossible for a young person who is faith-filled and dedicated. Suitability as a Minister of the Word is not so much a matter of age as it is of skill and commitment.
All liturgical ministers need to bear witness to Christ both in their service of the liturgical assembly at Mass on Sunday and in their lives during the week. On those grounds, a young person whose lifestyle is openly contrary to the Gospel should not serve as a Minister of the Word. But neither should the successful business woman who underpays her employees, or the high-flying executive who abuses his wife.
Ministers of the Word will proclaim the scriptures with integrity and authenticity if they are people of the word as well as Ministers of the Word, that is, if they are shaped and guided in daily life by the scriptures they proclaim. A young person who believes in the word that he or she is proclaiming and is serious about preparing well for their role will be a more effective Minister of the Word than an older person who never reads the bible during the week.
Young people who have the necessary faith, skill and interest to be Ministers of the Word can be helped into the role through a mentoring program in the parish whereby they are allocated to an experienced reader who assists them with preparation for and carrying out of their ministry. The young reader at a youth Mass who had to be helped out by the celebrant should never have been left stranded as she was.
When it comes to questions regarding age, dress, style of proclamation, gestures and so on for Ministers of the Word, the key consideration is that the age, dress and manner of the reader must never draw attention to itself and away from the word of Christ that is being proclaimed.