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Reading the Scriptures at Mass
MINISTERS OF THE WORD
The Second Vatican Council opened with a liturgy in which the Book of the Holy Scriptures was carried in solemn procession among the Council Fathers and placed before them for veneration. This action anticipated the pastoral decision of the council to restore the Scriptures to a central place in the life of the Church.
Paragraph 24 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy put into words what had been conveyed ritually at the Council’s opening liturgy:
Sacred Scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. To achieve the reform, progress and adaptation of the liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love of Scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony.
Other sections of this document also stress the importance of Scripture in the Church’s liturgy. It speaks of Christ’s presence when the Scriptures are read in the Church “since it is he himself who is speaking” (# 7). Bible services are encouraged, particularly where no priest is available (# 35.4). Paragraph 51 calls for “the treasures of the Bible to be opened up more lavishly, so that a richer share in God’s word may be provided for the faithful”.
The only contact that many Catholics have with the living word of scripture occurs at Sunday Mass. It is vital that this encounter be a positive experience so that they will develop over time a “warm and living love of scripture”. Those who are called to be readers at Mass, then, take on an important ministry. In fact they are not ‘readers’ at all. Almost everyone can read, but only some can effectively proclaim the word of God. Those people who serve the liturgical gathering by proclaiming the scriptures are best described as ‘Ministers of the Word.’
Being an effective Minister of the Word requires three qualities: faith, understanding and skill.
Faith is a basic requirement for anyone who proclaims the Scriptures at liturgy. An authentic reader is someone with a love of scripture who believes that it is indeed the living word of God which provides guidance for Christian discipleship.
Readers need to have a good understanding of what they are reading in order to clearly convey the meaning of a passage to others. Such understanding is achieved by careful preparation, starting well before the person is scheduled to read. This involves reading the scripture passages through several times, slowly coming to grips with what the words are saying. Readers should also have access to a resource such as Break Open the Word to assist them.
Finally, ministers of the word need to have the skills required for reading aloud in public, including a strong voice which can be projected clearly and the ability to use speech techniques such as pace, pause and pitch to give vitality and variety to their reading.
A well-celebrated Liturgy of the Word requires attentive listeners as well as skilled readers. We will hear the word of God better by reading the texts before coming to Mass and paying careful attention when the Scriptures are being proclaimed.