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Who Can Proclaim the Scriptures?
Who Can Proclaim the Scriptures?
I was asked an interesting question this week about those who proclaim the scriptures in liturgy: Can a 14-year-old be a reader at Mass?
It is difficult to give a hard-and-fast answer to this question 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.
But what about at parish Sunday Masses?
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 then, neither should the well-off business woman who evades tax, or the high-flying executive who hits 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.
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.
When it comes to questions regarding age, dress, style of proclamation, gestures and so on for Ministers of the Word, the question always to be asked is whether the age, dress, manner, etc of the reader will draw attention to itself and away from the word of Christ being proclaimed which must always be the focus.
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 and when asked to attend a Readers’ workshop says, “I already know how to read. I’ve been doing it for twenty years!”