The History of Lectors in the Roman Catholic Church
The word “lector” is derived from the Latin word for “reader.” The lector ministry dates back to the beginning of Church history, when educated laymen were called upon to proclaim the Word in liturgical services. According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, “the first mention of a Christian liturgical reader is by Justin Martyr (d. about 165AD) in I Apol., lxvii, 3, 4. The homily known as "II Clem. ad Corinthios" also contains a reference to a lector, anaginoskon (xix, 1). The position of reader was honorable and dignified. It involved a higher standard of education than that of most offices. Although Justin says that the bishop preached the sermon, it appears that the reader himself often went on to expound what he had read. As the idea obtained that a special blessing and dedication should be given to everyone who performs an office for the Church, the reader too was instituted by prayers and some ceremony. Readers were blessed and set apart…” Eventually this responsibility became one of the minor orders, conferred on those preparing for the priesthood. Prior to Vatican II, the Church recognized 4 minor orders (later renamed “ministries”) beneath priests: lector, exorcist, acolyte, and porter, as well as subdeaconates. Those who filled these positions were usually preparing to be priests.
Vatican II called for a revision of sacraments because almost no one served in the “minor
orders,” saying the following about lectors: “Readers exercise a genuine liturgical function. They ought to discharge their office therefore, with the sincere devotion and decorum by so exalted a ministry and rightly expected of them by God’s people. Consequently, they must be deeply imbued with the spirit of liturgy, in the measure of proper to each one. And they must be trained to perform functions in a correct and orderly manner.” Pope Paul the VI deemed that readers and acolytes would be those preparing for the deaconate, although he made it clear that readers could be ordinary lay persons instituted to be lectors.
January 5th through March 30, 2014
January through December, 2013
October 14 through December 30, 2012
July 22nd through October 7th, 2012
April 29th through July 15th, 2012
March 8th through June 14th, 2012
The apostolic letter Ministeria quaedam of 15 August 1972 (in effect from Jan. 1, 1973) decreed that minor orders were to be called ministries, and that lay persons could be lectors and acolytes. The lector role was also defined as proclaiming the readings from sacred Scripture, except for the gospel in the Mass and other sacred celebrations; reciting the psalm between the readings when there is no psalmist; presenting the intentions for the general intercessions in the absence of a deacon or cantor; directing the singing and the participation by the faithful; instructing the faithful for the worthy reception of the sacraments, and preparing other faithful who are appointed on a temporary basis to read the Scriptures in liturgical celebrations.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal states the following about lay lectors:
In the absence of an instituted lector, other laypersons may be commissioned to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture. They should be truly suited to perform this function and should receive careful preparation, so that the faithful by listening to the readings from the sacred texts may develop in their hearts a warm and living love for Sacred Scripture.”
Finally, it is the practice of some Eastern Orthodox churches to tonsure (shave the hair from the top part of the skull) their lector trainees just prior to ordination. Thankfully, the Roman Catholic Church does not follow that practice!
Sydne Jennifer Newberry, PhD
Co-leader of the Lector Ministry, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Church, Lomita CA