“Faith grows when it is well expressed in celebration. Good celebrations foster and nourish faith. Poor celebrations may weaken and destroy faith” (Music in Catholic Worship: 6; 1983). Nothing could be more applicable to many Catholics! When the priest artfully connects the lessons into an engaging homily and the music is familiar yet inspiring, the congregation leaves the church with a rejuvenated faith and a great joy; when the homily is difficult to follow, and the music is just coordinated noise, the congregation leaves thinking, “I didn’t get anything out of Mass today.”
Often, though, we forget to focus attention on one of the most important aspects of the mass: the proclamation of God’s word in the readings. The Second Vatican council asserted that, “He [Christ] is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in Church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7). Think about that for a second. Because Jesus is the “Word made flesh,” when we listen to the readings at mass, we are not merely hearing stories or learning about God, we are in the true presence of our Lord.
Which brings me to the point of our workshop this week: what does it mean to, and more importantly, how do we, “proclaim” the word? When we think about what we’re really doing, bringing the real presence of Jesus to the congregation, it’s an incredibly important ministry to take up and it requires a lot more work than simply dressing nice and reading clearly! Here’s what Gary Maciag, OFM, has been teaching us this week:
Prepare, prepare, prepare. One of the things has been stressed this week is that preparing takes much more than just a glance at the reading before mass. Besides being audible and clear (kind of assumed, if you ask me), the lector has to offer an intelligent reading of the text. Without knowing the context in which the author was writing, the original audience, the genre, and ultimately the purpose of the text, the lector is not proclaiming, they are simply reading. Just as a teacher having no understanding of the material reads directly from the textbook, the Word is not captured by the congregation when the lector doesn’t know what they are proclaiming.
Let your own understanding of the text speak. Often we here statements like, “I’m letting the Holy Spirit work through me,” or “I’m trying to be an empty vessel for God to use.” There is certainly some truth in this, but it needs revision. God doesn’t want a neutral, hallowed vacuum of a soul to work through. We have been given unique gifts, and thus are able to experience God in a number of different spiritualities: Let this come out! Just as two different actors can play the same role, allowing their subtle emphases to develop the character in different ways, so too should the lector. The purpose is of course to let the Word of God speak through us, but let is speak through your specific understanding of him. A bland, unbiased reading doesn’t let the Word speak: it hides it, and frankly, bores the congregation. A dramatic, over-the-top monologue suffocates the Word because the reader draws all attention to him or herself, and the church is turned into a theatre. A good lector will take this ministry very seriously, and find that perfect balance.
To say that the week has been a great bundle of joy would be a stretch: part of preparation is practicing over and over, humbly accepting relentless critique in order to obtain an ideal. But that’s okay. The difference between a good reader and a bad reader makes a big difference; proclaiming the word of God is a critical part of the life of a celebration. Important things like this are certainly worth suffering a bit for.