On November 9 this year, all eight of us first-year student brothers at the Dominican House of Studies were installed in the office of Lector. This office is a formal step towards ordination to the priesthood, but it is also an office with its own proper function of “reading the word of God in the liturgical assembly.” This office, like all of the Church’s offices, is one of service, witness, and a continual call to be transformed by the Gospel in order to live a more faithful life.
In his 1972 motu proprio Ministeria quaedam, Pope Paul VI eliminated the old minor orders of porter, lector, exorcist, and acolyte along with the major order of sub-deacon, and created two new offices or ministries: lector and acolyte. These offices, like the minor orders they replaced, are required for those seeking ordination to the priesthood, and they are received only once. However, they no longer denote entrance into the clerical state, which now occurs with ordination to the diaconate. One is installed in the office by the bishop or major superior of a religious congregation. This also means that, according to Ministeria quaedam, laymen are eligible to receive the office, pursuant to the policies of the local bishop. The formal offices of lector and acolyte differ, respectively, from readers and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, who are common in many parishes. The latter are temporary, with a single instance of service or a term of three years (with the possibility of renewal) being the most common forms in the US. They are open to men and women, and are conferred with a blessing or commissioning by the pastor.
I was an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion prior to entering the Dominicans, and thus have formally served in two capacities. It is evident that these offices or ministries—involving service either of a permanent or a temporary nature—have much more in common than what separates them. The formal duties associated with each are necessary and distinct, but they are overshadowed in the instructions and blessing/institution by two themes: the witness of one’s life and the call to be faithful.
While the technical aspects of reading aloud in public are important (diction, projection, phonation, etc.), alone they will fail to transmit the living word of God to those hearing unless the readers themselves are shaped by that same Gospel. Of course, we all are and will always be sinners, but the Church charges each of her lectors to accept the word of God and to “meditate on it constantly” so that he will become “a more perfect disciple of the Lord.” Only thus are we able to let the Gospel permeate and shape our lives. In a similar way, in the commissioning of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, the pastor declares to the candidates: “you must be examples of Christian living in faith and conduct; you must strive to grow in holiness.” How can we give Jesus Christ himself to others if we have not first received him ourselves? We may not be great orators, but we can present the living God to all peoples in word, sacrament, and the witness of our lives.
In the witness of our lives, we are also called to be faithful, and the Church stresses this call most fervently in the prayers of commissioning/institution for these offices/ministries: “that they may be faithful.” Faithfulness and fidelity are the only sure ways to give to the people Jesus Christ. Mother Teresa famously commented that we will not always be successful, but we must always be faithful. In these offices, we see that faithfulness is more important than any of the actions or skills we may have or acquire.
In petitioning for this office, we accepted a burden to be of service to all people, to place our lives under greater scrutiny before God and man living as public witnesses to the Gospel. Christ tells us in that Gospel that one who is faithful in small matters will be faithful in great ones. Please pray for us that we may be faithful in the office of lector and live our lives as true witnesses of Jesus Christ.
Image: Newly Installed Lectors at the Dominican House of Studies with the Prior Provincial, November 9, 2013