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In some Christian churches, the Reader is responsible for reading aloud excerpts of the scripture at a liturgy. In early Christian times, the reader was of particular value, given the rarity of literacy.
Roman Catholicism (Latin Rite)
In the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, the term "lector" is used in preference to that of "reader". The term can mean someone who in a particular liturgy is assigned to read a Biblical text other than the Gospel. (Reading the Gospel at Mass is reserved specifically to the deacon or, in his absence, to the priest.) But it also has the more precise meaning of a person who has been "instituted" (or, in some cases, "ordained") as a lector, and so is a lector even when not assigned to read in a specific liturgy. This is the meaning in which the term is used in this article.
In the Latin Catholic Church, the office of lector, in this sense, was formerly classed as one of the four minor orders and in recent centuries was generally conferred only on those preparing for ordination to the priesthood. With effect from 1 January 1973, the apostolic letter Ministeria quaedam of 15 August 1972 decreed instead that:
- 2. What up to now were called minor orders are henceforth to be called ministries.
- 3. Ministries may be assigned to lay Christians; hence they are no longer to be considered as reserved to candidates for the sacrament of orders.
- 4. Two ministries, adapted to present-day needs, are to be preserved in the whole Latin Church, namely, those of reader and acolyte. The functions heretofore assigned to the subdeacon are entrusted to the reader and the acolyte...
- 5. The reader is appointed for a function proper to him, that of reading the word of God in the liturgical assembly. Accordingly, he is to proclaim the readings from sacred Scripture, except for the gospel in the Mass and other sacred celebrations; he is to recite the psalm between the readings when there is no psalmist; he is to present the intentions for the general intercessions in the absence of a deacon or cantor; he is to direct the singing and the participation by the faithful; he is to instruct the faithful for the worthy reception of the sacraments. He may also, insofar as may be necessary, take care of preparing other faithful who are appointed on a temporary basis to read the Scriptures in liturgical celebrations. That he may more fittingly and perfectly fulfill these functions, he is to meditate assiduously on sacred Scripture.
- Aware of the office he has undertaken, the reader is to make every effort and employ suitable means to acquire that increasingly warm and living love and knowledge of Scripture that will make him a more perfect disciple of the Lord.
Canon 1035 of the Code of Canon Law requires candidates for diaconal ordination to have received and have exercised for an appropriate time the ministries of lector and acolyte and prescribes that institution in the second of these ministries must precede by at least six months ordination as a deacon.
Instituted lectors are obliged to wear a liturgical vestment (alb, or cassock and surplice) when proclaiming the readings at Mass; others who perform the same function are neither required nor forbidden by universal law of the Latin Church to do so: "During the celebration of Mass with a congregation a second priest, a deacon, and an instituted reader must wear the distinctive vestment of their office when they go up to the ambo to read the word of God. Those who carry out the ministry of reader just for the occasion or even regularly but without institution may go to the ambo in ordinary attire, but this should be in keeping with the customs of the different regions" (General Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass, no. 54).
- 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.
In its sections 194-198, the same document lists the lector's specific duties at Mass.
Traditionalist Catholic organizations such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest and the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney have been permitted to continue to employ the denomination "minor order" rather than "ministry" for the lectorate and to use the pre-1973 rite of "ordination" rather than "institution" into the office. The controversial Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and other traditionalist Catholic bodies in dispute with the Holy See, such as sedevacantists, act in the same way without seeking authorization.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Reader (in Greek, ἀναγνώστης/anagnostis; in Church Slavonic, Чтец/Chtets) is the second highest of the minor orders of clergy. This order is higher than the Doorkeeper (now largely obsolete) and lower than the subdeacon. The reader's essential role is to read the Old Testament lessons ("parables") and the Epistle lessons during the Divine Liturgy, Vespers and other services, as well as to chant the Psalms and the verses of the Prokimenon, Alleluia and certain antiphons. There is a special service for the tonsuring of a reader, although in contemporary practice a layman may receive the priest's blessing to read on a particular occasion. The office of a reader subsumes that of a taper-bearer, and the service of tonsuring a reader mentions both functions.
Readers are permitted to (and should in accordance with his particular church's practices) wear a cassock, although many do so only when attending services (again in accordance with particular church practices). Readers will generally not wear a clergy shirt, and may not perform any of the duties reserved for a deacon, priest or bishop.
After being tonsured, the reader is vested in a short phelonion , which he wears while reading the Epistle for the first time. This short phelonion is then removed (and never worn thereafter) and replaced with a sticharion, which the reader wears thereafter whenever he reads the Epistle. This practice is not universal, however, and many bishops and priests will allow a reader to perform his function dressed only in a cassock or (if a monk) a riassa . Often, a bishop will decree what vesting practice he wishes to be followed within his own diocese; for an example, see here, section VIII.
Byzantine icons often show readers and church singers wearing a sticharion-like garment (more loose and flowing than the modern sticharion) and a pointed hat with the brim pulled out to the sides (see here, lower left corner). This distinctive garb is now obsolete.
Minor orders were discontinued in the reformed Church of England. The modern office of reader was introduced in 1866 and is distinct from the traditional minor order of reader. It is the office of a licensed lay minister and, for this reason, one who holds this office is referred to as a "lay reader" in many parts of the Anglican Communion. After a period of theological training, (often, in the case of the Church of England, three years of evening classes), a lay person is licensed to preach and lead public worship. A reader is not a member of the clergy, and cannot preside at the eucharist, baptize, perform marriages, absolve or bless. The reader is licensed to lead non-sacramental worship (including, in some cases, funerals), may assist in the leadership of eucharistic worship and may preach. An Anglican reader usually wears a blue tippet with choir dress. Reader Ministry in the Church of England.