On Saturday morning Fr John Paul Leonard, formerly Pastoral Director of the English College in Rome, led Readers from both St Alban’s and the Church on Oakwood in a reflection and practical morning on the Reading Ministry.
Fr John Paul spoke of the continuity with Jesus reading the Scriptures in the synagogue, for example before his rejection from his home town of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-22):
“Then Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath he went as usual to the synagogue. He stood up to read the Scriptures and was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed
and announce that the time has come
when the Lord will save his people.”
Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. All the people in the synagogue had their eyes fixed on him, as he said to them, “This passage of scripture has come true today, as you heard it being read.”
Definitely a hard act to follow! but as Readers we can still do our best to proclaim the word of God, and in so doing make real His presence and the reality of the Kingdom. Fr John Paul emphasised just how important the ‘Table of the Word’ is for us – for example St Anthony based his life on the readings and Fr John Paul himself chose to remain in the seminary after hearing this reading from John’s Gospel:
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.“ (John 21:17)
There are tools available to help the Reader prepare, for example a Daily or Sunday Missal, the Universalis app, Prayasyougo MP3 downloads let you hear a reading, reflection and music. The important point is for the Reader to know and understand what they are going to be reading, Fr John Paul suggested at least 24 hours in advance for weekday Readers and a week in advance for the Sunday Mass. Punctuation can be a little odd or lacking, especially in the letters of St Paul, so prior knowledge of the text allows the Reader the ability to pick the appropriate moments to draw breath.
We practised adjusting our voices to different levels of volume, as Readers should not rely on the microphone. We must still project our voices whatever technology is available. Fr John Paul also counselled against fiddling with the mic, as it’s distracting as well as unnecessary – that’s what the sound desk operator is for! Respecting the Lectern/ambo is important, hold it for support if needed, and don’t be afraid to adjust the height of the Lectionary – if the book is too far down our voices will be muffled. Eye contact allows the Reader to make a greater impact on the congregation, and even those who are worried about losing their place in the text can still look up after announcing which book the reading is taken from and when declaring ‘The Word of the Lord’ at the end. Every Reader has their own style, and we shouldn’t worry about not being the same as X or Y, but we all have the ability to proclaim the Word in a positive, uplifting manner, at an appropriate volume.
We ended with the inspiring words of St Bonaventure:
“The stream of Holy Scripture flows not from human research but from revelation by God. It springs from the Father of lights, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name. From him, through his Son Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit flows into us: and through the Holy Spirit, giving, at will, different gifts to different people, comes the gift of faith, and through faith Jesus Christ has his dwelling in our hearts. This is the knowledge of Jesus Christ which is the ultimate basis of the solidity and wisdom of the whole of Holy Scripture.
From all this it follows that it is impossible for anyone to start to recognise Scripture for what it is if he does not already have faith in Christ infused into him. Christ is the lamp that illuminates the whole of Scripture: he is its gateway and its foundation. For this faith is behind all the supernatural enlightenments that we receive while we are still separated from the Lord and on our pilgrimage. It makes our foundation firm, directs the light of the lamp, it leads us in through the gateway. It is the standard against which the wisdom that God has given us should be measured, so that no-one should exaggerate his real importance, but everyone must judge himself soberly by the standard of the faith God has given him.
The substance and fruit of Holy Scripture is very specific: the fulness of eternal happiness. For this is what Scripture is – its words are words of eternal life in which we may see, and love, and have all our desires fulfilled…It is to this end…that we should study Holy Scripture, and teach it, and hear it.”
A huge thank you goes to Fr John Paul for leading us, as well as to the Readers for giving up their Saturday morning to think more closely about their role in the Mass – plus special mention to those who made the wonderful cakes!