The Art of Celebration XIV: Ministering the Second Reading

It might be thought that the postings of the last weeks might have exhausted the things that might be said about helping with our ministry of the elements of the Liturgy of the Word. But not a bit of it…

When we come to the second readings there are two things in particular for us to bear in mind.

Another reading…

The first is that this is indeed the second reading, and the third element of the Sunday Liturgy of the Word. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak. Can we really be expected to hear and respond to still one more reading before we come to the Gospel reading? (Remembering that our response is the purpose of the reading and so the most essential thing for us to attend to!)

To help it is good to make use of the ways available to us to introduce variety into the liturgy – have a different reader for this reading; ensure that the preceding psalm is sung;; ensure that the readings are surrounded by silence so that ther eis opportunity to hear, ponder and begin to respond, and – maybe above – all – ensure that people are again and again encouraged and reminded that this listening, pondering and responding is what we are expected to do. For many people the consequence of years of bad practice has to be undone so that they might develop the virtuous habits proper to this liturgy. And developing such habits takes a lot of time! And encouragement.

A reading that links to last week’s second reading, and next week’s too…

As with the Gospel so too with the second reading – these offer a semi-continuous reading of a particular biblical book.

The table below shows the source of the second readings in Ordinary Time and how they are distributed over the 3 year cycle of readings for Sundays.

It is perhaps helpful if the preacher or preparer of worship aids presents some reminder of the movement from one book to another, and it can be helpful to prepare also some simple guide to the particular book of the moment. Although it is relatively rare (given the priority of the Gospel in the Liturgy of the Word) for the second reading to form the focus of the homily, if is a pity if it remains largely neglected.

Some parishes establish readers groups to help support its readers. Sometimes these mostly focus on study of the scripture; sometimes they prioritise lectio divina. Sometimes they review the readings of the coming Sunday. In the latter case especially it would be easy to include in the proceedings of the group – for the benefit of readers and those they serve – a brief introduction to each book of the New Testament in preparation for the sequence of readings the readers will be proclaiming from it.

A blog posting a few weeks ago noted the range of ministers intended to assist at the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word. It might be helpful here to mention the formation that is expected to be provided for ministers of the word.

It is necessary that those who exercise the ministry of reader, even if they have not received institution, be truly qualified and carefully prepared so that the faithful may develop a warm and living love for Scripture from listening to the sacred texts read.

– Their preparation must above all be spiritual, but what may be called a technical preparation is also needed.

– The spiritual preparation presupposes at least a biblical and liturgical formation.

– The purpose of their biblical formation is to give readers the ability to understand the readings in context and to perceive by the light of faith the central point of the revealed message.

– The liturgical formation ought to equip the readers to have some grasp of the meaning and structure of the liturgy of the word and of the significance of its connection with the liturgy of the eucharist.

The technical preparation should make the readers more skilled in the art of reading publicly, either with the power of their own voice or with the help of sound equipment.

Lectionary General Introduction, 55

Reflection questions

  • Which readings at Mass do you regularly find the easiest to understand and respond to? Why?
  • Which readings do you regularly most difficult to understand and respond to? Why?
  • How do you think others might answer those questions? How might they be helped to better understand and respond to the readings they may presently find most obscure?
  • What training is provided to ministers of the word in your parish/community? What might strengthen it?

A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.


~ Translation of the General Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass (c) 1969, 1981, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.
~ Commentary: (c) 2021, Allen Morris
Photograph: (c) 2018, Allen Morris. Carving from the church of St-Saurin, Bordeaux. (The Apostolic authors?) In collection of the Musee Aquitaine, Bordeaux.

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