23 February 2010

On Lectors and Such

I've gotten into this discussion in more than one place on the net and often find myself on the other side of the fence on this particular question from those with whom I usually on the same side of the fence on other questions. I'm curious what thoughts the reader of the blog might have about it.

I see absolutely nothing wrong and much to commend the practice of the people of God sharing in the reading of the Sacred Scriptures during the Divine Service. The Scriptures do not belong to the ordained; they belong to the whole people of God! Granted, my own parish does not follow the practice of having lectors from the laity. Historically, we've had seminarians or vicars to fulfill that role. But I have served in a parish where it was the practice and further it was the practice in the parish where I was baptized, confirmed, married, and ordained. I know some pastors hate it - they love to read the Scriptures themselves. I totally sympathize with that, but I do think it can be very helpful for the congregation to hear the Scriptures read by more than one voice.

The appeal to 1 Timothy 4:13 as somehow meaning that only the pastors are to read in the Divine Service is a non-starter for me. I don't think that is what St. Paul is saying to St. Timothy. And in the history of the Church we've certainly had the office of lector for a very long time - since at least the days of St. Justin Martyr. Our current rite (LSB) clearly permits an "assisting minister" (defined as either ordained or lay) to read the Old Testament and Epistle readings (not to mention to bid the Kyrie, to intone the Gloria in DS 1 and 2, to bid the prayer of the church, to distribute the chalice, and to offer the post-communion collect and chant the benedicamus).

About this person, it says:

"In addition, many congregations select lectors from within the congregation to assist the pastor by reading the Old Testament and Epistle readings. As with all matters pertaining to public worship, good judgment should be exercised in the selection of lectors. Understandably, this selection should be based on their ability to read the Word of God clearly and distinctly in a public setting. Adequate training and coaching of such lectors remains the responsibility of the called pastor, who retains the ultimate responsibility for the proclamation of the Word." [Lectionary, ix]

So, fire away. Pros and cons of the laity serving as lectors for first or second reading of the Divine Service?


Ariel said...

Here's a fun question: What about women lectors?

William Weedon said...

I know what I think. What do you think?

Father Robert Lyons said...

I follow two practices... when a deacon or deaconess is assisting me, I have them proclaim any readings preceding the Gospel. When no deacons or deaconesses are present, I freely assign lay members I know are up to the task to proclaim such readings.

I am of the mind that the proclamation of the Gospel, the presentation of the Homily, and the Eucharistic Prayer should all be done by the Celebrant/Pastor, so I reserve those to myself. I know that deacons have the responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel in most of the Church, but this is my own personal feeling.

I prefer to have a deacon or deaconess lead the General Prayer, and if one is not present, I lead it myself.

I have no problem with female lectors reading Scripture, provided they are deputed under the authority of a pastor with the rights to do so.


Lynn said...

I do not like lay readers:

1. Augsburg Confession Art.XIV: .. that no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he be regularly called.

Are you saying you are not teaching when using the OT or Epistle lesson? These are just as valuable as the Gospel. They also teach Christ. Having a lay-reader for these puts a lower value on them.

2. Most lay readers are not trained to read publicly. From experience, most cannot be heard well even with a microphone because they do not project.

3. As a pewsitter, I always wonder when a layperson comes out of the congregation to read, why? The OT and Epistle are normally relatively short. You spend more time watching someone walk up than the time it takes to read. I also wonder why the pastor needs a break. At this point in the service he has done about seven minutes of work. Is he exhausted already?

Pr. H. R. said...

A public reading is an interpretation of the text - the inflection, tone, etc., interpret the text. Is it this thing in the text that should be stressed - or that? Was that question from Jesus to the disciples rhetorical or sincerely questioning? And a thousand other things are communicated by the reading.

This is only one reason why the Church has historically limited the public reading of the Scriptures in worship to those authorized to preach (those in major or minor orders - the later category being filled in our midst by seminarians).

I'll stick with that traditional wisdom.

Furthermore, there is no separating the practice from the history of its implementation and rationale in our midst: lay readers came from and are ever aligned with the "everyone is a minister" wing of Missouri: see! The Laity can do just what pastor has always done! And wishing and post hoc explanations can't disassociate it.

Similarly with women lectors: the practice was pushed as a statement against a male only ministry: see! Women can do this!

But those are secondary considerations: a public reading is a public and authoritative interpretation of the Scriptures. Therefore, it falls within the duties of the clergy (ordained and officially in process toward ordination).


Mike Keith said...

Thank you for raising this issue. I on a personal level have struggled wiht this. I knwo that many in our area have as we have discussed it several times at winkels. Our LCC CTCR produced a document that argued that we ought to only have pastors read during Divine Service. Yet, the practice si wide spread to have laity read. It is a practice i have inherited in the parish I serve, along with women readers. I listen to arguments on both sides and don't know what to make of it. I look forward to hear more here.

Chris Jones said...

The Scriptures do not belong to the ordained; they belong to the whole people of God!

While this is true, it is not very good logic to apply it to the question that you have raised. The Eucharist belongs to the whole people of God, but it pertains to the apostolic priesthood alone to celebrate it. The Gospel belongs to the whole people of God, but it pertains to the apostolic priesthood alone to preach it from the pulpit. And yes, the Scriptures belong to the whole people of God, but that does not mean that every Christian ought to solemnly read the Scriptures in the liturgical assembly.

In the early Church "Reader" was a distinct order of ministry, and only those who were called and set apart to that ministry performed the public reading of Scripture. In most Churches the order of Reader has fallen entirely into disuse; and even in those traditional liturgical Churches which retain it, the public reading of Scripture is no longer strictly limited to tonsured Readers. But there is wisdom in the ancient custom, for it keeps us mindful that the public reading of the Word of God is a solemn and profoundly liturgical act. It is not to be undertaken lightly nor done in a casual manner. It is not unfitting for those who perform this liturgy to be properly trained and blessed for it.

It is possible that my own background as a tonsured Reader has made me more "clerical" on this matter than I might otherwise be; but I don't think so. I've seen too much sloppy and irreverent reading in other denominations to want to follow their lead.

I think it would be great if we would adopt the practice of training and formally setting apart Readers for this ministry, but I know it will never happen in Lutheranism. In our Lutheran polity (with its allergy to "orders" within the ministry) the most convenient way to safeguard the importance and sacramental character of the public reading of Scripture is to reserve it to the ordained pastor. That's why I prefer that we keep to that practice.

Jim said...

I don't like the practice as a practical matter (too many readets just don't get it); but I think it's permissible

Red said...

Our overture to Synod goes further: to agree that it is divisive to have women readers based on the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. I believe that 1 Tim 4:13 is more relevant than you realize where reading, exhorting and teaching are spoken of as the work of pastor. You therefore wrongly downplay the public reading of Scripture. It is the voice of God in our midst, which He prohibits being a woman's. I also oppose using male lay readers in this regard. I dare say we pastors are not giving our attention to the public reading as we should as to translation and interpretation. Couldn't agree more with Lynn and HR. As a "sacramental" act I do not believe a pastor has the right to assign to others what Christ has assigned to him. See overture at "Defending the Faith" Trinitylutherantryon.org Pr Thomas Olson

Anonymous said...

How do I put this? I do not mind lay readers. What I do mind is that if something better comes up (?) on their Sunday to read they don't show up. It would appear that the reader does not find a replacement. The readings come up and you can see the panic in the Elders as they look around.

The Pastor on the other hand is there every Sunday, unless he is on holiday, sick or attending to synodical business. (VP-ABC District)

I would rather it be done by the Pastor as it was when I was young. There was never the question - "Is Jack here today? He's suppose to read."
"He's gone to the lake."
"Okay, so whom can we ask to read today?" ---NOT GOOD

Eucharisted said...

So, does having laymen "read around" during bible study violate AC XIV? That would seem to constitute "public" teaching....

Larry Luder said...

In my parish only the pastors and vicar do the readings. Best not to mix it up with lay readers. Simply put, no fence, no division. I've been in parishes where there were lay men, women, even chrildren that read. All I can say is it felt out of place and was a distraction. My problem, so they say? Today, I drive past numerous LCMS whatever to be reach the hilltop. I'm guessing most will say the same about their parish.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Fr. Weedon:
You say that "The Scriptures do not belong to the ordained; they belong to the whole people of God." I think the way I myself would put it is that the Scriptures belong to the Church, and there are a few things we should take from this. One is that they belong to the Church in a way in which they do not belong to the individual Christian. Therefore this is certainly not a question of "rights." Another implication we ought to draw from the fact that the scriptures belong to the Church, and this is too often overlooked, is that the whole people of God get to, and are called to, hear the Word. This is not a second class role in the Church. It is a privilege, and a holy vocation.

One distinction I personally would draw is between the Mass on the one hand and the Divine Office on the other hand. In the case of the former the Epistle (and any other readings before the Gospel) may be read, or sung, by a qualified man who is at least a subdeacon. Likewise the Gospel by one who is at least a deacon. At our parish we do not presently have a subdeacon or subdeacons (as, eg., Zion, Ft. Wayne does), so the deacon reads all the lessons at the English Masses. (The Pastor reads all the lessons at the Spanish Masses, since the deacon presently is not very competent in that tongue.)

Nor does either the subdeacon who reads the Epistle, or the deacon with the Gospel, need to be men who are training for the pastoral office. They might or might not be, but I do not think that what a man will be one day should factor into what we allow him to do today. There are subdeacons in the parish who are pre-sem, or seminarist, and there are some who will perform this special ministry in that place their whole life. Likewise, some deacons are in the final stage of seminary formation, but some are deacons simply because that is where God has placed them. Either way, no one should be admitted to the subdiaconate unless he is a man, who is spiritually and theologically mature, and who has been trained in the holy art of liturgical reading. I actually don't think that CAXIV comes into play here, except with the Gospel reading (the deacon, in my view, satisfies the requirements of that article).

In the case of the Divine Office, I can envision situations where I would be more flexible. Not all celebrations of the Divine Office are of the same sort. They take place in many different circumstances. There are weddings which are done in the context of Vespers. There may be, say, a Solemn Vespers with incense, where the whole parish is present. Then there may be something like a daily Matins for a school. In the first two cases it would be most appropriate, as with the Mass, for the readings to be done by those men specially trained and set aside for this role. In the case of a day school Matins, however, I can envision doing what Luther says he did in Wittenberg. Namely, he had boys (and I assume these "boys" were young male students who were trained to do a decent job) read a portion of scripture in Latin, to train the students in the Latin Bible, and if parishioners were present who did not know Latin, it would then be read also in German. Some of you are laughing now, but we do have schools where Latin is being taught.

Anonymous said...

I dislike the practice of lay readers because I feel it can lead to confusion as regards the office of public ministry. The church gathers together on one day of the week and is led by their called and ordained servant of the word; let him lead, and let him be the clear leader--even if a stranger were to walk in.

"The Scriptures do not belong to the ordained; they belong to the whole people of God!"

Yes, but I would ask what the layman is called to do in the worship service? They do not give up their possession of God's Word because they are in the pews! They are actively confessing it and being washed and renewed by it in the liturgy, while at the same time using it as a norm and rule to watch over their pastor and his teaching.

Those are my two concerns: 1. the possible confusion of the office of public ministry. 2. The question: How is the layman called to serve as regards the Word in the public worship service?


Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Dear Eucharisted:
I really don't think that this is a matter of what constitutes teaching. Even though, as some have pointed out, reading is interpretive, I do not read so much into that to conclude that reading falls under "teaching." It simply means that it must be done competently, and decently. Also, your scenario is distinct from the question of the liturgy. I will say that, quite apart from any hint of legalities, or on the other hand, of rights, each person in attendance in the Bible class should simply ask himself if it is becoming, if it is seemly, to read aloud for the class. In that case I suggest the ladies in the class might come to a different conclusion than the men.

Anonymous said...

When laymen are permitted to celebrate the Sacrament, does this really matter? The "everyone a minister" idea that Pr. H.R. mentions has gone far beyond allowing them to help read or serve!

I don't understand how the idea of letting laymen take over leading part of the Service is fitting. There is enough confusion already around the role of laity and clergy. The laymen are at Church to be fed, so let one trained and called to feed do the feeding. The shepherd of the congregation is there to lead his sheep. If he has an assistant in that role, whether deacon, sub-deacon, or congregational elder, that isn't necessarily a problem, as long as they don't give the impression that anybody can and/or should do it. As Pr. H.R. has also pointed out, the idea of female readers and servers (even if only on "LWML Sunday") comes from a marriage of "everyone a minister" with feminism (or whatever has led to this in the RC Church) and therefore has no place in the Church.

The question by Eucharisted and reply by Dcn. Gaba above has me thinking of something else, but if I am straying too far from the topic, feel free to ignore me. At probably every LCC East District Lutheran Young Adults retreat I have been to, there has been at least one devotion that is led by women. While this has never been particularly problematic for the group as a whole, there has been questioning and grumbling from some about this practice (ironically, the first I heard was from one of the female leaders). Is it appropriate for women to lead prayers or devotions (which could certainly be called teaching and possibly liturgical) when men are present?

Jeremy Frim

Past Elder said...

How about: it's OK because Jesus did it.

Public reading of the Scriptures in Church comes from public reading of the Scriptures in the synagogue. In Luke 4:16-21, at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus follows the ancient custom of aliyot.

In this, a number of readers, seven on Sabbath morning, are called up (aliyah, ascent) to read a section of the Torah portion from the, uh, lectionary. To be given such a call is a great honour. This is exactly what Jesus was doing in the passage in Luke. The "attendant" is called a gabbai.

So great, lay readers then.

Well, not exactly. There's more to the custom Jesus followed. The readers are male. The first reader (called an oleh) is a kohen, and the second is a levi. And most of the time, the oleh does not just read the section, but rather stands next to a trained man who chants it while he reads barely audible. The oleh concludes his reading with a benediction, Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing must have blown them clean away -- not your typical benediction from an oleh!

And in no case does this lead to any confusion between an oleh and a rabbi.

Our service of the word is essentially a Sabbath synagogue service. Since we carry over the custom of a cycle of readings what is the problem with readers too, and especially since it is a custom Jesus followed. At the same time, we ought to be aware of the entire custom, that it is not a licence to anybody to go up and stumble through the text.

The aliyah is (maybe more is as in should be) a normal and normative part of our services.

BalaamsAss51 said...

Some excellant points have been expressed over why it is not proper to have lay lectors.

I am amazed that only one person has thought to reference the Lutheran Confessions. Don't they hold any weight for anybody anymore? Seems that appeals to ancient history or recent congregational practice trumps the Confessions.

Remember that the Divine Service is PUBLIC not private. When God's Word (Gospel in the broad sense) is read in public it IS taught. Do we not teach that even if someone attends the "wrong" church that if that person heards God's Word the Holy Spirit may convert, no matter how bad the sermon may be?

Ancient lectors were not strictly laity as far as I am aware. Female readers is a red herring. The appeal to "aliyah" is an appeal to practices superseeded by the New Testament church, our service has parallels to the synagoue of Jesus's time but we certainly do not do all that they did today, it is not authoritative for us.

I have in the past faithfully executed the role of Lay Assistant for several churches. I've helped distribute Communion, I've read the lessons, etc. And pretty well too, right Bill? But I have come to realize that it is not part of any of my vocations to play pastor in a public setting. I have repented to God and been forgiven of my sin of usurption.

I ask that all pators stop being so lazy (yes, lazy) and get back to doing the things that you were ordained to do. Feed the sheep, it is not proper to let the sheep feed themselves. (And since there is always the exception, I realize that the occasional pastor may be physically unable to perform some duty and that a layman may assist in that case if no other pastor is around).

Sorry about venting.

Matt H.

Pastor Peters said...

Every parish I have ever served has had lay readers (and a million years ago so did Redeemer, Ft. Wayne). I did work to weed out the weaker ones. In my current parish they were vested in albs when I came. I did end that practice. Both parishes had women lectors and we still do. It is not a high priority issue for me.

Those who read are an somewhat like an order -- they are not spontaneously chosen but prepared for their turn reading. I have not been embarrassed by their reading (though other errors in the service have been embarrassing). They read well. Period. I probably would not have started up this practice (although I would have begun a lay reading program of sorts with the cadre of assisting ministers who regularly serve -- 2 at each Divine Service).

As to the baloney about confusion with the Pastoral office and authority -- really. There I sit unmistakable in clerical collar and full eucharistic vestments, with an assisting minister in an alb on one side, an acolyte in an alb on the other, and a lay person at the lectern -- do you really think that somebody out there thinks "Wow! That lay reader is just like the Pastor!???" I don't.

I do not believe anyone has the right to read the Scriptures in worship -- Pastors are assigned the duty and its oversight but there is no compelling reason not to delegate it to suitable readers. The Pastor always reads the Gospel and if another Pastor preaches (other than the presiding minister) that Pastor reads the Gospel. Our people get it. They don't make it a big deal either way. If I was told by my parish I had to have lay readers, I might be inclined to resist. If I was told that I could not, I might be inclined to have them. But none of the passages in Scripture or the Confessions directly or even indirectly addresses the practice.

Further, since, to my regret BTW, seminarists are not an order in our Church, they too are lay readers.

Well, there it is.

Father Robert Lyons said...

Pastor Peters,

I am curious as to why you had layreaders remove their albs. The alb, historically, is the baptismal vestment, proper to all the baptized. (I have, in the past, argued that all should be wearing albs when they come for Divine Services, though the fear of being labeled as a cult by the FBI has prevented me from actually bringing the custom into use in any congregation I have served ;)


Brenda said...

Interesting discussion. I am one of the lectors at my church, and I look forward to it when my turn comes up. Pastor sends me the readings about a week in advance, and I study them and practice and I think I make my Lord proud when I read them. :)

I attended another LCMS church where the Pastor did the first and second readings and it felt strange to me. I think it's neat to have lay people participate in worship. But yes, they need to take it seriously, prepare and read well.


William Weedon said...

Couple thoughts or so:

* My own take on the question is no doubt shaped by my experience as a young Lutheran at the Lutheran Church of St. Andrew in Silver Spring, MD. There the laity read the first two readings, and the reading was quite outstanding week after week. Never recall ever seeing the reader not show up. First time I heard bad reading in church was visiting a neighboring parish when attending Bronxville. I was shocked. But then I've been shocked by the way some pastors read too...

* Latif is bang on right about the distinction between the Daily Office and the Mass. Lutheran school boys used to read the readings at the Daily Office.

* This did not enter from "everyone a minister" - it came into our practice through the liturgical renewal that also produced the same practice in Rome through Vatican II. I think I'd be perfectly safe to say it spread from Valpo, not Seward - if you get my drift.

* LSB Agenda contains a rite to set apart Readers for their service through the Word and Prayer (not quite a tonsure, Chris, but it does serve to set them apart for this work). I do think it would behoove any pastor who employs readers to assure that they are trained and then to be publicly set aside for that service to the Body of Christ.

* I do not believe that the Lutheran Confessions in asserting that no one should publicly preach, teach, or administer the sacraments without being rite vocatus did not have in view the matter under discussion.

* Matt, you did a fine job! But pastors, by and large, do not regard sharing the reading of the Sacred Scriptures as something that they get to "get out of." Most, I strongly suspect, would prefer to read them all themselves simply because we love to read them. View it not as lazy, then, but as not hogging all that joy to themselves.

More later, God willing, but feel free to carry on!

William Weedon said...

I just checked the Magdeburg 1615 (not online, unfortunately) and note that in the Mass: ""then the lector sings the Epistle in Latin, then a choir member reads the same in German. Then two boys from the choir sing the alleluia and the choir sings the versicle and sequence, prose or tract. Then the lector sings the Gospel in Latin, and a choir member reads it to the people in German using the usual melody."

Tapani Simojoki said...

An interesting discussion all round.

A quick comment re. Pr. Weedon's latest comments, specifically comment number 3:

This did not enter from "everyone a minister" - it came into our practice through the liturgical renewal that also produced the same practice in Rome through Vatican II.

This is almost certainly the case. However, while it's probably true that over on your side of the pond this is not always recognised, it is likewise true that (on both sides of the pond) its implications are not always appreciated sufficiently.

Vatican II encoded very significant changes to RC liturgical practices. Many of these changes have also made their way into Lutheran practice; some came into Lutheranism pre-Vatican II via Anglicanism and general liturgical scholarship. And there's a snag in this historical fact.

Lutherans do well to do well to repeat lex orandi lex credendi as they get out of bed, before and after each meal and on retiring for the night.

Why is it that post-Vatican II, the RCC suddenly saw the introduction of lay distribution of the chalice, of lay readers, lay ministers of various sorts? The answer is found, at least in part, in The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (paragraph 54):

The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ's faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators. On the contrary, though a proper appreciation of the rites and prayers they should participate knowingly, devoutly, and actively. They should be instructed by God's word and be refreshed at the table of the Lord's body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn to offer themselves too.

This, I believe, is the key to the change in the RCC. And this, I believe, where we have a problem adopting things promulgated at Vatican II simply as 'fruits of liturgical scholarship' or some such thing.

Lex orandi lex credendi!

The introduction of lay involvement in the RCC was a result of a refocusing of her eucharistic theology. The Sacrifice of the Mass should not be seen as something the priest does alone on behalf of the Church. It's something the whole Church does. And so the people need to stop being considered mere spectators and let them get involved, doing stuff themselves. Cue lay ministers, round sanctuaries and the lot.

In other words, the movement to introduce/increase lay involvement was a RC (and Anglo-Catholic) answer to a RC problem.

Which the Lutheran church never had. The pastor isn't up there doing stuff on behalf of the people, who are mere spectators unless they get to do stuff. The pastor is up there doing stuff on behalf of God to and for the people. He's the only one who doesn't get to sit back and listen. He's the only one who isn't enjoying a simple Sabbath rest but is at work at the same time. He's up there serving, while everyone else is feasting. He's the only one who has to keep coming and going, in and out of the kitchen, as it were.

Can you imagine going to a banquet where the people get indignant because they only get to sit and eat, and demand to get to do some stuff as well, like greet the guests, show them to their places or pour the wine? Or where the caterers get the guests 'more involved' in the feast by letting them serve some of the starters, in turns, say?

Yet this is what you often hear in Lutheran churches.

Now, before you blow the whistle on me, let me be clear: I'm not implying that this is what Pr. Weedon, or anyone else is necessarily thinking or arguing. But I do believe it serves us well to know a little bit about where these things come from, what they were designed to say.

Because, after all, lex orandi lex credendi. Everything we do communicates something. And the more it communicates what we intend it to communicate, the better.

Past Elder said...

Great Caesar's Ghost, we didn't just fall out of the sky. No-one is, at least I am not, suggesting our practice is or must be exactly that of the synagogue. But Great Judas at yeshiva, even the Law itself remains, not as Law but as curb, mirror and guide.

These things were fulfilled and transformed, not rejected. Flying Judas the Philologist, even supersede has had its real and original meaning, which is to sit on, as in delay, which we still say "sit on" something, superseded.

And that is why one finds an office of reader from the earliest times, East or West, East and West (though called lector, which is just a Latin based word for reader). One might also remember that until recent times the ability to read was relatively rare.

So these offices, for that matter reading itself, came to be the domain of seminaries and the clergy, an atrophy which has nothing to do with Scripture or the Confessions. The "minor orders" became stepping stones to the major orders, but even in that decay remained outside of Holy Orders even when considered a sacrament (though unfortunately not outside of the utterly barbaric practice of tonsure).

This atrophy is also how you get "altar boys" (like me) functional but not literal acolytes. Great vested Judas, the "alb" is simply a Roman (as in Empire, not Church) tunic -- I don't see a single verse in Scripture saying to keep wearing all this junk after the Empire falls. But if we have to have all that stuff (and not to be mistaken, we do, there's good reasons for it though personally I'd ash can the works including those sweatbands that ended up being a "clerical collar") then the alb is exactly as Fr Rob says, and is the proper liturgical garb for a lector, and at the same time is in no way exclusively a vestment for the OHM, any signs of that office being worn over, not under, it.

Point being, the idea that only the priest/pastor has any role at all in conducting services is the innovation, unsupported by either Scriptural or historical norms.

Now where's my cincture, dammit, this alb is too big.

Bill S. said...

As an adult convert, I don't have much background in the LCMS. At my parish,we have very capable lay readers and no one seems confused as to who the pastor is. I'm hearing that 'training' is needed---how is this done? At my parish, the ability to read well seems to be enough.

Rev. Robert Ferro said...

What do people make of Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 14:26, "What then brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up."? That doesn't sound to me as if being a reader is limited to the ordained clery.

Also Luther makes the point in his "Concerning the Order of Public Worship" regarding the Matins service at Wittenburg, "We should assemble daily at four or five in the morning and have [God's Word] read, either by pupils or priests, or whoever it may be...this should be done by one or two, or by one individual or choir after responding to the other." I don't think Luther is limiting the reading to only theological students, but it is open to anyone who is present for the service.

Rev. Timothy Buelow said...

At a previous congregation where we had a school, once a month we had boys whom we were encouraging to study for the ministry read the first two lessons. They would meet with me or the vicar on Friday to practice the readings to our satisfaction. When they did the readings in church, the liturgist (either the pastor or the vicar) would be standing along side of them to hold the clip on mike in front of them.

David Cochrane said...

Whew! My fears are quieted now that my serving as lector is not leading the whole church into apostasy! Nor is does it make my pastor an antichrist! Whew again!

God's peace. †

Mike Keith said...

Up here in Lutheran Church Canada we have had a lot of discussion regarding lay readers due to a LCC CTCR document that was published. It argues against the practice. There has also been discussion regarding having lay people administer the sacrament. I wrote a paper ofr a pastoral conference arguing against the practice (http://scottishlutheran.blogspot.com/2008/07/could-layperson-consecrate-elements-for.html). There are some who argue that a lay person can preach. All these things however ought to be done under the pastor's authority - delegated.

The vexing question in all this for me is: who says a pastor has the authority to delegate that which has been given him to do? If a pastor does have the authority to do so: then why not find a very eloquent speaker in your congregation and delegate the homily every Sunday? Etc., etc.

So: it raises two questions for me. 1. Is the public reading of the Scripture during Divine Service given exclusively to the Office of the Holy Ministry to do? 2. By what authority does a pastor have to delegate anything of what he has been given to do in the Office?

Mike Keith said...


If anyone is curious regarding the LCC CTCR document it can be found at this link. It begins on G9 and entitled: The Public Reading of Scripture in Divine Service.

I also highly recommend the document which begins on G29 entitled: Pastor and People Together in Christ's Church.

This document does an excellent job of describing the Office of the Holy Ministry. It has already recieved accolades from none other than Pastor Weedon as one of the best treatments of the Office of the Holy Ministry he has read! :-) No, I didn't have anything to do with its preparation!

Jonathan said...

The vocation of the ordained within the Liturgy is to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments. The vocation of the lay within the Liturgy is to receive those gifts. If a layman were to preach (or even read) the Word (that is, a pericope appointed for the feast) within the Liturgy, this raises the following question pertaining to the ordained (and to the layman, come to think of it): why aren't you doing your job?

Anonymous said...

What about Quid Debeant Auditores Episcopis Suis- from the Small Catechism heading "What the Hearers Owe to Thier Pastor"? Seems to me that the Small Catechism teaches that speaking God's Word publicly is the pastor's Amt.

Chuck Wiese said...

I would prefer ordained lectors that chant the lessons but I'm weird. I don't think I've heard anything more beautiful than Fr. Apostolos Hill chanting the lessons on the "Hymns of Paradise" CD. On the other hand I don't believe we can say that lay readers are sinful (and I could never bring myself to argue against the lay reader that chanted the lessons well).

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Fr. Keith:
I look forward to reading the material you cite. You pose the following:

"1. Is the public reading of the Scripture during Divine Service given exclusively to the Office of the Holy Ministry to do? 2. By what authority does a pastor have to delegate anything of what he has been given to do in the Office?"

My answer to 1. is that the reading of the Gospel in the Mass is given exclusively to the Office of the Holy Ministry, and that Office includes the ministry of the ordained deacon, though I know that concept must appear like cuneiform to many Lutherans. The reading of the Epistle, or other lessons, is one of the distinctive aspects of the work of the subdeacon. There is no possibility for a woman to be a subdeacon. Nor a child. To see a woman, or a member of the "youth group," standing at the lectern, and dressed in the alb, maniple, and tunicle, should be inconceivable to us. Maybe part of the reason women lectors are palatable for many among us today is that we dress them in a simple alb, which can be written off as a garment of the people of God, the baptized. If we were to return to traditional eucharistic vestments, chasuble for celebrant, dalmatic for deacon, and tunicle for subdeacon, and maniple for all three, it would be more obvious to us that there is something inherently improper in having women and youth perform the functions of these ministries, no matter how well their reading voice may be.

In response to your second question, I would suggest that the office of subdeacon evolved, probably in the third century (Pope Cornelius mentions is in about the year 255) as an office for the execution of some of the functions formerly performed by the deacon. It is an office that must only be granted to qualified, spiritually mature men.

And when the work of the subdeacon is done in the traditional manner, with vestments that match the vestments of the deacon and celebrant, and even match the paraments on the altar, when we see him carry himself with reverence and dignity, and when we even see the way he coordinates his movements with the deacon and celebrant, I believe it becomes unmistakable that it is an office that does not so much represent the people as much as it is closely connected with the ministry of the altar.

Jon said...

Once upon a time, I used to be a lector and I really enjoyed it.

I would like to do it again, and when asked for my brother's wedding in an RC church I did 8 years ago, but quite honestly I don't think my own conscience would allow it anymore- ACXIV.

Love the idea at the same time believe it is of public office to which I am not called.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I will look at this from a permissible but not necessarily profitable point of view. I do not think we can say that it is fundamentally wrong for the pastor to delegate the reading of Scripture to an assistant, be it an ordained assistant, a seminarian, or one of the laity. However, I think the question should be "why" - why is this being done.

If there are many services, and the pastor wishes to preserve his voice for the task of preaching and consecration - I can get that. If one is training to be a pastor - I can get that (I've put my own member who was preparing for Seminary to work).

However, I think there are also some poorer reasons. I saw one mention that it was good to see the laity involved in the service. . . well, the laity in the Lutheran Divine Service are more involved than most already! There are hymns, responses - the laity in the pew are speaking or singing probably almost a full quarter of the time in Church. I wouldn't want to use language that suggests that singing isn't "really" participating in the service. So if the idea was to have lay readers read to get involved. . . eh. . . .

I've also heard the idea that someone or some group isn't attending regularly enough. . . so let's make them read where they HAVE to show up. Eh . . . again, I don't think that's quite proper.

As for women lectors. . . I'd shy away from it simply because whether or not it should lead to confusion, some who teach the false doctrine of women's ordination use women lectors as a wedge to bring in their heresy -- now I'd be more apt to avoid, although in 150 years, who knows?

And I do think that ultimately it is the responsibility of the Pastor to oversee the readings -- he is the Bishop of the congregation, let him see that things are rightly ordered to the glorification of God. If readers are designated to read (or even read a sermon if the pastor is sick), let it be done in good order and so that the Word might be proclaimed, not in order to make any political or power/rights statements. A "Right" is a concept of the law, what I can demand. The Church is the realm of Gospel, of Gift, of in humility following our Lord and receiving the crumbs of life which fall from His table.

Those are my thoughts. I guess I'd rather it be used sparingly, but it can be done properly and beneficially.

William Weedon said...

Two more Church Orders:

Magdeburg at a later date, 1667:

"Then Epistle in Latin, followed by a choir member reading it in German...Then the Gospel in Latin and German, as above."

And Halberstadt, 1591:

"Then the deacon or subdeacon reads or sings the Epistle, then a choir member reads the German Epistle.... When the organ has played the last verse the deacon sings the Gospel in Latin, after which a choir member reads it in German."

Interessant, nicht wahr?

Past Elder said...

Pastor Simojoki makes an excellent point. And to one who takes railing against Vatican II For Lutherans to be damn near his "vocation" I cannot emphasise this enough.

It (Vatican II) is an RC solution to an RC problem, a problem we do not have. I might add, from the traditional RC faith, it is a Protestant solution to an RC problem, therefore invalid. Catholic intramurals are not of value to us, except insofar as they allow us to understand what it is we are looking at from them, which it appears most generally we do not understand at all except insofar as it looks Lutheran.

PS clearly puts it, that our "participation" in the sense of vernacular liturgy, hymn singing etc, in no way obscures that in Word and Sacrament, he gives, we receive. We are not participating in his giving what he gives in the least by our "participation" in other ways recently appropriated by the RCC to their thoroughly unLutheran unScriptural idea of Eucharist, which obscures what Luther sought to make clear again, just in a different way via the "liturgical movement".

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

I think one of the things that your fascinating citations tell us, Fr. Weedon, along with what Prof. Herl reveals in his excellent Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism, is that Latin, well into the seventeenth century, in many areas remained the more 'official' language of the liturgy, and therefore was handled by the priests, deacons, and subdeacons. The German, I suppose, would have been thought of as a translation for the people of the more official readings, hence a bit less in need of being in the hands of the sacred ministers. I would also wager, however, that the 'choir' members who read the German were not women.

Rev. Robert Ferro said...

I guess the fact that the Augsburg Confession and it's Apology was written by a non-ordained layman and all the signers of the AC were non-ordained laymen really does not mean anything in the entire debate of the "proper" roles and authority between clergy and laity within the church.

Also the fact that the same non-ordained layman frequently preached in the church at Wittenburg (including at the funeral for Luther) and other places is another irrelevant consideration.

It is a shame that Dr. Luther didn't have his own Lutheran theology enough in order to exclude Melanchthon from such "public" roles in the church. Just think of all the poor souls in Wittenburg and elsewhere whose salvation has been jeopardized by such unorthodox views.

William Weedon said...


It's my impression, though, that the liturgical movement was actually bigger than something driven by Rome. It influenced Rome hugely, but it was also present with the Anglicans and the Lutherans (and other jurisdictions). One thinks of the huge Leiturgia volumes published in Germany as one of its fruits among Lutherans. Rather than being directly tied to the narrower notion of the sacrifice of the mass, the use of lay readers is more closely allied, it appears to me, with the (erroneous, I know) understanding of the entire "liturgy as work of the people." Hence the call for that "full, conscious, active participation" in the liturgy on the part of the laity. FWIW.

William Weedon said...


I do believe that is a perfectly sound bet.

Anonymous said...

I'm coming at this from an uneducated angle, but I'd like to address two points I've seen brought up: 1. Women lectors and 2. people interested in ministry.

1. I don't see how one can deny women lectors if they allow layman to read. Of course, they would quote 1 Cor and possibly 1 Tim 2. Someone quoted 1 Cor earlier, and I've yet to see that touched upon. If they were to cite these, however, they would acknowledge, insodoing, that the lector is a teaching office and the public service is distinct from the home. I guess I'm saying that I would like to see this idea discussed by people more intelligent than myself.

2. By allowing boys interested in becoming pastors to do the readings, some are reinforcing the idea that reading the Scripture is tied into the office of the ministry--or, in the very least, preparation for the office of the ministry. They then, however, go on to say things such as suggesting the idea of confusion of the pastoral office caused by this practice is "baloney". I'm confused.


Past Elder said...

It's all about context, and perception thereof.

Back in the day, that day being the preconciliar RCC, the joke went around us, us being rootin tootin Catholic types, that the whole deal with this Council was a bunch of Protestant specifically German theology taking over, as expressed in the phrase "The Rhine has finally polluted the Tiber" and "We could have saved a lot of time and money by just promulgating three words, Luther Was Right, and going home".

And looking at things like vernacular liturgy, free standing altars, congregational singing, stuff for the people to do, that may seem to be exactly right.

If one looks at it like a Catholic.

The "reforms" of Vatican II had nothing to do with the concerns or reforms of the Lutheran Reformation, proceed from an entirely different basis toward an entirely different goal, and we ought not miss this because of superficial similarities to things we had been doing for several hundred years.

Mike Keith said...

Deacon Gaba,

Thank you for your comments.

I am still stuck with seeing where a pastor has the authority to delegate that which has been given to him to do in the office to one who has no office (such as lay readers, etc). Furthermore, while having deaconsm subdeacons, etc., may be good and proper - are they the Office which our Lord instituted and to which He has given these duties?

It seems to me, to be frank, that the contemporary idea of a pastor delegating his duties stems from a functionalist understanding of the Office. That as long as what is said and done is proper it makes no difference who is doing the saying and the doing.

Call me a sacerdotalist (you would not be the first :-)) but I don't think this is how we ought to view the Office. In Scripture Paul does not instruct Timothy to delegate his duties to people...he asks him to find the elders and lay hands on them - installing them into the Office. Furthermore, I believe there is something to the fact that God has set apart this man to do these things in this place and such a settign apart is not to be delegated.

However, that still leaves the question as to whether the reading of the Scripture in Divine Service is among those things exclusive to the Office of the Holy Ministry. You have stated that the reading of the Gospel is exclusive to the Office. Fair enough. But I think that is the root of the question.

Past Elder said...

I do not read Paul telling Timothy "No more aliyah, boychick, start doing all that yourself".

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Gary wrote: "I don't see how one can deny women lectors if they allow layman to read."

Consider the word "deny" here - deny implies a keeping of one from a right. I should have X, but it was denied me. No one, though, has a right to read Scripture. The Pastor has to duty to see that the services are conducted in order, and one could argue that he may, if he so deems, ask or appoint others to read. This needs to be something that flows from the oversight of the pastor. . . not that he just denies or allows (if you want to read, go ahead), but that rather this service of reading is delegated by and from the Pastor to one under his oversight.

So first, I'd say that your angle of approach is slightly off (although it is how we as Americans tend towards thinking - we didn't add a table of duties to the Constitution, we added a Bill of Rights). As a Pastor I neither allow or deny lay readers -- I may ask for assistance.

As for the idea of women readers -- with the prohibitions against women teaching or excerising authority (i.e. the Pastoral Office), I would be highly hesitant to ask a woman to assist me in this way. This is something more so because of the fact that we live in a country where the idea of any sort of gender role or even vocational role is out of wack.

In a vaccuum, there should be no confusion of office or vocation if a pastor were to delegate the reading to a woman -- but we don't live in a vaccuum, and the cultural baggage may imply otherwise. When we see someone doing something we often ask, "Well, why can't they do this other thing as well" instead of asking "what ought I be doing". As long as we are thinking in terms of rights and what I can do instead of what is given to me to do, I'm in favor of having the Pastor do as much reading as possible.

Tapani Simojoki said...

Pr. Weedon,

No doubt your scholarship is better than mine. But I do think my point remains. What you describe is the Protestant outworking of the same principle as that enunciated in Vatican II.

And it also remains the case that much of the agenda (though not all) was set by RC scholars with RC concerns. These got translated into various vernacular forms, such as the Anglican 'Parish & People' movement.

Either way, it ain't Lutheran.

Two other things:

(1) The original question concerned 'lectors'. The discussion here is yo-yoing between 'lectors' and 'laity'. While lectors are lay, not all laity are necessarily lectors. I think the discussion would look very different if we stuck to the original question in a precise manner.

(2) I'm not a pastor, but a curate, which is 'vicar' in LC-MS speak. God willing, I will be ordained soon.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Brown, thanks for suggesting that I take a better approach. I see your point and agree.

I was reading my TLSB, and came across the following points:

1. The commentary on Acts 6:26 quotes Luther: "The diaconate is the ministry, not of reading the Gospel or the Epistle, as is the present practice, but of distributing the church's aid to the poor" (AE 36:116). Thoughts?

2. The note on Acts 6:3 emphasizes "The people choose the deacons; the apostles instituted their office."

I see this idea as opposed to the idea mentioned often here that the pastor can delegate his duties. A previous poster mentioned how his conscience had been torn when he had been a lector but then felt that he had violated his calling in the Divine service. What do you think of the idea of the congregation calling someone to serve as lector, with the pastor "laying on hands" to confirm the call? I personally think I would be willing to serve as lector if this were done, whereas I (currently) would be reluctant to serve as a lector appointed by the pastor.


Anonymous said...

Point 1 should have referred to the commentary on Acts 6:2-6, not Acts 6:26.

A new question popped into my head: does a pastor have the authority to assign his duties to a lay-member? In author words, if a pastor were to assign me to serve as a lector, and I refused, would I be breaking the 4th Commandment?

Past Elder said...

If I may use that most ancient of academic expressions, right up there with gaudeamus igitur -- Rock on, Curate Simojoki!! (I'm quite happy to use the nomenclature of my ancestors.)

Having been on both sides of the aisle, so to speak, I would also like to point out that the presence of Protestant scholarship in the work of the "liturgical movement" is as poorly understood, and not just in one way, on the RCC side as the Lutheran side.

And too, rock on Pastor Brown. I think the distinction is, reading the readings is not so much a matter of a pastor's direct duty that he may or may not delegate, but something within his pastoral oversight which he may or may not do himself but remains a matter of his oversight.

How a usage is taken culturally, aa opposed to intended, is a very difficult matter. In my previous synod, women could not serve as even ushers for that reason, that it would seem a role of some authority and if that role then why not this other role.

And indeed, nobody has a "right" to anything in the church, and I think in the broadest of strokes one could say we are morphing from the ill effects of styling church governance after a monarchial or imperial model to the ill effects of styling it after democracy, in both losing the importance that Scripture likens the church not to this or that political body of man's invention but the human body of God's creation.

Wherein the foot is no less a part of the body for being a foot instead of a hand, but the body suffers if the foot spends its time going on and on about being denied its supposed right to be a hand and doesn't just be a foot.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...


There has long been the idea that the Bishop, the overseer, the head pastor, can delegate work to the presbyters and the also the deacons - that's sort of how the three-fold office standard in many parts of the world.

I'd probably swing a bit more wildly on this than most -- as Ignatius of Antioch points out (and Pastor Curtis already starts to cringe) the only safe Eucharist is that of the Bishop or the one whom the Bishop designates. That is from around 110 AD, and I think it makes good sense in theory (although I think it would be horribly abused and so shouldn't be used). So while I can intellectually conceive a Pastor having the ability to delegate part of his authority, practically speaking I think it is bad.

Hence my thoughts here - I think a pastor can delegate the responsibility of readings. . . but let it be done not lightly or for casual reasons. I as a pastor have even delegated preaching - the son of the congregation in the Seminary has preached under my supervision for his edification as well as the edification of the people. But that's as far as I think we could safely push it in our set up as we know it.

Our order and organization effects what we can do. I don't have "deacons" who are considered clergy here. If I did, I might be comfortable delegating more -- but again, why am I delegating? For whose benefit? If the task is given to me, I should be the one to do it.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Gary - a pastor has no right to order you to read. . . he could ask, but you could refuse if conscience (or convenience) so demanded.

It isn't so much that the pastor can "assign" the duties as though a person is bound to them (only the pastor is bound, he is the one who is ordained, is put under orders to be in the ministry). It's like a deputy - you can't be forcefully deputized legally.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your kind instruction, Rev. Brown.

This discussion has certainly encouraged me dig into Walther's Church & Ministry, which I just received the other day! Thanks all for the interesting comments.


P.S. This might make a good Issues, etc. topic, eh? ;-)

Paul said...

For the record, I agree with Fr. Peters. Rejoice whenever the Word of God is proclaimed with clarity and reverence. Are wives and daughters likewise forbidden to read the Scripture at the family table? Not where I live.

Rev. John Frahm said...

Here are my thoughts on the matter:

Give Attention to the Public Reading of Scripture: I Timothy 4:13: Lectors, Pastoral Stewardship, and Gender Considerations
Rev. John A. Frahm III

There are some other items here:

Rev. John Frahm said...

Ecclesiologically we need to consider that the church is not the Bride of Christ talking to herself. The practice I've seen of the entire congregation reading the lections in unison is strange at least.

There is a difference between the liturgical context and a Bible study or private devotions in the home.

There is also the point that the apostolic prohibitions regarding gender speak to the functions, not just the titles or offices. The LCMS is opening itself up for real problems here because we think we're safe by not having the titles or office given to women (or collars, stoles, etc - adiaphora) even though Scripture is addressing chiefly the verbs. The verbs, the tasks follow from the vocation, the order of creation, office. Doing comes from being.

Deacon Latif Haki Gaba, SSP said...

Fr. Frahm:

In fact, in certain quarters of the Missouri Synod, we already do see women with the titles and the outward forms, such as deacon's stoles, albs, etc. There are deaconesses who are serving as veritable female deacons. (Unfortunately, we also have "deacons" who are not deacons, but are doing things that not even deacons should do, running parishes, and pretending to celebrate the Sacrament, etc. So we have a lot of sorting out to do in an age where we are supposedly doing too much internal purifying._

Rev. John Frahm said...

Deacon Gaba,

You're just too negative. Sheesh.

Have a nice day.

Jeremy Loesch said...

Very interesting to read.

I really have no strong feelings either way (so why am I commenting, right?) I've inherited the practice at each church I've served.

The one thing that we try to do is have instruction in how to read. Some of our lectors take their role seriously, others less so. I do ask for them to practice, to make us of the Lectionary with the wonderful helps provided.

I do not mind doing the reading when a lector is sick or has to be away for an emergency. And I do not mind having lectors. But if there were no lectors at a congregation, I wouldn't be bothered.


Anonymous said...

Rev. Frahm's article is a great read!


BalaamsAss51 said...

Paul, you posted - "Are wives and daughters likewise forbidden to read the Scripture at the family table? Not where I live."

If you see no differance between the words "public" and "private" and consider a public Divine Service equal to a private family devotion, I think that I am very glad you are not my pastor.

Matt H.

Pr. Lehmann said...

I like bacon.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Weedon might like to know that the Kreuzchor at Dresden still performs it's liturgical functions during the services. One of the functions is to chant the gospel reading. I've only caught snippits of them in action on YouTube. I've seen vested choir boys, 3 or 4, process to the pulpit. One enters the pulpit and chants the gospel.

Tapani Simojoki said...

To emphasise what I wrote earlier:

"then the lector sings the Epistle in Latin, then a choir member reads the same in German. Then two boys from the choir sing the alleluia and the choir sings the versicle and sequence, prose or tract. Then the lector sings the Gospel in Latin, and a choir member reads it to the people in German using the usual melody"

"Then Epistle in Latin, followed by a choir member reading it in German...Then the Gospel in Latin and German, as above."

And Halberstadt, 1591:

"Then the deacon or subdeacon reads or sings the Epistle, then a choir member reads the German Epistle.... When the organ has played the last verse the deacon sings the Gospel in Latin, after which a choir member reads it in German."

"Pastor Weedon might like to know that the Kreuzchor at Dresden still performs its liturgical functions during the services."

Hmmm... What's the theme?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Is there a significant difference a "choir" or "deacon" - where you have specific, clearly defined people who have been designated a task, and a situation where you have (seemingly) random people come up to read?

I would posit that there is - not in terms of "legality" but in terms of what the practice says. If the choir sings - if the deacon reads - if the Elder of the Day assists - if those 3 lectors get cycled through - there is order. If it is just a matter of "well, I wonder who is going to head on up there today" that seems to be less orderly. Any thoughts from anyone else?

Pastor Finnern said...

Pastor Weedon

I appreciate your boldness in even bringing this subject up. Many people could easily question your confessional status based upon the question.

I see it in a very simple, practical sense. I can read, many lay people need to be teaching, encouraging, and serving one another with A TON of tough stuff, why not just read.

We have a vicar at our church and a pre-sem student, so I have them read from time to time. However, there is so much diaconal stuff to do, this issue is very low on the pole in the whole spectrum.

Paul McCain said...

CPH will be issuing a small pamphlet/booklet specifically intended to help train lectors. The LSB lectionary books contain "sense lines" and pronunciation keys/guides specifically to assist lectors do their jobs well, the resource we are working on will further help.

Nothing is more dreadful than Scriptures poorly read, no matter who is doing it.

Kurt Ulmer said...

I realize I am jumping in on this discussion way past its life but if anyone is interested in commenting on the relationship between the readings and the sermon, I think that might help give context. The readings serve a particular purpose within the liturgy and perhaps it would help shed some light on this pertinent question.

While there is certainly a distinction between the Scriptures and the sermon, I have often thought that a pastor who has carefully studied the Scriptures and as carefully prepared his sermon, ought at the end of the sermon be able to say, "This is the Word of the Lord"? Are not Paul's letter essentially sermons themselves?

If this intimate of a link exists between the Scriptures and the sermon, perhaps it would be best if the one who is a called and ordained servant of the Word publicly read the Word of the Lord.