Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Lay Readers at Funerals and Weddings: Feedback Sought

fter the Second Vatican Council, permission was given for lay men and women to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture (except the Gospel) at liturgical celebrations.1 Lay readers are found in nearly all parishes. While some perform this task better than others, all should have received careful training.2 No conscientious pastor would knowingly depute a reader who attends Sunday Mass only when he or she is scheduled to read, or who notoriously flouts the Christian faith, or who is obviously incapable of suitably proclaiming the word of God.

So, why is it that when it comes to weddings and funerals, the family members and friends of the bridal couple or, as the case may be, of the deceased, are routinely invited to serve as readers, with no questions asked about their competence or even, for that matter, their standing with the Church?3 I expect the answer has everything to do with a well-meaning but wrongheaded application of the principle of “active participation” — a subject of great concern to the old Liturgical Movement as well as the New. Experience has taught me that people should not be invited to proclaim the readings at weddings and funerals, with the possible exception of those who already regularly carry out the ministry of lector (whether formally instituted or not).4 At the very least, the lay reader should be a practicing Catholic5 who believes what he or she is reading and can bring people’s attention to it.6 I am curious to know, by means of the combox, what policies my priestly confreres implement with respect to non-instituted readers at funerals and weddings. (Please refrain from stating the obvious by pointing out that we need not concern ourselves with lay readers in the usus antiquior. I know, I know.)
1 Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Letter Ministeria Quaedam (15 August 1972) reserves the formal installation of lectors to men.
2 General Instruction of the Roman Missal, third typical edition (2002), no. 101; Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass, second typical edition (1981), nos. 52, 55.
3 Most funeral directors I know have their own copy of the Order of Christian Funerals. As a matter of course, they provide their clients with the biblical readings that may be used in the funeral liturgy and invite them not only to choose the readings but also to appoint readers, after which they inform the priest (!) as to who will be reading what. I have asked my local funeral directors not to mention readings or readers, but rather let the family itself, on its own initiative, bring up the topic, in which case I will involve myself accordingly. I do not mind letting family members select appropriate readings should they care to do so, but when someone presumes to tell me that so-and-so is “doing the readings,” my reply is (in these or similar words): “I’ll be the judge of that, thank you.”
4 I say “possible exception” because, at funerals especially, the reader’s emotional state often makes it difficult to carry out this liturgical function.
5 “The reading of Scripture during a Eucharistic celebration in the Catholic Church is to be done by members of that Church. On exceptional occasions and for a just cause, the Bishop of the diocese may permit a member of another Church or ecclesial Community to take on the task of reader” (Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism [25 March 1993], no. 133). Leaving aside the question of how often bishops are asked to grant such permission, I would wager that weddings involving parties of mixed religion are the most common “just cause.” (Which raises the question of whether such ceremonies should take place within Mass.) As one would expect of this ecumenical (not interfaith) Directory, there is no mention of allowing the absurdity of an unbaptized person to exercise this or any other liturgical (and thus inherently ecclesial) ministry.

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