Reading at Mass

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: Thank you so much for this excellent resource.

Ours is an English parish in the UK. I am putting together written guidance for the people who read at mass, to put on our website and use as a handout. I am expanding the basic instructions given out by our our former parish priest some years ago when we had experienced readers, as I benefited from this when I began. Now most of our readers are new, we are grateful to have them, and want to support them. Part of the guidance is about practicalities, such how to prepare, bowing to the altar, when to go up to the sanctuary, when to leave, how to use the microphone, how to announce readings and end them, what to do when there are two readers, and so on.

Some readers have added creative steps of their own, such as calling out “Response!” at the end of each verse of a psalm to tell the people when to repeat the response, or waving their arms about to get people to stand for the Gospel, or adding words of their own telling the people to stand for the Gospel. 

I think these are sincere attempts to improve things based on good intentions, but they can be distracting and other readers copy them. And actually the people are used to repeating the psalm response, and they always stand to greet the Gospel. There may be a momentary lag as some of the people are frail, or need more time to get their minds in gear, or forget a particularly long response once in a blue moon, but nothing more.

To me these innovations seem more suited to a conference, classroom or theatre rather than the people of God celebrating liturgy in church, but I’m not an expert. There are different opinions as to what is good practice and it seems a bit of a minefield. I am wondering if we should guide readers to focus on their role of proclaiming the word of God in the house of God to the people of God, and steer them away from acting as MC or organisers, as the latter is the part that is a minefield.

Any advice appreciated. Thanks again for all you do.


Q: Thanks for your kind words about my work.

I agree with you that this words and actions are well-intentioned, unnecessary, and sometimes infuriating. If people know what to do, let them do it on their own without verbal or gestural prompting.

Just my opinion, but I think that this is part of a good ars celebrandi as applied to readers. The people are expected to give their full, conscious, active participation at Mass. When we assume that they know what to do, they take action and say the words at the own prompting, and this engages their participation more fully.

Instructions for a change in posture may occasionally need to be given, but they belong more traditionally to a deacon than to a reader.