ROME, 22 JUNE 2004 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of
liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: No. 195 of the General Instruction of the Roman
Missal states that the lector takes his place in the sanctuary along with
the other ministers. GIRM 101 states that in the absence of instituted
lectors, other laypersons may be commissioned to proclaim the readings
from sacred Scripture. Also, the GIRM asks that Eucharistic ministers
approach the altar after the priest has received Communion, as I
understand it, to better emphasize both their particular role in the
celebration and their membership in the assembly, i.e., that they are
members of the assembly who come from the assembly to offer a special
service to their brothers and sisters and then return to the assembly when
they have finished. If that is the case, why would the lectors not do the
same, i.e., sit in the assembly and come to the ambo to proclaim the Word
and then return to the assembly? Does GIRM 195 presume instituted lectors
(who would then have a special place in the sanctuary as an institute
R.L., Lowell, Massachusetts
A: I think that we need to clarify some aspects.
As you say, the GIRM (in No. 162) states that
extraordinary ministers of Communion only approach the altar after the
priest has received Communion. But we must distinguish between approaching
the altar and being present in the sanctuary.
Even an instituted acolyte, who is, by definition,
an extraordinary minister of Communion and whose proper place during the
celebration is within the sanctuary, may not approach the altar until
after the priest’s Communion in order to receive from his hands the sacred
Thus the rule about not approaching the altar is
not so much a symbol of those who come from the assembly to undertake a
service but rather expresses the need that the Holy Sacrifice be completed
by the priest’s Communion before distribution begins.
Indirectly it also emphasizes the fact that this is
a supplementary ministry for, as underlined by the recent instruction
“Redemptionis Sacramentum,” the extraordinary minister of Communion
supplements the lack of clergy and exercises this ministry only when
strictly necessary. Hence, the faculties granted to lay people on these
occasions may not be understood as an authentic form of the advancement of
When someone substitutes [for] an instituted
lector, he or she substitutes [for] another layperson and does so in all
cases that an instituted minister is lacking.
However this does not necessarily mean that the
lector may be substituted [for] in all of his functions.
GIRM 99 states: “In the Eucharistic Celebration,
the lector has his own proper office (cf. below, nos. 194-198), which he
must exercise personally.”
Among these offices are substituting [for] the
deacon in carrying of the Book of the Gospel in the entrance procession
while wearing suitable liturgical attire and placing it on the altar,
taking up his place in the sanctuary and proclaiming the readings.
GIRM 101 states: “In the absence of an instituted
lector, other laypersons may be commissioned to proclaim the readings from
Note that here the substitutive function refers
only to proclaiming the readings and not to the other functions.
This would be similar to the case of an instituted
acolyte who may be substituted [for] in most of his duties except those
functions where he substitutes [for] the deacon such as purifying the
In this way I believe that the rule of GIRM 195
applies above all to instituted lectors who should have a place in the
sanctuary from which they carry out their assigned ministry.
However, as mentioned in an earlier question
regarding crowded sanctuaries (May 4), this rule is not absolute as it
does not entail so much a theological principle as one of practical
organization, decorum and facilitating the carrying out of the ministry in
Thus, designated or commissioned readers may have a
place in the sanctuary but may also enter from the pews.
All the same, we should perhaps refrain from giving
too much symbolic weight to aspects that are basically practical in
* * *
Follow-up: Should Lectors Sit in the Pews?
In line with our June 22 column, several readers asked for other
clarifications regarding lectors.
One reader asked about the use of non-Catholic or even non-Christian
lectors. We dealt with this point in an earlier reply (Dec. 2).
Others asked if it is appropriate for children, or for those who have not
received confirmation, to act as readers.
In weekday Masses specifically celebrated for young children using the
special lectionary and missal prepared for this purpose, children may be
assigned the task of reader (see Nos. 24 and 47 of the Directory for
Masses with Children).
In other Masses, however, especially on a Sunday, the introduction to the
lectionary (No. 52) says that when there are no instituted lectors,
"Proper measures must therefore be taken to ensure that there are certain
suitable laypeople who have been trained to carry out this ministry.
Whenever there is more than one reading, it is better to assign the
readings to different readers, if available."
This would imply that in general these other lay readers should be adults,
although an articulate adolescent could probably also be assigned.
It is important to choose the readers well, out of respect for the God's
Word and the dignity of the celebration, but also out of respect for the
assembly so that the clarity of diction assists them in understanding and
embracing the divine message.
Confirmation is not strictly demanded in order to serve as a supplementary
reader. But it is required for an instituted lector.
Still, it is good to choose readers from those who have completed
Christian initiation through the sacraments of confirmation and Eucharist.