Essential Tips for Lectors

Essential Tips for Lectors

Ephesians 6:19-20 “…and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”

One Sunday, in the summer of 1977, my family and I attended Mass at St. Rose of Lima parish in Miami. One of the regular lectors was in the middle of the first reading. His secular job was as one of the local CBS-TV news anchors. He projected his voice well, spoke very clearly and communicated the message appropriately. I said to myself, “I can do that.” And so soon after, I volunteered to be a church lector. And sure enough, I could do that, but only after months, even years of practice, rehearsal and long term development.

I quickly learned how to use the microphone, articulate better, use varying tones and pitch and modulated my volume and speed in reading. Honestly, what also helped me was getting tips from singers and emcees. Theirs is a talent emanating from vocal training and proper pace according to the message. Sinatra is the best.  Andy Williams, too.  

A microphone can be intimidating for some, confusing for others. Get too close and that ‘P’ ‘P’ sound comes out. If the reading calls for a higher volume of voice, as in getting that high note, move back for better projection. The ‘mic’ will pick it up. Practice using the microphone at home, like the professionals.

Proper breathing in order to project the voice is essential. Do you breathe properly? Do you speak from the diaphragm soon after you breathe in? Do you have breath control? Does your stomach expand as you breathe in and chest expand as you breathe out? No? Watch singers like Sinatra. They’ve got it down. It takes practice and enhances projection immeasurably. Swim like he did for breath control.  

Can you articulate and pronounce correctly? My parish uses Workbook for Lectors and Gospel Readers published by Liturgy Training Publications. Along the sides of the readings are pronunciation tips for those difficult historical words, names and terms. It pays to go over them. Go over each name from the workbook and practice each and every syllable. Do not go too fast and do not swallow or mumble words. Clear pronunciation sounds more professional. Get rid of your Brooklyn accent, so to speak. Vocal training for singing is an effective vehicle to help eliminate strong accents. Again, Sinatra is a great example. Sing along with his CDs, really. 

In addition to pronunciation tips along the side bars of the workbook are hints and instructions for varying tone and pitch. It helps in conveying proper emotion, attitude and emphasis. When practicing the reading, avoid a monotone voice as it makes the scripture boring. These side bar tips remind us of this. For example, a high pitch appropriate to the segment can convey excitement, enthusiasm or surprise. A low pitch can convey authority, confidence and seriousness. Rising tones communicate questions, whereas falling tones communicates a statement or  conclusion.  

Finally, modulation for speed and volume  is essential. Often, lectors will read one word or even three words at a time. But the mind cannot follow at such a slow pace. Our brains are continually working and need the stimulation of a faster pace. We won’t pay attention. Rather, the excerpt should be read at the pace the side bar indicates because the Holy Bible flows. It is written perfectly. Further, intensity and urgency is important. In this regard, the reading should not be too loud or too soft. Loud communicates aggressiveness, while softness communicates timidity. The bible is neither. Yet, sometimes a little louder may help emphasize key points and a softer tone would emphasize a more personal approach and engender curiosity. 

At St. Rose of Lima in Miami, we had two types of readers: too slow were some, and we drifted whereas others were too dramatic. They read scripture like a Shakespearean play. It was as if the angels came down from heaven and smited us all!

In summary,  remember to practice with a mic at home. Learn to breathe properly for voice projection from the diaphragm and articulate pronunciation tips from the workbook. Most importantly, vary the tone and pitch by practicing reading before Mass and also noting the practice tips in the workbook. Modulate volume and speed to be sure you are not reading either too slow, nor too fast. I recently came across this list of Lector’s Ten Commandments by Elon University

  • I’ll remember that it’s about God and His WORD, never about me. 
  • I’ll practice names, and proclaim them with confidence. 
  • I’ll know the readings, having prayed and practiced them well before Mass. 
  • I will honor my family in Heaven in my posture and my prayerfulness. 
  • I will proclaim the living Word with an urgent passion that is alive, not dead. 
  • I will dress in a way that brings honor to my Father’s House and family. 
  • I will not seek affirmations or compliments, realizing all glory belong to God. 
  • I will respect the ministry, only proclaiming the Word if prepared to do so. 
  • I will support, uplift and pray for others who also seek and proclaim God’s Word. 
  • I will honor the opportunity to proclaim the Word and recognize the privilege. 
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Written by
Michael Baglino