ASK FATHER: Is a priest allowed to do the readings, or must a lay person do them?

From a reader…


On occassion the Lector or Reader is a no-show for Mass and Father will say “We’ll just wait for someone to come do the readings.” At the Sat. evening vigil Mass many of us are older and I, for one, am petrified of getting up in front of people. Sometimes we’ve waited a good long time before someone, in anger by that point, stomps up there to read. Is it absolutely necessary to stop Mass for this or can the accolyte or priest just do the readings on these occassions?

Ridiculous.   The priest should do the readings.  That is, after all, his job.

Have we gotten to the point of such sclerotic clericalism? Priests won’t budge out of their chairs because they want someone to feel like she is participating by being allowed to do the priest’s work in the sanctuary?  Lay people are not dignified enough on their own?  No no.  They have to be actualized by the priest, who condescends to let them do something he can do.

Sound harsh?  That’s what happens when we turn the sock inside out on this craze to have all sorts of people doing stuff in the name of “active participation” of the laity.  It’s a subtle form of clericalism.  And sometimes it’s not so subtle.

I suppose most priests nowadays are deeply conditioned to give up their roles in the priestly precinct of the sanctuary, the presbyterium.

We have even gotten to the point where someone wonder if the priest is allowed to read the readings himself!

I’ll be there are priests out there who barely remember that they could do the readings themselves. It is as if they are under a foul spell, some fell enchantment.

There popped into my mind’s eye the image of King Theoden being freed from the clutches of the modernist liturgist Saruman. In this scenario I am Gandalf   Priests across the land are Theoden, oppressed by modernist liturgists who, through their whispered poisons, twist the clerics into a false confirmation of lay people.

There is even a cameo appearance by Tim Kaine as Wormtongue.

“You would remember your priestly strength better, if you grasped your priestly role!”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. jlduskey says:

    About thirty years ago, at a novus ordo Mass, I remember hearing a priest commenting to the congregation during the ‘preparation of the gifts’ or offertory: One of the changes, post-Vatican II, is that without altar boys, the priest pours his own water and wine.
    Remembering the enthusiasm of 1950’s altar boys for serving daily mass (and those who filled that role well were given the opportunity to serve on Sundays) it’s hard to understand why such interest has waned, except if peoples’ understanding of the meaning of the mass has (incorrectly) been changed.
    If people start to be no-shows for service at the altar on Sundays, there must be some sort of problem at the parish level. Don’t they understand what the Mass is? The Pastor should teach them.

  2. scotus says:

    You’ll be pleased to know that on a recent holiday in Austria I went to two Vigil Masses where the priest did all the Readings. One of the Masses was in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. The priest at that Mass also said the Mass ad orientem. At neither Mass were there any altar servers.

  3. Fr. Thomas Kocik says:

    I assume the celebrant in question has no problem with taking the deacon’s role (reading/singing the Gospel, pouring wine into the chalice, reading/singing the dismissal, etc.) when there is no deacon to assist him. He is still a deacon, after all … just as he is still an instituted (or ordained, depending on his age) LECTOR.

  4. Bruce says:

    It seems like Gandalf is performing an exorcism on Theoden!

    I’m a convert from atheism 12 years ago, so I didn’t have any experience with either forms of Mass, but as a layperson I always feel that going into the sanctuary is like walking into an operating room while the Doctor is performing surgery.

  5. Ann Malley says:

    It is clericalism, in my view, and not-so-subtle as you stated, Father.

    Much like the feminist notion that one must do everything that is traditionally done by men in order to be respected as a person. As if being female, to include embracing all that traditionally goes with that territory, somehow makes one less of a person. Women, especially homemakers, run into that often. Especially in their own families.

    Female misogynists are the worse.

    Perhaps the priest in question has discovered that lay clericalists are the worst. Maybe he feels he must remain glued to the chair for fear that the report will go down that he’s hopping up at any given opportunity. Eagerly depriving the people of what they’ve been led to believe is a shared ministry.

    (Not that they’d take kindly to Father coming over to the house and telling Mom or Dad to step aside while he does his part-whatever that may be- to feel like an active part of their family ;^)

  6. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    The things I don’t know by heart (or at all!) about liturgical history and Minor Orders! (Lovely sentence noticed in rereading – yet again! (‘brain like a sieve…’) – Auguste Boudinhon’1911 Catholic Encyclopedia article, “Minor Orders”: “The Council of Trent requires merely that the candidates understand Latin (Sess. XXIII, e. xii).”) Adrian Fortescue (1910) tells us, of the “Lector”, “gradually the lectorate lost all importance. The deacon obtained the office of reading the Gospel; in the West the Epistle became the privilege of the subdeacon. In the Eastern Churches this and other lessons are still supposed to be read by a lector, but everywhere his office (as all minor orders) may be supplied by a layman.” Hmm… more of that V II ‘Byzantinization’ about which Fr. Hunwicke writes so interestingly from time to time?

  7. Papabile says:

    For our wedding, we asked the Priest to do all the readings. (We had the proper gradual chanted.) He refused to do so until I got a letter from the CDW that said this was allowed.

    It was a a good orthodox Priest also.

  8. Gerard Plourde says:

    It certainly goes without saying that in the absence of a scheduled reader that the celebrant should take the initiative and read the first and second (on Sundays) Readings. I do find it sad that readers would be so uncommitted to the ministry that they would neglect their commitment (I could of course understand inability based on some sort of emergency, but the questioner implies that this is not the case). As a Reader in my own parish, I recognize the responsibility that this office imparts. One is called to fully place oneself at the service of the Lord so that His Word and Truth may be worthily and effectively proclaimed to and, it is hoped, to be understood and lived by, the assembled congregation. I will put this anonymous parish in my prayer intentions.

  9. Michael_Thoma says:

    In a similar vein, why do many parishes that make use of EMHCs refuse to allow already vested altar servers to serve as EMHCs? Why introduce an extra gaggle of folks to read, distribute Eucharist, say the intercessions, etc when the same vested folks are already in uniform?

  10. Former Altar Boy says:

    The priest won’t do the readings?!? How about the priest who doesn’t distribute Holy Communion to the congregation, but, after Communicating the (gag) “Extraordinary Ministers,” sits down and lets the EMs do the rest?

  11. thomas777 says:

    perhaps it’s out of place or over-zealous of me, but the part I always liked the best in that shot is the last look of the king to worm tongue right after he realizes he has been had. I have fought a small crusade across Australia hoping to see this look. It has not happened yet but I remain hopeful. You have no idea how blessed you are in the states to be having the argument. This argument has not really started for the majority of Australia. I remain hopeful, but I think God is going to force the issue before anyone here gets serious about it. There are a few rather notable bishops in places (in Australia) who care a great deal and have begun the work still in its infancy. Again there is reason for hope.

  12. hwriggles4 says:

    Like Former Altar Boy, my brother and I were Altar boys for years from the late 1970s through most of the 1980s, which was a time of “liturgical confusion”. Oftentimes, our parish had a difficult time recruiting Altar boys. A major part in those days and Altar boy was seen as a “nerd”, and my brother and I served nearly every week. While I liked it, and being a little restless, it gave me something to do during Mass. I learned a few things, and it gave me more exposure to what a priest did, despite the liturgical confusion. Honestly, serving every week it felt like a job, instead of an opportunity. I do recall several occasions when we weren’t scheduled we would walk up at the beginning of Mass (our parish didn’t even have Altar Boys wearing vestments- yes, it was the 70s and 80s) because no Altar boys were available, or if there was only one boy serving Mass. It even got to the point around 1980 when the regular Altar Boy for the early 7:30 AM Sunday Masses went to college, our parish ceased to schedule an Altar boy at that Mass.

    Fast forward to 2010 – the current pastor at that parish has done a good job. He has an all male crew, all vested, and three or four Altar Boys at Sunday Masses. The boys seem motivated and want to be there – I knew a few Altar boys in my dad whose attitude was, “When is Mass over – Mom is making me do this.”

  13. Titus says:

    For our wedding, we asked the Priest to do all the readings. (We had the proper gradual chanted.) He refused to do so until I got a letter from the CDW that said this was allowed.

    It was a a good orthodox Priest also.

    We had an almost identical experience: we had more than one priest at our wedding, so we asked one of them to proclaim the first reading. The perfectly orthodox, brilliant (an internationally recognized expert in his ecclesiastically related academic field), liturgically sensible man demurred, saying “it really ought to be a layman.” It seems to be a common conception that this is somehow the norm.

  14. cl00bie says:

    Since I began as reader (in preparation for my role as deacon in a year and a half), I’ve noticed that people don’t take the ministry seriously. If we cannot be at Mass, etiquette dictates that we find a replacement and notify the liturgy director. Or at the very least notify the liturgy director so she can hunt up a replacement.

    On more than one occasion, I have been first reader, and have watched intently as the second reader didn’t get up, so I went up again. That’s why I always practice both readings.

    It might be Father demonstrating: “You want ‘active participation’, now PARTICIPATE!” :)

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  16. FrJohnDowney says:

    I’ll only do that if I see Lectors, who are quite able to do the readings, present. Padre could do Mass all by himself, if need be. I’ve done it a lot of times without altar servers, lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist and even ushers. It does take longer and some people might complain that Mass takes too long. But I’ve done it. Sometimes Mass is shorter without people processing up and down to do readings and such. I suppose if one is in a hurry one could get through Mass fairly quickly so that we could get to breakfast before the Protestants on Sunday morning. But when capable people could serve and simply won’t do it that’s not a good thing. I like it when people assist and serve at Mass. But if they can’t, they can’t and I’m not going to be upset about it.

  17. Volanges says:

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that that isn’t dealt with before Mass starts! It’s true that the GIRM says that doing the readings is a ministerial rather than a presidential function but it also says that the priest can do the readings himself if there are no suitable readers.

    In my book “unsuitable” is one who goes up to read angry and unprepared.

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