Rite of Institution of Lectors
Permanent Diaconate Candidates
Feast of St. John Paul II
St. Mary’s Seminary
October 22, 2022
Dear friends, I am happy to join with all of you this morning for the conferral of the ministry of lector. As I mentioned, we do this on the feast of Pope Saint John Paul II, and under the inspiration of his teaching and example, not forgetting his visit to St. Mary’s Seminary in 1995 nor the fact that he stopped to pray in this very chapel.
My warmest congratulations to those of you about to be instituted in this ministry as also to your wives and families who share with you this journey of formation, which, God willing, will lead to diaconal ordination in the not-too-distant future. Let me add a warm word of thanks to the diaconal formation team ably led by Father Bill Keown. Let us now spend a few moments reflecting on the ministry you are about to receive.
Encountering the Word to Proclaim Him
At the heart of the ministry of lector is the proclamation of the Word of God. To be sure, the Word is to be proclaimed thoughtfully and effectively. If, as St. Paul says, “faith comes through hearing”, then, at a minimum, the faithful must be able to hear and understand the Word proclaimed. Enunciation, pronunciation, projection, and a good sound system all count. There is, then, a “technical” side to this ministry; it requires “know-how” and skill.
But that’s not all, not by a country mile. For the Word of God that you proclaim is not mere words on a page nor is it reducible to a catalogue of abstract truths. Rather, every Scripture passage speaks with the voice of Christ, the One Teacher. Whether you are reading from the Old Testament or the New, whether you are reading your favorite Scripture passage or one that is more obscure or even troubling – it is the mystery of Christ that you are proclaiming. To echo the teaching of Pope Saint John Paul II, you undertake this ministry “…to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design…” (CT, 5.3), his plan for the redemption of the world that is fulfilled in Christ.
Thus, before you proclaim the Word, you must encounter the Word made flesh in prayer, meditation, study, and reflection … understanding the meaning of the Scriptures that you proclaim but also allowing them to resonate in your mind and heart. In exercising your ministry, your mind and heart must be wholly directed towards Christ. You must be deeply aware that the Word you proclaim is not your own, and that it has a depth and beauty no one can fully plumb except the One who is the Word. All the more reason for us to apply to ourselves the mysterious words of Jesus, “my teaching is not my own but his who sent me.” And, as Pope St. John Paul II commented, “What assiduous study of the Word of God transmitted by the Church’s Magisterium, what a spirit of prayer, what detachment from self must [one] have in order to say, ‘My teaching is not mine!’” (CT, 6).
The Goal of Proclamation and Teaching
To what end, then, do we proclaim the living Word of God? Here we do well to turn to the Scriptures that were proclaimed this morning, beginning with the passage from Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. St. Paul reminds us that Christ, who ascended above the heavens, bestows vocations and ministries on his People to build up his Body which is the Church. This is precisely how you should see the ministry you conferred on you today. As you continue being formed for the ministry of the diaconate, you are entrusted with the ministry of proclaiming and teaching the Word, most often in the Church’s liturgy but in other forms of instruction as well.
Like every ministry worthy of the name, being a lector is a ministry of service. When you proclaim the Scriptures, your sole intention must be, as St. Paul says, to impart “…faith and knowledge of the Son of God…” and to help those who hear the Word to attain that maturity and unity of faith that will prevent them from falling prey to false teaching and dead ideologies, a proclamation that encourages your hearers ‘to live the truth in love’— to say the truth, to live the truth, to practice it with love!
If you would be true to Paul’s exhortation, whenever you proclaim Scripture, you will aim to contribute to the growth and maturity of Christ’s body, a maturity characterized by a unity of doctrine (one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism), by fostering living relationships, encounters with the Christ who speaks to us whenever the Word of God is proclaimed; and by engendering among God’s People a stable adherence to the truth, but that’s not all. By proclaiming the Word and by bearing witness to the Word, you are to contribute to the building up of loving and cooperative relationships in the Church so essential for the Church’s mission of evangelization to proceed. In a word, as lectors you become co-workers in the truth, co-workers with Christ who seeks to nurture the growth of his Word in individuals and communities. This involves pruning away sin and all kinds of deadwood (i.e., to say, ‘repentance’), and repentance opens the door so that Christ may enter to transform us from isolated individuals into hope-filled, active, loving members of his Body.
Turning briefly to the Gospel, we see a crucial dimension of this ministry, namely, helping those who hear the Word of God to bear the good fruit of the Gospel. Jesus told the parable of the fig tree that failed to produce figs and the owner of the orchard was inclined to cut it down. But the gardener asked the owner for more time to cultivate the ground around the tree and to fertilize it. As you proclaim the Word of God you are cultivating the soil of people’s souls. You are enriching that soil with “words of spirit and life”. You are preparing the souls of those who hear you to receive the Word of Life, or, if they have already received it, to allow it to grow to such an extent that they themselves become missionary disciples who bear witness to the Word by their manner of life and their readiness to give an account of their hope.
Let the concluding prayer from yesterdays’ Morning Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours serve as a suitable summary for what I have tried to say to you this today: “God our Father, you conquered the darkness of ignorance by the light of your Word. Strengthen within our hearts the faith you have given us. Let not temptation ever quench the fire that your love has kindled within us. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Mary, Star of Evangelization, pray for us! Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us!