Memorized Readings at Mass

Date: February 18, 2024
Author: Fr. Edward McNamara, LC

Question: Is there a Church position for lectors on delivering a "memorized" Sunday reading? The discussions on several websites vacillate between pros and cons but nothing definitive. -- M.N., Brampton, Ontario


Answer: While there is an abundance of guidelines and resources for lectors in the Church, there is very little that could be called an official position regarding memorization of readings.


This is not surprising because very few readers would be capable of such memorization, and the Church generally presupposes that the texts will be proclaimed from the lectionary.


Guidelines for lectors can be issued at the level of the bishops’ conference. Such is the case of the U.S. conference which gives basic rules and indications.


More frequently, such guidelines are promulgated at the level of diocesan liturgical offices which go into more detail. These will often take their cue from the norms issued from large archdioceses, and so the norms often overlap.


Finally, some parishes offer detailed indications based on concrete pastoral experience.


As an overarching principle many guidelines refer to the Introduction to the Lectionary, No. 55:


“The Word of God is not merely read during the liturgy. It is proclaimed, yet not with theatrical show. Effective proclamation involves the delivery of the message with clarity, conviction and appropriate pace. It demands the ability to evoke faith in others by demonstrating one’s own faith. Proclamation is a special ministry which presupposes faith. It also rouses faith in those who hear the Word proclaimed.”


This principle is elaborated in many ways, and this should assist us in formulating a response to the question.


Some dioceses emphasize the importance of using the lectionary itself. To wit:


“The Scriptures for Mass are contained in the Lectionary and the Book of Gospels. Both of these are available in permanent, dignified and beautifully bound books, with large print for ease of proclamation. They are to be treated with care and reverence. The Lectionary and the Book of Gospels may be put into beautiful covers. The readings are always proclaimed from these liturgical books, and never from a missalette or participation aid, both of which are transitory and made from throw-away materials. This directive applies to the celebration of Matrimony and funerals as well.”


Others also stress the style of proclamation and the preparation for exercising this ministry:


“1) The Introduction to the Lectionary states in section 24 ‘a speaking style on the part of the reader that is audible, clear, and intelligent is the first means of transmitting the Word of God properly to the assembly.’


“2) An ‘audible, clear, and intelligent’ proclamation of God's Word requires an appropriate use of inflection, pause, projection, phrasing, articulation, posture, and pace. In applying these techniques of proclamation, the lector should consider that his/her primary task is to present the Word of God in all of its richness and meaning. Hence, the lector should never proclaim God's Word in a dull or robotic manner, but should always work to accurately reflect the genre, tone, and style of the particular scriptural passage in one's own manner of proclamation. As well, a style of reading or the use of physical gestures that would turn the proclamation of scripture into a dramatic act directing the attention of the assembly from the Word of God to the reader should be strictly avoided.”


Or, from another diocese:


“It is prudent to look up words when the lector is unsure of the pronunciations. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website,, provides the readings of the texts for clarification. Workbooks for lectors such as those published by Liturgy Training Publications will provide for most of a lector’s needs.


“27. The effective proclamation of the Word of God requires effective techniques in proclamation. The lector being audible, clear, and intelligible is the first means of transmitting the Word of God properly to the congregation. The lector should have a crisp articulation of words, correct pronunciation of words, and an unhurried pace. Thorough preparation will enable most candidates for the ministry of lector to develop rather easily these good qualities of reading.


“28. Practicing all the readings aloud will reduce nervousness and boost confidence. When the time comes for proclaiming these readings before the assembly, the readers will have already heard themselves speaking these very words.”


Finally, we have the following well-crafted guidelines from a parish in West Virginia that provides a good summary of best practice:


“From the Church's beginnings, Christians have gathered to hear the Word of God, a practice which originated with Jewish worship. In the Gospels, we hear of numerous occasions when Jesus was gathered in the temple or in the synagogue to hear the scriptures. This was a part of his ordinary life that we continue to this day. According to the ancient tradition and the teaching of the Church, the readings other than the Gospel are proclaimed by lay ministers. (GIRM 59) When no deacon is present, the lector announces the intentions from the ambo. (GIRM 138, LM Intro 53)


“In order to enable the assembly to ponder and reflect on the Word proclaimed, ‘haste that hinders recollection’ is to be avoided. A pause should be made after stating ‘A reading from …’ and before ‘The Word of the Lord’. Another period of silence should be observed after each reading before the lector moves away from the ambo; also, a brief period of silence should be allowed after the Responsorial Psalm. Some catechesis on the purpose and appropriate use of this silence should be offered. (GIRM 56, LM Intro 28) […]


“Helpful Tips and Additional Information for Readers: After announcing a reading, count ‘11000, 21000’ (i.e., two seconds or so) before beginning to read. Don't rush. Speak into the microphone but don't crowd it. Be aware of your speed, inflection, and eye contact. Readings should not be memorized or performed, but ‘proclaimed’ (see above). Above all, read it like you mean it!”


From the above, we see that only a parish specifically tells readers not to memorize the texts. However, this conclusion follows logically from the principles enunciated at the national and episcopal levels about respecting the use of the lectionary and avoiding dramatic and theatrical modes of proclamation.


While memorization is not forbidden, per se, it would seem more likely to provoke a theatrical proclamation that draws attention more toward the reader than upon the message contained in the reading itself.


There could be legitimate exceptions, for example, in some circumstances it could allow for a visually impaired Catholic to participate in the exercise of this service.


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Readers may send questions to Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.


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