Historically, the lector was the second of the minor orders leading to the priesthood. Readings from the sacred books are an important part of Christian worship. Originally, this task was entrusted to lay persons, but by the end of the second century it had become the function of a special order. As time went on, however, the lectorate lost its importance. In the Western Church the reading of the Epistle and Gospel was reserved to the subdeacon and the deacon respectively.
By the apostolic letter, Ministeria quaedam, dated Aug. 15, 1972, Pope Paul VI suppressed, among other things, the minor order of the lector. Under present legislation, only men may be instituted into the ministry of lector by the ordinary (see CIC canon 230 §1). Requirements for admission into the ministry of lector are: (1) the presentation of a petition freely made out and signed by the aspirant to the ordinary who has the right to accept the petition; (2) a suitable age and special qualities to be determined by the episcopal conference; (3) a firm will to give faithful service to God and the Christian people (Paul VI Ministeria quaedam VIII). The lector is appointed and instituted to fulfill the following functions in the liturgy: (1) to read the lessons from sacred Scripture, except for the Gospel, in the Mass and other liturgical celebrations; (2) to recite the psalm between the readings when there is no psalmist; (3) to present the intentions for the General Intercessions in the absence of the deacon or cantor; (4) to direct the singing and the participation of the faithful. The lector "may also instruct the faithful for the worthy reception of the sacraments," (and) "take care of preparing other faithful who by a temporary appointment are to read the Scriptures in liturgical celebrations" (ibid. V). To assure the authenticity of this ministry's exercise, Ministeria quaedam directed episcopal conferences to set suitable intervals "interstices" which "should be observed between the conferring of the ministries of lector and acolyte whenever more than one ministry is conferred on the same person" (ibid. X). The NCCB set the interval between the two institutions as six months at its regular meeting in November 1973. While institution in the lay ministries is required before diaconal ordination, it is not limited to candidates for the order of deacon or priest. However, the exclusion of women from institution in the ministry of lector has made of this office a step before ordination in the U.S. and in many other countries, much as the former minor order of lector was a step on the way to priesthood. Both women and men without formal institution may fulfill all the functions of a lector by temporary designation under the provisions of CIC canon 230 §2.
Bibliography: m. andrieu, "Les Ordres mineurs dans l'ancien rite romain," Revue des sciences religieuses 5 (Strasbourg 1925) 232–274. w. croce, "Die niederen Weihen und ihre hierarchische Wertung," Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 70 (Vienna 1948) 257–314. The Institution of Readers, Eng. tr., ICEL (Washington, D.C. 1976). Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, Study Text III, Ministries in the Church: Commentary on the Apostolic Letters of Pope Paul VI, "Ministeria quaedam" and "Ad pascendum" (Washington, D.C. 1974); Newsletter 11 (1975) 4. Notitiae 60 (1971) 20.
[t. j. riley/
j. a. gurrieri/eds.]