Our parish has an annual workshop for liturgical ministers (lectors, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and those who write and lead the Universal Prayer) at which we have about 45 minutes to an hour of reflection on ministry in the liturgy and then some time refreshing everyone on the technical aspects of their specific ministries. This is required not just of new ministers, but even of long-time veterans.
The lectors spend some time practicing with other lectors scattered around the church giving feedback. This year, all were using the first reading for the First Sunday of Advent to practice, so I heard the same text proclaimed by about a dozen different people. Our readers range from highly-competent to truly outstanding in terms of their skill in proclamation, so I did not have to focus too much on technical problems. Rather, I was struck about half ways through by how different the impact of identical words could be, depending on the reader.
Some voices were old, some were young, some were male, some were female; each spoke with a distinct accent, ranging from from Flemish to Balmerese (our local dialect, hon). I experienced a profound sense of gratitude that the one word of God could be proclaimed by such diverse voices. I thought back to hearing Meghan Jones, a young woman with Downs Syndrome, proclaim the reading from Philippians as the papal canonization Mass of Junipero Serra in Washington DC. I thought of Thomas Aquinas’s claim that God made a universe filled with diverse kinds and species because a finite world characterized by diversity better mirrored the infinite perfection of God than did a universe with only one kind of thing in it. I thought of how the diversity of voices that proclaim our Scriptures in the liturgy is a kind of aural icon of the infinite fulness of the Word spoken in eternity.
One of the changes that came in with the post-conciliar liturgical reforms was the opportunity for a variety of voices in the liturgy–not simply different speaking roles (which the pre-conciliar liturgy already possessed, at least at Solemn Mass, in the roles of priest, deacon, subdeacon, and choir), but the diversity of those who take up those roles. Of course, this led in some cases to badly-proclaimed readings that were nearly unintelligible (though, of course, not as unintelligible as the readings done in Latin), or sometimes clear-but-monotonous. But for all of the challenges posed by opening up this role in the liturgy, I thank God for this change, which offers one small reminder that, as the poet put it,
…Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.