Pray Tell Poll: Follow along at liturgy?

Should people be given the texts of Scriptures readings and prayers to be able to follow along during the liturgy?

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Share your thoughts in the comments below!


  1. Ideally, the scripture, collects, preface and Eucharistic prayer should be provided the prior Sunday. That way, people could familarize themselves with the texts prior to the celebration. Even a brief glance the sat or fri before would be helpful.

    But considering we do not have a cycle for the anaphora or prefaces, it would require those texts to be selected earlier than 15 minutes prior to the 1st weekend mass. That may be beyond the capacity of most priests.

  2. People with impaired hearing and individuals who identify themselves as visual learners should have access to participation aids. Supplying them to every member of the assembly is a boon to publishers of missalettes but leads to people with eyes buried in the texts and annoying page turns.

  3. Basic hospitality: Some may need to support their participation during Mass, others may need for preparation before Mass as Devin notes , and others who are not familiar with the Mass may need to have if they wish (especially in ritual Masses such as funerals and weddings where a plurality or more of those present may not be active Catholics). Need not be in every seat, as it were, but available without much hunting and gathering at least at principal narthex/entrance(s). A pastoral leader is free to explain to people why it’s not ideal for people to want or need such things; good luck with that.

  4. Agree that we should provide texts even though I have also said it is better for people listen to scripture rather than read along. Listening is desirable in my opinion, but you can not cram it down people’s throats and expect them to swallow, and worst of all would be driving folks away, which seems like a distinct possibility.

  5. For about a quarter of our parishioners, English is their second-language. Many find having the written text in front of them indispensable to their ability to understand the readings as they are being proclaimed.
    That said, everyone involved in proclaiming the Word should strive to proclaim it so effectively that is drawn to listen and not required to follow along in a book.

    1. As a lector myself, I fully agree, and with Fr Feehily above.
      Missalettes have never been supplied in my parish. A case can be made for supplying texts at weddings and funerals.

  6. We had Sunday Missalettes in two parishes I’ve been at. In both, I was able to ween them off with nary an issue. We went from having 250 in the pews to 20, which are reserved for those who need it. Some bring their own but the vast majority listen. We don’t hand out copies of the sermon for people to read along with. Study them before Sunday and listen to the Word spoken.

  7. I look forward to the day using a smartphone at Mass in order to follow along with the readings or the order of the Mass is as common and welcomed practice as using a printed missalette to follow along with the readings or the order of the Mass. It’s more natural for a today’s digital natives such as a young adults or teens.

  8. I’m amazed how many people pull out their phones and follow along on the usccb website. But, it’s far more common for whom English is their 2nd or 3rd language (than native English speakers), and I see people following along in their first language, and not in English. A concrete example, I see a lot of Anglos looking at their phones in English at our Spanish Mass.
    I voted “no”–not because it’s not hospitable, but because you’re flushing money down the drain to provide the texts in English only.
    Providing the text to responses during the Mass, so the assembly can participate? That’s a horse of a different color.

  9. We do not have missalettes, nor have we ever had them. Our assembly has become accustomed to this and the vast majority of them listen attentively. We try to keep our lector’s aware that they are proclaiming, not just leading a” group read along” We DO have about 25 large print missalettes for the hearing (or otherwise ) impaired. So I voted no

  10. I’ll second the yes for people for whom English is not a first language and also vote yes for making texts available for the elderly/hard of hearing. It is also a good idea for those whose readers sometimes mumble or whose priests have a heavy accent and are difficult to understand. All of these things are a reality in my parish.

  11. The scriptures were primarily meant to be heard, not read. Ideally. But with issues of poor sound systems, poorly trained proclaimers (including clergy), various languages and accents, and hearing impaired participants, among other complicating factors, providing the text to those who need it seems like a good idea. Now if we can only get them to pick up the books and sing the hymns…
    That’s another story.

  12. I’m not convinced that “eyes buried in the texts” or “noses in books” is actually a bad thing, even if these are commonly derided practices. While we’re focusing on a text, these seem like natural occurrences. We’re hearing the text but can also be reading it, rereading phrases that catch our eyes, focusing visually as well as aurally. What many seem to want is a congregation looking at the reader with a look of rapt attention and perhaps awe, maybe nodding and smiling. What’s more natural is to do what helps us most to focus on the text being read, and for many, that’s looking at it along with the reader. Noses in books, people…read, hear, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of the Lord. And hearing page turns helps me, when I’m the lector, know that people are tuned in — not to me necessarily, but to the written Word being spoken.

    1. My answer to read-along people (and I do allow the exceptions that others have already mentioned for the hard of hearing, etc) is to tell them to imagine that standing there at the ambo is Isaiah, or Matthew, or Paul or the anonymous authors of some of the other biblical books. You certainly wouldn’t be reading along if they were talking to you. And if we really believed that Jesus himself is speaking to us in the Gospel, we’d be on our feet, intent on catching his every word, not looking it up on a phone.

      Another useful analogy is that people simply don’t watch the news on TV with the script in their hands. We watch and listen. The hard-of-hearing have subtitles, yes, but not the rest of us. And this isn’t just the news, it’s the Good News.

      The whole question comes down to what we think the scripture readings are for. If we think they are just more words that need to be got through to achieve validity, and that we desperately have to hear every single word, then we are missing out on something.

      Do we believe that something actually happens to us when the word is proclaimed? Do we believe that the word in a sense becomes incarnate, takes on flesh, in the proclamation of the scriptures? It’s the same with the prayers, including the Eucharistic Prayer.

      The written text is like an orchestral score. It doesn’t actually become music until it’s performed. The scriptures and prayers are not ‘alive’ until they are spoken.

      Those who have advocated reading the scriptures ahead of time for familiarization have got it right: that way, we can celebrate the word that is already within us, rather than expecting to receive doctrinal information on the spot or hear a good story, and the actual proclamation will have a fuller effect than just reading along at the time can produce.

      I voted no.

      1. Unless you’ve got someone signing while the word is proclaimed, you’re basically saying that the scriptures and prayers aren’t going to be alive for the Deaf during the liturgy.

  13. I wrote this essay last year.
    Liturgy, Listening, & Silence

    “But the Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Habakkuk 2:20

    For years, I gave trainings to groups. One of the things I learned was that if handouts are distributed early, people would read them during the presentation and not pay attention. So, I would either send the handouts days in advance, or wait until after the presentation to distribute them.

    When I began attending Mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, paperback missalettes were being used for parishioners to follow the Mass. That was back in 2006/7. Shortly thereafter, the missalettes were removed. The reason given was that people weren’t paying attention and participating in the Mass, but were busy reading the missalette. The bulletin was also held back for distribution until after the Mass so that people wouldn’t be reading it during the liturgy.

    The readings were reintroduced on a single sheet of paper for the parishioners to read. Lately, I have noticed that even Lectors have been picking them up. It is my opinion that Lectors should be familiar with the readings and shouldn’t be using the one page sheet of readings. It is also my opinion that those readings shouldn’t be made available except upon request as a reasonable accommodation for someone with a hearing disability. Let me share with you a short meditation that will help to explain.

    A few years ago, I purchased a small volume of pre-Mass meditations written by Monsignor Romano Guardini. His first major work was “The Spirit of the Liturgy” written shortly after World War 1, and was rewritten by then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, to align with Vatican II thought.

    I have read through the small volume of mediations about 3 times, and the third meditation directly relates to the situation here regarding reading during the Mass. Since each mediation builds upon the one before it, I have included one paragraph from the first two meditations to try and get the third one in context…

  14. I would note that for this ikonic encounter with the Word, the actual proclamation of the readings should consist of the lections themselves and not be studded with prefatory, homiletical or explicatory or other asides or paraphrases et cet. – reserve all of that for the homily. And the lections are not a script for play-acting. If the ritual is supposed to have the effect of a personal encounter for listeners, the reader must not put him/herself in the way of that encounter, or try to dictate in advance to the listener how to receive the encounter. (Among other things, for example, please ditch the pre-homilies that tell people what to listen for or pay attention to. Leave your Ignatian placement-of-self in scene instructions for a different ritual or other moment. The Spirit might happen to move listeners to notice something other than what you want them to notice, if you don’t get in the Spirit’s way.)

  15. I’m coming to this conversation as someone who has been in a parish where worship aids containing the readings are not customarily used and have not been for more than three decades — and as someone who attends Mass some 20 or 30 times a year in a place where I do not speak or understand the language very well. Hospitable churches try to be sure copies of the readings and the Mass responses for the hard of hearing or those who otherwise need them are easily located (including by strangers). We also make available copies for those who want to read ahead and prepare. I’ll add one comment from my scientist’s hat, to hear the readings proclaimed aloud means to be literally touched by the Word, as to hear you must have waves of air collide with your ear drum. To subordinate that reality by reading “along” strikes me as stepping in the way of grace.

  16. When I prayerfully read the Scripture alone I don’t speak it aloud. Nor when I meditate upon it surrounded by silence. That doesn’t seem to diminish it in any way.

  17. As ever, it depends.
    It depends on the denseness of the text. Not all passages are equal. Parables are an easy listen, Hebrews less so. There are bits of Paul where the mind lingers over a phrase during a bit of dense argument and then has to play catch-up to re-join the thread. Having the text to hand helps there.
    It depends on the quality of the reader – this is not always a given.
    It depends on whether or not there are young children making a noise.

  18. I agree with those saying it’s hospitable to make the readings available to people.

    I’m less sure about the prayers, though (if by that we mean the presidential prayers). Take the collect, for instance. My understanding is that that’s meant to “collect” the individual prayers that the faithful are bringing to Mass and bring to heart/mind in between the priest saying “let us pray” and beginning the collect. If people were flipping through a missalette to find the prayer of the day, that would distract them from doing that. If they miss the exact content of the collect because they’re still focused on their personal intention, I don’t see that as a problem.

    If we mean the prayers they’re meant to say aloud, I do think it good hospitality to provide those. I still need the creeds in front of me to be able to participate and I figure I’m a lot more likely than the average Catholic to have liturgical texts memorized!

    1. Your point about the collects is well taken, Adam. I hadn’t thought about it that way before, but there is something in what you say.

  19. This never seems to be a controversy in Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and other mainline Protestant denominations. Why is it an issue only in Catholicism?

  20. Plenty of good reasons above why we should make the texts available. But we would get more out of them by listening first and then reflecting, that is the practice in teaching. I know we are at Mass to worship God rather than for any didactic purpose, but the worship of God certainly does not depend on our reading of the words used.

  21. It is a bizarre practice to me. I just went to our high school musical. I didn’t see anyone following along in the script. Strikes me as something we outgrew in 4th grade.

    1. I’m sorry, but it’s a bizarre practice to treat people like they are in 4th grade by telling them exactly how they should act or partipate at Mass. If people want to follow along with the readings and prayers, great! If they don’t want to, great as well! Creating automatons is not forming disciples.
      My parish’s principle Mass on Sunday has very elaborate ceremonial, and while every service leaflet has almost everything that is said or sung in it, and makes it clear where to bow, or kneel, sit, and stand , or make the sign of the Cross, etc. the leaflets also make it clear that people should participate in worship as they are comfortable. Some Episcopalians aren’t even 100% comfortable worshipping the way that we do when they visit to worship with us. Take people where they are at and be glad that they’re there.

      1. I just don’t agree. If you really step back and look at it, it’s bizarre. Again, we don’t offer the homily in printed format. We don’t announce what EP the priest is using, or it’s preface. And when given choices on the readings, we don’t announce that. An example – Holy Family and Baptism in Year C offer two sets of readings. Either the A set or C set. The Missal we offer the assembly doesn’t include the C set, but it’s the one we used. I watched some people madly flipping through their book while the reading is going on. Missed the whole proclamation. Same thing happens when Fr. uses one of the EPs not included. What is the value in that?
        You’re right – we DON’T need automatons. Sometimes we need to stop and ask “Why are we doing this?” The Liturgy of the Word is not bible study. But we LISTEN to the Word spoken, with all of the flaws of architecture, technology, and the person proclaiming.

        My position is not to force people to put away the books, but definitely not to encourage it.

      2. “What is the value in that?”

        There’s more than one way to look at the question. Another way that it could be considered: Active or passive creation of barriers to people engaging in ways we think inferior can have results that get in the way of people engaging in ways we think superior. (Also, at least one other person spent time/attention noticing the distraction of others. So the counterproductive effects extend outward.)

        TL;DR version: Nudging doesn’t always produce the results expected, and can even be counter-productive.

      3. Over the course of 4 Masses on a Sunday, I think I am able to notice something rustling in the corner of my eyes without it being counterproductive to my being attentive to the Word.

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