13 January 2008

Reading the Scriptures in Public Worship

Patrick Comerford

Part 1: Proclaiming the Word … effectively

“Until I arrive, devote attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhorting, to teaching” – 1 Timothy 4: 13.

The reading of Scripture is central to the Church of Ireland’s worship and spirituality. Through the Scriptures we encounter God’s mighty acts and are called to respond to his saving acts.

In the Book of Common Prayer (2004), in both the Daily Offices (Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer) and the Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), the Church of Ireland includes the reading of Scripture as part of the ministry of Proclaiming and Receiving the Word. Yet, many rectors, and many people in the pews, continue to think of the Sermon only as the proclamation of the Word.

Do you believe that when you are reading Scripture in public worship you are proclaiming the Word of God? Those reading the Scriptures must understand the significance and privilege of their task.

But sometimes, as I watch people reading Scripture during the offices or the liturgy, as I listen to the ways in which they read, or as I watch their body language, I ask myself whether they really believe they are presenting the Word of God to those present, that it really is the Word of God, and that they are not just ciphers who have been asked to read but are engaged in ministry.

We celebrate God’s presence among us in Anglican liturgy through both Word and Sacrament. But how prominent and obvious is the Word of God in our services? I mean when it’s being read, as opposed to when it is being explored in the sermon.

How many times when you are planning worship and liturgy do you think about the impact of reading Scripture on those who are listening in the congregation?

If you are part of a parish planning team, do you just fit people in for the readings because they’re available or because it’s their turn? Or do you think carefully about the impact of the way and the style in which they read?

How much training are they given?

How much feedback do they get?

As a Church that expects to find God’s presence among us in both Word and Sacrament, we have improved the opportunities to present the Word of God roundly, fully and wholly in our parishes and churches every Sunday. Formerly, the Book of Common Prayer only provided for two readings – an Epistle and a Gospel reading – at Holy Communion.

But the Book of Common Prayer (2004) and the Revised Common Lectionary provide for Scripture readings from four sections of the Bible – normally an Old Testament reading, a Psalm, an Epistle reading, and a Gospel reading (this is sometimes disrupted or adjusted when we use a reading from either the Acts of the Apostles of the Revelation of Saint John).

However, I often hear clergy saying they only use two readings during Holy Communion … that using three readings makes things too long. Imagine saying I’ll only give people Holy Communion through the distribution of the bread … that giving them the cup too makes it too long and that people will be drumming at their watches, worrying about the Sunday roast!

How many Scripture passages are read?

How influential is Scripture in shaping the tenor of the worship service?

Are the Scripture passages read engagingly and with interest?

How many different functions does Scripture fill in these services? Or are the readings just one other part of the service to be got through?

Do the reader or the readers present Scripture in such a way that it is clearly from God's Word?

Integrating Scripture into the flow of the worship conversation with God is important. Since Scripture is God's voice, its reading out loud in any service should serve to advance our dialogue with God. There are several questions we need to ask about our use and selection of readings for each service.

Does the set of readings in the lectionary readings challenge both the preacher and the congregation to find new significance in the Word proclaimed? Or do we frequently change the readings to fit the sermon, so that we are just comforted by our own thoughts rather than facing up afresh and anew to the challenge of the Word of God as presented in the lectionary passages?

Any service of worship should have integrity throughout it. Each element should be planned carefully, including the reading of Scripture. Do we allow the readings to do that for us, or when we are planning services do we pick a theme and hope that in some Procrustean way we can fit the readings into our own plans.

In the Church of Ireland, and throughout much of the Anglican Communion, the Revised Common Lectionary determines the Scripture readings for the day. These are usually an Old Testament passage, a Psalm, an Epistle reading, and a Gospel reading, providing us with rich variety regularly, and challenge us to find new themes and new ways of focussing on God’s challenges to us.

Methods of Scripture reading

And so, Scripture reading in worship must be effective and meaningful. The Word of God is too precious for it to be read in any way that obscures his voice.

When planning worship, we can consider using a variety of methods of reading the Word of God in church:

Too often, it is left to the priest or the person leading a service, to read the lessons. It is a good tradition that at the Eucharist or the Holy Communion, the Gospel is read by a deacon or by the person is going to preach, especially if the sermon is the passage on which the sermon is based.

But members of the laity can and should read Scripture in church too. Each one of us – lay or ordained – has the privilege of reading God's Word to God’s people. And when more than one passage is being read, it’s a good idea to have more than one reader.

Choose from as wide a diversity of readers as possible. Have male and female readers. Make sure there is a variety of ages. In most parishes in the Church of Ireland today you will need to ensure we draw from different ethnic groups, and a variety of socio-economic groups. This is not just about political correctness: it reflects the theological truth that though we are many we are one body, and it also adds a richness to the worship.

Songs too can proclaim the Scriptures. Both congregational songs and those sung by choirs or soloists can be effective means of setting God’s voice before his people. We are used to singing the Scriptures as Canticles, we are less used to singing the Psalms. The Companion to Church Hymnal (ed Edward Darling and Donald Davison, Dublin: Columba Press, 2004) is a good resource for finding your way through the adaptation of Scripture in our hymns.

Dramatic or multi-speaker readings work well in many situations. How many parishes are less afraid to try dramatic readings of Scripture and more likely to complain that this involves too much work and too much forward-planning and preparation? But there are so many passages of Scripture that include multiple voices within a story and that require multiple voices in reading to convey this. Other passages have different emphases within them that can best be represented by multiple readers. Narratives become more real when they are presented in dramatic fashion by a readers’ group.

At times, a dramatic reading can take the place of the sermon. Telling a Bible passage as a story and miming a story are good ways to use Scripture in a dramatic way. Staged scripture or drama scenes make good lead-ins to the sermon. Special attention to Scripture reading, especially when drama is involved, brings the reading alive for people.

There are times and occasions that may call for efforts that make God's voice more striking by setting it next to other passages or readings. Perhaps some of the complaints of lament in the Psalms can be juxtaposed with some of the promises of God. The words of warning from the prophets can be set alongside promises of hope. In some churches in America after the tragedy on 11 September 2001, they read the verses of Psalm 46 interspersed with dramatic headlines from the news.

Have you ever worked on Scripture-themed services that focus intensively on one chapter or passage of Scripture? In these services, the Scripture passage determines both the content and the structure of worship. Over the course of the worship service, the entire passage is read.

Reading Scripture and singing songs

Song and Scripture reading should not be two separate elements in worship. In many ways they join together and reinforce each other. Historically the book of Psalms has been considered both the prayer book and the song book of the ancient church.

But congregations can also join in a responsorial form of song as part of the Scripture reading, repeating a refrain that is woven through an extended passage. However, the underlying music should never draw attention to itself; instead, it should serve to provide a seamless quality to the reading of the word and the response.

Choirs can also take part in presenting Scripture. The words of anthems are often taken directly from Scripture or based on Scripture. These anthems can replace the reading of the passage, introduce the Scripture reading, or reflect on it following the reading of the Word. Choirs and praise teams or soloists can lead the congregation in singing responsorial Scripture.

And have you ever thought of how percussion can help people pay closer attention during Scripture readings. Think of the effect of drums punctuating a reading of Isaiah 60, which was the Old Testament Epiphany reading this year.

Some practical suggestions

In the interest of making Scripture reading in worship more interesting, more noteworthy, and more formative, here are some suggestions for the times you are involved in planning worship:

Consider using all the prescribed lectionary readings, rather than trying to cut back on them. Let God’s voice come through multiple times in multiple ways in a service. A larger number of brief passages can be more effective than one long passage.

How do you introduce the readings?

Since this is such an important part of worship, the attention of a congregation should be carefully invited and encouraged. Identify the book, chapter, and verses. You might point the congregation to the page in the pew Bibles if your parish provides them.

Introduce the readings simply and directly. Too much clutter in the introduction tells me more about you than about the reading. Avoid lengthy introductions that tell us that we may now be seated and that our first reading “at this morning’s service” … simplicity and clarity open the space for receiving God’s word.

Pay attention to the titles of books or epistles or Gospels that provides a reading. How often have I heard it described as “First Corinthians” as if it was the first XV in a rugby club or the first XI in a hockey team – it’s the first Letter or the first Epistle to the Corinthians; or “First Kings” or “First Samuel” instead of “the first book of …” First Samuel and Second Samuel sound like two boys in an English public school.

I have heard people describe the Acts of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation as an Epistle. And the perennial blunder is telling us that a reading has been taken from some book. If it has been taken, who is going to give it back?

The introductory statement helps those present to understand the type of passage being read and to know what to listen for. Give people time to find the passage and to prepare to hear it by having a few moments of silence after you introduce the reading, rather than racing in immediately to read it.

After the reading, allow a few moments of silence so that people can own the passage for themselves. Then encourage the congregation to respond to the Scripture readings. How often do people read a lesson, and then walk away from the lectern in a hurry, without either giving people a chance to internalise what they have heard, to own it, and then to respond to it?

Whatever we do to highlight the importance of our reception of God’s Word will aid our worship. A thoughtful response to the reading of Scripture reinforces in the mind of the congregation that this is no ordinary book. A response helps them to receive this as nothing less than God's voice speaking to us.

A time-honoured practice in the Church of Ireland is to use a response such as one of these:

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!

This is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!

Encourage the use of more than one reader. The Word of God belongs to the entire congregation and different voices from different ages show the ministry we all share as believers and demonstrate the oneness of the body of Christ in receiving and sharing his Word.

Provide both encouragement and training for readers. All Scripture reading, because it is public, must be done in such a way that will enhance its meaning and make it easy for others to hear, follow, and engage with. Those who are readers must possess some gifts to be able to do this well, but we should also consider providing them with both encouragement and coaching. Reading publicly is an art to be developed, especially when it is for a large group. For some, instructions and guidelines may be sufficient. For others, times for rehearsal and practice may be necessary. At a bare minimum all readers must be sure they are familiar with the content and spirit of what they are reading. I’ll come back to this later.

Historically, as Anglicans we stand for the reading of the Gospel during the Eucharist or Holy Communion. I was chided once in one parish – not by the rector but by someone in the pews – for asking the congregation to stand for the Gospel reading at Morning Prayer one Sunday. But you might consider asking a congregation to stand not just for the Gospel but for other readings too, at least on an occasional basis for special seasons such as Advent or Lent. If they stand, it will be impossible for them to overlook the seriousness of what is being read.

The importance of reading aloud

Many parishes give far more time to planning the music, the sermon, and the other parts of services than they do to the public reading of Scripture. Yet, we continue to talk about how important the Bible is. Jesus announced his ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth by reading aloud from Isaiah. He knew Scripture well enough to quote it constantly in his teaching and conversations with Jewish leaders. Later, Paul and Silas sang Psalms in prison.

Yet, for all our lip-service to the Bible, many of our services only serve show our confusion about how much reading it aloud really matters.

Have you ever found yourself switching off when the Bible readings are being read in church? I am realistic enough to imagine that these days very few people in the average congregation in our average parish regularly read the Bible. If their mind wanders during the readings on a Sunday morning, an opportunity has been lost that can never be recovered to introduce many to a particular passage. But if they sit up and listen, they may be listening to a portion of Scripture for the first time ever.

Good reading encourages biblical literacy as spiritual growth and development. In good cases of this, the sermon is often only a secondary proclamation, with the reading of the Word of God as direct proclamation.

Unfortunately, few us are taught how to or encouraged to read Scripture in worship. It is a task, and it can be handed around. We all know that it is not unusual for a lay person to be asked, just before the service, to read Scripture. No matter how good a singer may be, none of us would dream of handing an anthem to her ten minutes before a service as she walked up the church path, and say: “Ah, sure you’ll manage it fine.”

Yet there is a presumption that all can read and that it takes no skill to stand up and read the Bible. How many people are asked at 10:50, or 10:55, or even later, to read at Morning Prayer or Holy Communion at 11 a.m. without giving them the time to prepare, to consult a commentary, to think about where to use pauses and eye contact? In any case, how many people know the difference between reading and acting, how to modulate their voice, how to readers with a confidence and an authority that engages worshipers?

Sometimes because of a lack of training, sometimes because of a false humility, and sometimes because of a wrong understanding that the Holy Spirit will work through the passage in any case, many people then read in a flat, plain, well-paced, articulate style, happy as long as they pronounce all the names correctly. But any lack of interpretation is actually a misinterpretation. If you read without interpretation, you send the message that Scripture is meaningless and boring. If you have no training, then your constant attempts at eye contact send the message ‘this person thinks she needs to look up a lot while reading.

People need practical tips on how to interpret and read Scripture in worship and clergy need to know how to choose, train, and encourage readers so they can engage those who are listening, the worshipers.

Some questions for discussion:

In Part 2, we shall discuss some of those practical tips. But, before we break, let me throw out some questions to ponder:

How many minutes or what percent of the service does your parish normally spend on reading Scripture?

What message does this portion convey to your church about the Bible's role in our lives?

Is the Bible ceremonially carried in and ritually elevated during worship? This is not just for cathedrals … the Torah scrolls are ritually taken from the ark and processed through the congregation to the bema in every synagogue on a Saturday, and the Bible is processed through the congregation in every Greek Orthodox Church before the readings every Sunday.

Do you use the lectern for Bible reading?

Have you tried reading the Gospel from the main body of the church, proclaiming the word of God from among his people? This is common practice for the Gospel reading in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, every Sunday morning, or look at where the lectern is placed in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological College.

Do people bring Bibles to church or do you provide pew Bibles?

Do you stand when Scripture is read?

Have you considered reading it out loud together?

Would you like to change anything about how your parish chooses, trains, and gives feedback to those who read the lectionary readings aloud during worship?

What are the best (or worst) ways to recruit and train people to read the Bible aloud during worship?

Part 2:

Why is Bible reading important for the Church?

From the earliest times of the church, the reading of Scripture has been an essential part of Christian worship. Throughout time, members of congregations have been called to the task of reading Scriptures in public worship.

Reading the Scriptures well is an important task. The sermon may miss the mark, our prayers may be weak, and some of our hymns may have impoverished understandings of our faith. But if Scripture readings are read well, then those present will have had the opportunity to hear the Word of God through Scripture.

You need not be a Shakespearian actor or a public speaker in order to read the lessons. But preparation and instruction can help people become better readers.

Do not overlook children as readers. Many children are gifted readers and if their gifts are nurtured some of them will become effective lifetime readers or feel called to other leadership.

Choosing lesson readers

Most clergy choose the lesson readers whimsically or badly. Active parishioners are often asked by the rector at the last minute to read, sometimes with a little "arm-twisting". Some clergy even ask people to read as they arrive on Sunday morning. If we continue to do this in our parishes, we end up with readers who feel imposed upon and readers who cannot prepare enough to be effective. Ultimately both the readers and the congregation suffer.

You would take a lot of trouble when it comes to picking an organist, a choir-leader, and even members of the choir. You might even spend a lot of time in selecting bell ringers. Similarly, it is good to identify a group of people with gifts for reading and set up a schedule. Give the readers preparation time and instruction. When they are supported, many change from seeing reading as an obligation and start seeing it as a vocation, a blessing and a ministry.

Well-chosen and well-trained reader can significantly improve the worship life of the community.

Practical preparation for reading

Preparation is essential to good reading. Too often readers have been chosen at the last minute or have not prepared well to read Scripture. This leads to a reader fumbling through readings and leaves a congregation either bored or confused. It also leads to a lack confidence in readers who are left not feeling competent. If they do not have time to prepare to read the lesson in advance, parishioners should decline to read.

Reading the Word of God to God’s people is an important ministry. It takes preparation. Preparation will bear fruit in good readings and more confident readers. And early in the week is the latest time to begin thinking and praying about the text. Ask God to help you in your reading and to help you understand more fully what is being read.

Four good words to bear in mind in preparing to tread are: Read, Pray, Practice, Research.

Read: Early in the week – Monday at the latest – the readers for next Sunday should have the readings. In any case, you should have started work on your sermon by then. Read the text silently and out loud many times before public reading. By this time, you will have virtually memorised most of the passages. Practicing it out loud is essential. Know the pronunciation of all the names and places in a passage. A good Bible dictionary can help with this.

Pray: Before and after reading the Scriptures, the reader should pray. She should ask God to help her in her reading and to help her understand more fully what is being read.

Practice: Read the Scripture passage out loud to yourself. Practice reading the lesson out loud long before you are reading it in church or preaching from it. If a particular passage is difficult to read, then practice reading it out loud enough times until you are confident. Phrasing and inflection can only be prepared by speaking it out-loud. How often have you read a lesson silently many times, and then as you out read it out loud from for the first time at the lectern realised that there were too many “Ds” and “THs” running together in consecutive words – a disaster for anyone with any Irish accent.

There are common mispronunciations: Chaldeans as Djaldeans rather than Khaldeans, Arameans as Armenians or even Arminians. If I am not familiar with these people and who they are, someone in the congregation will wonder when it comes to the sermon whether I know what I am talking about.

If you are preaching on the lesson immediately after reading it, think back to times in past you have a read a lesson out loud for the first time just before preaching and noticed an important part of the text that you had neglected or misread as you were reading it silently but t that should have been reflected in your sermon and was not. If you noticed it, then many in the congregation will notice it too.

Research: If the Scripture has words or passages you do not know how to pronounce or you do not know their meaning, look them up in a Bible dictionary or commentary. Every church should have such books readily available. Knowing how to say words is of obvious importance, but understanding what the words mean will also give added clarity to our reading.

Make yourself familiar with the point of the passage, and know where it fits into the context of the larger book or portion of scripture from which it is taken. Consult commentaries if necessary, or ask the person who is to going to be preaching.

Some hints for effective reading

Whether new or experienced, the public reading of Scripture is an important task in the life of the church. Learning how to read better will enrich worship life and will give the reader an opportunity to learn more about our faith.

There is a major huge difference between reciting a passage and reading a passage. In recitation, the words are often repeated in a rushed, monotone or sing-song manner, and there are often awkward phrasings and pauses. The one who is reciting tries to get through the text perfectly (i.e. without leaving part of it out).

Reading, on the other hand, is a totally different undertaking. The material may very well be memorised, but you hear the meaning of the words, and the good reader communicates what is behind the words.

Most rectors – indeed, most clergy – in the Church of Ireland appear to think anyone who knows how to read should be able to read scripture out loud in front of a congregation without practice or instruction. But it is impossible to read the Word of God without interpretation.

Take the sentence: “His name is Patrick.” The emphasis I put on the words communicates something differently each time:

His name is Patrick.”

“His name is Patrick.”

“His name is Patrick.”

“His name is Patrick.”

“His name is Patrick?

When we read scripture with no inflection or with the wrong inflection, we will communicate things that we do not mean and which the text does not say!

1. Read slowly.

Reading too fast is the biggest mistake made by beginners. Read slowly but not so slow that the reading drags on. Ask someone to judge your speed in reading. Take your time. Do not rush the words. Give everyone time to see the images. Give them time to hear the words. Let it soak in. Do not rush through God’s Word.

Reading scripture slowly and making generous pauses allows the Word to sink in and allows people time to ponder the text as it was read, and to own it. When you come to saying “This is the Word of the Lord” at the end, they should be able to sincerely acclaim: “Thanks be to God.”

2. Read clearly.

Good diction and enunciation is important, especially for those who have difficulty hearing. Often people complain about the volume of reading, but in reality it is the lack of clarity in the voice of the speaker. Anybody can stand in front of a group of people and pronounce words on a page. But not everybody has the discipline to look at the words on the page, create the image in their own mind and relate that image to people.

Speak as naturally as you can. Use your own natural accent. You need not change your voice dramatically to portray a character that is foreign to you. What is important is that you interpret what you read in your natural voice in a way that's going to be clear, interesting, accurate and relevant.

3. Use the microphone and the lectern properly

Practice using the microphone before the service begins, preferably before people starting arriving at the church. Have someone test your volume. Be loud enough, but so loud that you blast the congregation. It is better to be a bit too loud than too quiet. Remember that some people have hearing difficulties.

If the lectern can be adjusted, move it up or down to a comfortable position. Do not leave the Bible on a lectern that is too low, and then read down into the pages of the book. People can’t hear you clearly distinctly if you are speaking down into a book. I am short-sighted, and if the Bible is too far away I stumble and lose my place.

If the lectern cannot be adjusted, then hold the Bible up at least chest high. Hold it high with one hand, and then you can use the other hand to help you keep your place in the text.

4. Be expressive.

Be expressive with the tone and mood of the text. Let the text guide you for the tone. If you have prepared then you will have some sense of the tone of the text. Monotone speaking makes boring reading. Worship should be lively and that begins with lively readings. But the overly expressive need a note of caution. Readers who are too exuberant can take the focus off the readings and put it on the theatrics of the reader. Remember, the person in the pew should be focussed on the reading, not on the reader.

Unless you are reading from the law or an Epistle, there will be some kind of action taking place in the passage. Imagine a window in the door at the back of the Church, and all of the action is happening outside that window, or let them exist about six inches above the heads of the people in the back pew.

Maintain appropriate eye contact with the congregation. There are particular times we want to look at the members of the congregation: during the introduction, during shifts between scenes, and when we read important lines. If there is a line that says, "These things were written to you that you might know that Jesus is the Christ," I want to look right into the eyes of the congregation.

When you look at the people in the pews, it is when you want to associate them with good people during the reading. If you have a chance to associate the congregation with those to whom Paul is writing in a positive vein, why not do that?

On the other hand, there is a place to address God during a where you can fix your gaze. The usual place in a church is where the ceiling meets the wall. If you go higher than that, then the people in the pews will be looking up your nostrils. I want to look at a place on the wall where they can still see my facial response and respond in an appropriate way.

On the other hand, if the reading recounts an evil influence or a crowd that you do not want to associate with the congregation, then I do not look at someone in the pews … that person may feel I am identifying him with the evil character.

5. Pay attention to personal decorum.

Since the focus should be on the Scripture, a reader’s clothing should not be excessively flamboyant … nor too casual. If people are shocked, distracted, or disturbed by what I am wearing, then this will be a distraction from the reading of Scripture. Readers should be humble enough to dress appropriately for reading.

6. Remember … mistakes happen.

Since we are not God, we are not perfect. If a mistake is made (and we all do at some point), stop and reread the verse. It is not necessary to say "Sorry" or "Excuse Me.” Simply continue reading with confidence, knowing that God expects faithful worship, not perfect worship. Faithfulness will include mistakes at times. If you accept that it is OK to make mistakes, this will lessen your nervousness.

How do you close the reading?

On the last verse in a reading, slow down a little. Take your pace down a little and put a cap on the reading. That communicates that we are near the end of the reading and getting ready to stop. Watch how news anchors end stories. They gradually slow down, coasting to a stop so the ending does not feel abrupt.

If someone else is preaching immediately after your reading, try closing the Bible at the same time as you look up at the congregation. Closing the Bible puts a visual cap on the reading, so people know that now the reading is done. Do not rush away from the lectern once you have closed the Bible.

If you have read properly, then when you proclaim: “This is the word of the Lord,” the congregation should find itself naturally giving a hearty “Thanks be to God.” Then walk confidently stride back to your seat, not hurriedly as if you are glad that is over and done with. If you are seated in the chancel, be sure to turn around and face the congregation before sitting down.

A note on resources for readers

For those who take the public reading of scripture seriously as a ministry, a number of resources are available. A Bible dictionary is a useful and interesting book for any Christian and is especially valuable for readers. Get a version that includes the pronunciations of Biblical words. Bible commentaries include background scholarship on the books of the Bible, and help you understand the Bible better. A good one-volume Bible commentary is affordable.

Why not have a parish library? You could suggest that your parish could have a library, including a full multi-volume modern commentary. Full-volume commentaries go into much greater depth than one-volume commentaries. They are expensive, but they are a resource worth investing in.

Have your own copy of the Revised Common Lectionary. The lectionary provides the Scripture readings for each Sunday of the year. The Church of Ireland Directory includes some variations in our adaptation of the lectionary, and also provides the daily readings.

A note on different versions of Scripture for reading in church

Your parish probably has a tradition, practice or policy about which version of Scripture to use. Certainly, all parishes should be using a current language version of the Bible.

The following versions of the Bible have been approved for use by the House of Bishops of the Church of Ireland: the Authorised Version (or King James Version, 1611), Revised Version, American Standard Revised Version, Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, New English Bible, Revised English Bible, Jerusalem Bible, New Jerusalem Bible, New International Version, New International Version (inclusive language edition), and the Today’s English Version.

However, I would caution against using the King James Version or other older versions unless there is a very good reason for doing so. The KJV and other older versions contain language that is no longer in common use, and so they are no longer useful nor desirable for use in public worship, no matter how much you cherish them culturally. A central insight of the Reformation – and of Vatican II – is that the Bible should be accessible in the language of the people.

In a similar vein, I would recommend not using paraphrases such as The Living Bible, The Way, or The Message at normal Sunday services. They paraphrase what the scriptures say instead of translating what they say. These versions are useful for young or new Christians who are learning to read the Bible. But generally speaking they are not appropriate for using in worship and liturgy. Although they present the message of the Bible in an easier form to read, they lose some of the richness of the message. A translation should be used rather than a paraphrase.

Good choices include the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New Jerusalem (NJ), and the New International Version (NIV). The NRSV usually provides the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Never leave readers holding a scrappy piece of paper. Paper print-outs are fine for rehearsals, but in a service or during the liturgy the lessons should be read from the lectionary or a bound Bible.

And, if a reader does not know the difference between different translations or their emphasis, he should ask the person who is preaching which version the preacher has used in preparing the sermon.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation at the Church of Ireland Theological College. These ideas were first presented to the students on the NSM course in January 2008.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent article! And very useful.
However, there is virtue in printing out the reading (using, perhaps, biblegateway.org) in large-ish print. Then the reader can make his/her own marks on the script to act as an aide memoire while reading.