Reader (liturgy)

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Portrait of a Russian Orthodox church reader (1878). Vasily Tropinin 77.jpg
Portrait of a Russian Orthodox church reader (1878).

In some Christian churches, a reader is responsible for reading aloud excerpts of scripture at a liturgy. In early Christian times the reader was of particular value due to the rarity of literacy.


Latin liturgical rites

In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, the term " lector " or "reader" [1] can mean someone who in a particular liturgy is assigned to read a Biblical text other than the Gospel. (Reading the Gospel at Mass is reserved specifically to the deacon or, in his absence, to the priest.) But it also has the more specific meaning of a person who has been "instituted" as a lector or reader, and is such even when not assigned to read in a specific liturgy. This is the meaning in which the term is used in this article.

In this sense, the office was formerly classed as one of the four minor orders and in recent centuries was generally conferred only on those preparing for ordination to the priesthood. With effect from 1 January 1973, the apostolic letter Ministeria quaedam [2] of 15 August 1972 decreed instead that:

  1. What up to now were called minor orders are henceforth to be called ministries.
  2. Ministries may be assigned to lay Christians; hence they are no longer to be considered as reserved to candidates for the sacrament of orders.
  3. Two ministries, adapted to present-day needs, are to be preserved in the whole Latin Church, namely, those of reader and acolyte. The functions heretofore assigned to the subdeacon are entrusted to the reader and the acolyte...
  4. The reader is appointed for a function proper to him, that of reading the word of God in the liturgical assembly. Accordingly, he is to proclaim the readings from sacred Scripture, except for the gospel in the Mass and other sacred celebrations; he is to recite the psalm between the readings when there is no psalmist; he is to present the intentions for the general intercessions in the absence of a deacon or cantor; he is to direct the singing and the participation by the faithful; he is to instruct the faithful for the worthy reception of the sacraments. He may also, insofar as may be necessary, take care of preparing other faithful who are appointed on a temporary basis to read the Scriptures in liturgical celebrations. That he may more fittingly and perfectly fulfill these functions, he is to meditate assiduously on sacred Scripture.
Aware of the office he has undertaken, the reader is to make every effort and employ suitable means to acquire that increasingly warm and living love and knowledge of Scripture that will make him a more perfect disciple of the Lord.

Canon 1035 [3] of the Code of Canon Law requires candidates for diaconal ordination to have received and have exercised for an appropriate time the ministries of lector and acolyte and prescribes that institution in the second of these ministries must precede by at least six months ordination as a deacon.

Instituted lectors, who may be either men or women, [4] are obliged, when proclaiming the readings at Mass, to wear an alb (with cincture and amice unless the form of the alb makes these unnecessary). Others who perform the function of lector, but who are not instituted in the ministry of lector, are neither required nor forbidden by universal law of the Latin Church to wear an alb: "During the celebration of Mass with a congregation a second priest, a deacon, and an instituted reader must wear the distinctive vestment of their office when they go up to the ambo to read the word of God. Those who carry out the ministry of reader just for the occasion or even regularly but without institution may go to the ambo in ordinary attire, but this should be in keeping with the customs of the different regions." [5] Like other lay ministers, they may wear an alb or "other suitable attire that has been legitimately approved by the Conference of Bishops". [6] Neither the England and Wales episcopal conference nor that of the United States has specified a particular alternative attire, [7] while in the dioceses of the United States of America, a cassock and surplice may be worn as "appropriate and dignified clothing". [8]

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal speaks as follows of those who, without being lectors in the specific sense, carry out their functions at Mass: "In the absence of an instituted lector, other lay people may be deputed to proclaim the readings from Sacred Scripture, people who are truly suited to carrying out this function and carefully prepared, so that by their hearing the readings from the sacred texts the faithful may conceive in their hearts a sweet and living affection for Sacred Scripture." [9]

The General Instruction thus makes no distinction between men and women for proclaiming the scriptural readings in the absence of an instituted lector.

In its sections the same document lists the lector's specific duties at Mass. [10]

Traditionalist Catholic organizations such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest and the Personal Apostolic Administration of Saint John Mary Vianney are authorized to use the pre-1973 rite for their members who receive the office of lector. [11] The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) and other traditionalist Catholic bodies in dispute with the Holy See, such as sedevacantists, use it without seeking authorization.

Eastern liturgical rites

Tonsuring of readers in a seminary by a Russian Orthodox bishop. The readers being ordained are wearing the short phelon (in white). Reader ordination.jpg
Tonsuring of readers in a seminary by a Russian Orthodox bishop. The readers being ordained are wearing the short phelon (in white).

In the Eastern Orthodox Church and in the Eastern Catholic Churches of Byzantine tradition, the reader (in Greek, ἈναγνώστηςAnagnostis; in Church Slavonic, Чтец Chtets) is the second highest of the minor orders of clergy. This order is higher than the Doorkeeper (now largely obsolete) and lower than the subdeacon. The reader's essential role is to read the Old Testament lessons ("parables") and the Epistle lessons during the Divine Liturgy, Vespers and other services, as well as to chant the Psalms and the verses of the Prokimen, Alleluia and certain antiphons and other hymns during the divine services. Due to this fact, it often falls to the reader within a parish to construct the variable parts of the divine services according to the often very complicated rules. This can lead to a very intimate knowledge of the structure of and rules pertaining to the services. There is a special service for the ordination of a reader, although in contemporary practice a layman may receive the priest's blessing to read on a particular occasion.

Immediately before ordination as a reader, the candidate is tonsured as a sign of his submission and obedience upon entry into the clerical state. It is a separate act from ordination. The tonsure is performed only once, immediately prior to the actual ordination of a reader, which the ordination rite refers to as "the first degree of priesthood". However, it is not the means whereby a person becomes a reader. Readers, like subdeacons, are ordained by Cheirothesia - literally, "to place hands" - whereas Cheirotonia - "to stretch out the hands" - is practised at the ordination of the higher clergy: bishops, priests and deacons. [12] It is through ordination - not the tonsure - that one is made a reader or subdeacon; this is highlighted by the fact that the tonsure is performed only once and is not repeated before the ordination of a subdeacon. The confusion has arisen by the common reference to a man being "tonsured a reader" which, while widespread, is not technically correct. The office of a reader subsumes that of a taper-bearer , and the service of ordaining a reader mentions both functions.

The ordination of a reader in Finland. Lukijaksivihkiminen.jpg
The ordination of a reader in Finland.

Readers are permitted to (and should in accordance with his particular church's practices) wear a cassock as a sign of his suppression of his own tastes, will, and desires, and his canonical obedience to God, his bishop, and the liturgical and canonical norms of the Church, although many do so only when attending services (again in accordance with particular church practices). Readers will generally not wear a clergy shirt, and may not perform any of the duties reserved for a deacon, priest or bishop.

After being tonsured, the reader is vested in a short phelon, [13] which he wears while reading the Epistle for the first time. This short phelon is then removed (and never worn thereafter) and replaced with a stikhar, which the reader wears thereafter whenever he performs his liturgical duties. This practice is not universal, however, and many bishops and priests will allow a reader to perform his function dressed only in a cassock or (if a monk) a riassa. [14] Often, a bishop will decree what vesting practice he wishes to be followed within his own diocese; for an example, see, [15] section VIII.

Byzantine icons often show readers and church singers wearing a stikhar-like garment (more loose and flowing than the modern stikhar) and a pointed hat with the brim pulled out to the sides. [16] This distinctive garb is now obsolete.

In Eastern Thrace, during the Ottoman period and prior to the tragedy of 1922, some lay people were selected through symbolic tonsure and Cheirothesia to receive the ecclesiastical blessing and rank of ''Anagnostis''  [ el ] not only because of their literacy but also in recognition of their philanthropic and benevolent patronage of the Church and Orthodoxy. Most adopted "Αναγνώστης" (Anagnostis) as their given name, and this name was subsequently given as a baptismal name to their male grandchildren.


Minor orders were discontinued in the reformed Church of England. The modern office of reader was introduced in 1866 and is distinct from the traditional minor order of reader. It is the office of a licensed lay minister and, for this reason, a person holding the office is referred to as a "lay reader" in many parts of the Anglican Communion. After a period of theological training (often, in the case of the Church of England, three years of evening classes), a lay person is licensed to preach and lead public worship. A reader is not a member of the clergy and cannot preside at the Eucharist, officiate at marriages, absolve or bless. A reader is licensed to lead non-sacramental worship (including, in some cases, funerals), may assist in the leadership of eucharistic worship and may preach. Anglican readers in some countries often wear a blue tippet with choir dress. [17]


In the United Methodist Church in the United States, similar to the Anglican office, a certified lay minister is a certified lay servant, certified lay missioner (or equivalent as defined by his or her central conference), who is called and equipped to conduct public worship, care for the congregation, assist in program leadership, develop new and existing faith communities, preach the Word, lead small groups, or establish community outreach ministries as part of a ministry team with the supervision and support of an ordained minister. The role of certified lay minister is intended for missional leadership in churches or other ministry settings as part of a team ministry under the supervision of clergy, and they are assigned to a local church by the district superintendent, unlike clergy who are appointed by a bishop. [18]

See also


  1. The term "lector" is used in preference to that of "reader" in the official English text of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal ("reader" is found in no. 352 of this document, but not elsewhere), but "reader" is used in the English version of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, which capitalizes "Reader" to indicate an "instituted" reader or lector.
  2. "Pope Paul VI - Ministeria Quaedam".
  3. "Code of Canon Law: text - IntraText CT".
  4. "Francis changes Catholic Church law: women explicitly allowed as lectors, altar servers". National Catholic Reporter. January 11, 2021.
  5. "Chapter III: Offices and Ministries in the Celebration of the Liturgy of the Word within Mass".
  6. General Instruction of the Order of Mass, 339
  7. "General Instruction of the Roman Missal (England and Wales), 339" (PDF).
  8. "Chapter VI: The Requisites for the Celebration of Mass".
  9. "101". Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  10. "194-198". Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  11. "Only in Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life which are under the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, and in those which use the liturgical books of the forma extraordinaria , is the use of the Pontificale Romanum of 1962 for the conferral of minor and major orders permitted" (Instruction on the Application of Summorum Pontificum, 30 April 2011, 31).
  12. "The Sacramental Life of the Orthodox Church - Liturgy & Worship - Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America". Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  13. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-03-04. Retrieved 2006-01-24.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. "HTC: Liturgical Order #1".
  16. "Icon Directory, lower left corner". Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  17. "Anglican Readers' website - Home Page".
  18. "CLM FAQs".

Related Research Articles

Holy orders Sacraments in some Christian churches

In certain Christian churches, holy orders are the ordained ministries of bishop, priest (presbyter), and deacon, and the sacrament or rite by which candidates are ordained to those orders. Churches recognizing these orders include the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, Assyrian, Old Catholic, Independent Catholic and some Lutheran churches. Except for Lutherans and some Anglicans, these churches regard ordination as a sacrament. The Anglo-Catholic tradition within Anglicanism identifies more with the Roman Catholic position about the sacramental nature of ordination.

Clergy Formal leaders within established religions

Clergy are formal leaders within established religions. Their roles and functions vary in different religious traditions, but usually involve presiding over specific rituals and teaching their religion's doctrines and practices. Some of the terms used for individual clergy are clergyman, clergywoman, and churchman. Less common terms are cleric, churchwoman, and clergyperson, while clerk in holy orders has a long history but is rarely used.

Deacon Ministry in the Christian Church

A deacon is a member of the diaconate, an office in Christian churches that is generally associated with service of some kind, but which varies among theological and denominational traditions. Major Christian churches, such as the Catholic Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Anglican church, view the diaconate as part of the clerical state.

Subdeacon is a minor order or ministry for men in various branches of Christianity. The subdeacon has a specific liturgical role and is placed between the acolyte and the deacon in the order of precedence.

Acolyte Ministry in the Christian Church

An acolyte is an assistant or follower assisting the celebrant in a religious service or procession. In many Christian denominations, an acolyte is anyone performing ceremonial duties such as lighting altar candles. In others, the term is used for one who has been inducted into a particular liturgical ministry, even when not performing those duties.

Vestment Clothing prescribed for clergy performing specific roles

Vestments are liturgical garments and articles associated primarily with the Christian religion, especially among the Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, and Lutherans. Many other groups also make use of liturgical garments; this was a point of controversy in the Protestant Reformation and sometimes since, in particular during the Ritualist controversies in England in the 19th century.

Altar server

An altar server is a lay assistant to a member of the clergy during a Christian liturgy. An altar server attends to supporting tasks at the altar such as fetching and carrying, ringing the altar bell, helps bring up the gifts, brings up the book, among other things. If young, the server is commonly called an altar boy or altar girl. In some Christian denominations, altar servers are known as acolytes.

Stole (vestment) Long narrow cloth band worn around the neck and falling from the shoulders as part of ecclesiastical dress

The stole is a liturgical vestment of various Christian denominations. It consists of a band of colored cloth, formerly usually of silk, about seven and a half to nine feet long and three to four inches wide, whose ends may be straight or may broaden out. The center of the stole is worn around the back of the neck and the two ends hang down parallel to each other in front, either attached to each other or hanging loose. The stole is almost always decorated in some way, usually with a cross or some other significant religious design. It is often decorated with contrasting galloons and fringe is usually applied to the ends of the stole following Numbers 15:38–39. A piece of white linen or lace may be stitched onto the back of the collar as a sweat guard, which can be replaced more cheaply than the stole itself.

Maniple (vestment) Embroidered band of silk or similar fabric worn hanging from the left arm as part of liturgical dress

The maniple is a liturgical vestment used primarily within the Catholic Church, and occasionally used by some Anglo-Catholic and Lutheran clergy. It is an embroidered band of silk or similar fabric that is hung over the left arm. It is only used within the context of the Mass, and it is of the same liturgical colour as the other Mass vestments.

An ostiarius, a Latin word sometimes anglicized as ostiary but often literally translated as porter or doorman, originally was a servant or guard posted at the entrance of a building. See also gatekeeper.

Minor orders are ranks of church ministry lower than major orders.

Cope Religious garment

The cope is a liturgical vestment, more precisely a long mantle or cloak, open in front and fastened at the breast with a band or clasp. It may be of any liturgical colour.

Choir dress

Choir dress is the traditional vesture of the clerics, seminarians and religious of Christian churches worn for public prayer and the administration of the sacraments except when celebrating or concelebrating the Eucharist. It differs from the vestments worn by the celebrants of the Eucharist, being normally made of fabrics such as wool, cotton or silk, as opposed to the fine brocades used in vestments. It may also be worn by lay assistants such as acolytes and choirs. It was abandoned by most of the Protestant churches that developed from the sixteenth-century Reformation.

Extraordinary minister of Holy Communion

An extraordinary minister of Holy Communion in the Catholic Church is, under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, "an acolyte, or another of Christ's faithful deputed", in certain circumstances, to distribute Holy Communion. The term "extraordinary" distinguishes such a person from the ordinary minister of Holy Communion, namely a bishop, priest or deacon.

Solemn Mass Full ceremonial form of the Tridentine Mass

Solemn Mass is the full ceremonial form of the Tridentine Mass, celebrated by a priest with a deacon and a subdeacon, requiring most of the parts of the Mass to be sung, and the use of incense. It is also called High Mass or Solemn High Mass. However, in the United States the term "High Mass" is also used to describe the less elaborate Missa Cantata, which lacks deacon and subdeacon and some of the ceremonies connected with them.

A lay reader or licensed lay minister (LLM) is a person authorized by a bishop in the Anglican Communion to lead certain services of worship, to preach, and to carry out pastoral and teaching functions. They are formally trained and admitted to office, but they remain part of the laity, not of the clergy.

Euchologion Liturgical works of Eastern Christian Churches

The Euchologion is one of the chief liturgical books of the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches, containing the portions of the services which are said by the bishop, priest, or deacon. There are several different volumes of the book in use.

Anglican ministry

The Anglican ministry is both the leadership and agency of Christian service in the Anglican Communion. "Ministry" commonly refers to the office of ordained clergy: the threefold order of bishops, priests and deacons. More accurately, Anglican ministry includes many laypeople who devote themselves to the ministry of the church, either individually or in lower/assisting offices such as lector, acolyte, sub-deacon, Eucharistic minister, cantor, musicians, parish secretary or assistant, warden, vestry member, etc. Ultimately, all baptized members of the church are considered to partake in the ministry of the Body of Christ.

Pontifical vestments, also referred to as episcopal vestments or pontificals, are the liturgical vestments worn by bishops in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Anglican, and some Lutheran churches, in addition to the usual priestly vestments for the celebration of the Mass and the other sacraments. The pontifical vestments are only worn when celebrating or presiding over liturgical functions. As such, the garments should not be confused with choir dress, which are worn when attending liturgical functions but not celebrating or presiding.

In the Catholic Church the term minister enjoys a variety of usages. It most commonly refers to the person, whether lay or ordained, who is commissioned to perform some act on behalf of the Church. It is not a particular office or rank of clergy, as is the case in some other churches, but minister may be used as a collective term for vocational or professional pastoral leaders including clergy and non-clergy. It is also used in reference to the canonical and liturgical administration of sacraments, as part of some offices, and with reference to the exercise of the lay apostolate.