In order to put yourself in the perfect frame of mind, you should arrive at the church early and leave the entire outside world behind you. Your cares, your problems, aspirations, anxieties, plans, hobbies, hopes, and what's for dinner - all must stay outside. Find a quiet spot and sit or kneel and pray to the Lord whatever is in your heart. You might ask that He make you a worthy vessel for proclaiming His message and that His people hear His voice and not yours. Ask the Holy Spirit to be with you, that His flame be bright in your heart as you joyfully proclaim His Word.
The moment you step forward you are sending signals to your listeners. Are you reverent, dignified and sincere or hurried and anxious or cavalier? These signals come from how you carry yourself and what you wear.
You should adopt a good posture, if physically able to do so, and walk with hands folded or kept naturally at your side. Walk at a reverent pace, slower than usual. Do not bounce, swagger or sachet and above all, do not run or appear hurried. One can usually tell how a reading will go based on the lector's approach to the ambo (lectern). Those who race to the ambo will generally race through their reading. On the other hand, those who approach in a focused, deliberate manner will also proclaim that way.
Upon reaching the ambo stand squarely behind it. Stand on two feet, not one. Place your hands lightly on the lectionary or ambo or you may hold the book if you feel comfortable doing so. Most lectors prefer to keep the lectionary on the ambo when proclaiming but it makes a lovely presentation when held. It is as if you are caressing and embracing God's Word just as He caresses and embraces us continually throughout scripture.
Again, always strive to appear dignified, not nervous or casual. Do not put your hands anywhere other than on the lectionary or ambo or comfortably at your sides. Do not put your hands in your pockets, on your hips, behind your back or in folded arms. These gestures are cavalier, uninviting and distracting. Above all, do not use your hands at any point during the reading. It is theatrical, inappropriate and will annoy your listeners.
The lead-in or announcement line tells the listeners from whom or from where the reading comes, i.e. the prophet Isaiah or the Book of Psalms. Proclaim the announcement line loudly and clearly. You will get the assembly's attention if you start out in a positive, determined manner. Also, make sure your mind is one step ahead of your mouth. Flub the announcement line and you're likely to mentally kick yourself throughout the rest of the reading. Why? Because quite often as goes the beginning, so goes the rest of the reading.
And always pause..for a few healthy seconds after the line is read. This will give the assembly a chance to place the prophet, era or Biblical location in their minds and ready them to actively listen to the passage.
You may be doing everything else right - proper pace, effective pausing, speaking in a clear, engaging manner and so on, but if you do not look at your listeners, you will not connect with them. Anyone can stick his nose in a book and read, knees knocking together or not, but only those with the ability to look their assembly right in the eye will exude confidence and win credibility for the message they so urgently wish to embed.
Now let's consider some of the best times to look directly at your assembly:
- when you first get to the ambo
- when you proclaim the announcement line
- at the end of a sentence
- during key words or phrases
- when changing gears (e.g. changes in mood, time, place, character, relationship, etc.)
- just before the closing line (i.e. "The Word of the Lord" or "The Gospel of the Lord")
- during and after the closing line.
There are basic pronunciation guides available that phonetically spell out the pronunciations of the Biblical names of people and places. For instance, Barrabus may be listed as buh-RAB-us or Capernaum as kuh-PER-num. If your parish does not have a pronunciation guide, contact Liturgy Training Publications in Chicago, IL.
Also, the lector workbook provides guidelines for pronunciation for many, though not all, historical names and places in the readings. Please consult at least one of these sources as you prepare your reading and practice so you feel comfortable with the pronunciation. The congregation will appreciate your smooth handling of difficult words. On the other hand, lack of preparation is never as obvious as the lector who comes to a difficult word, stops and then stumbles through it. This can be easily avoided with careful attention to detail in advance and practice!
Enunciation is different from pronunciation. The latter involves using the tongue, lips and teeth to phonetically make the correct sounds of a word. Enunciation means that the speaker clearly articulates all the sounds that make up the word. For instance, a common mistake in enunciation is to drop the "d" or "t" sound from the end of a word. This is a dangerous practice in proclaiming because very often, it is precisely the inclusion of the "d" or "t" that separates one word from another. For instance, "mend" has a totally different meaning than "men". Likewise "sent" without a clearly enunciated "t" might be interpreted by listeners as "sin".
What do you think are the two biggest complaints about lectors' performance? You probably guessed at least one of them if not both. One is rate and the other is volume, i.e. "They read too fast" and "I can't hear them."
Rate refers to how quickly or slowly one speaks. (It does not mean how much time one takes between thoughts or phrases; that's pausing.)
The best rate for a particular passage depends on the content of the reading but as a general rule, lectors should proclaim at one-half their normal speaking voice. That's right, one-half.
Slowing down accomplishes several things. First of all, people do not listen as fast as you may speak. People need time to digest what you are saying to them. Unless you slow down, they may not be able to keep up and will simply tune out. At that point, you've lost them and all that practice and preparation would have been for naught.
Secondly, slowing down helps achieve clearer pronunciation and enunciation.
Very importantly, slowing down brings an added dimension of power to the reading. Try it and see the difference for yourself.
The other of the two most common criticisms that listeners have of lectors is they cannot be heard. (The other one is reading too fast.) Sometimes, the problem is equipment-related but more often than not, it has to do with the lector's ability to project, voice quality and/or their use of the microphone.
Not all lectors or aspiring proclaimers have the ability to create effective volume. Some have small or naturally soft voices; others do not breathe correctly and still others may not realize that the volume they hear in their own voice at the ambo is not nearly as loud beyond the first few pews as they may think.
In addition, elements throughout the worship space will absorb sound from carpeting to winter coats.
The key to projecting effectively is
- proper breathing
- a natural gift of volume
- correct microphone usage
It is crucial to find just the right spot or zone that will enable you to maximize your volume without creating explosive or popping sounds. These distracting and unwelcome noises occur most often on "p" and "t" sounds and are created by speaking too closely to the head of the microphone. The rush of air that comes from your mouth on these consonants (and others as well) generates a strong force of air that is magnified unpleasantly through the sensitive head of the mike.
This can be easily avoided by positioning the microphone head a little above your mouth (nose level) or a little below (chin level) so the rush of air goes above or below the head. You can also stand just to the right or left of the head or stand a little back but not too far or your voice may fade out.
Chin level is preferred to nose level because the microphone may block the view of your face and facial expressions are an important component of proclaiming, but ultimately, you have to go with the mike position that best projects your voice.
Silence is golden.at least in the right spots, and the proper use of pausing is essential to effective proclaiming. This is the one tool that eludes many a lector.
Let's consider some obvious places to use the pause:
- to provide a segue when the reading is changing direction
- to allow listeners to absorb an important point
- to provide space between multiple thoughts in the same sentence
- to take a breath
- before and after quotes to offset the quote from the character or narrator
- after the announcement line "A Reading from."
- before the closing line, "The Word of the Lord"
Please keep in mind that pauses used too frequently within a sentence or paragraph will create a choppy effect. Strive for smoothness and fluidity. Pauses that interrupt a phrase or grouping of words in the wrong places can change the meaning or intended feeling. Pauses that are too long or too frequent can kill the pace of the reading and create drag.
Coaching and practice will help you recognize and overcome these challenges.
"The Word of the Lord"
The closing line is actually the most important line in every reading because it reminds us that God is speaking directly to us. He may be using a human voice but the words and the message are His. Take care with this line. Speak it loudly and clearly. Please do not hurry through it or mutter it as an afterthought. As with the announcement line, separate it from the body of the reading with a strong, healthy pause.three to four seconds. Look the assembly in the eye when you proclaim the ending; do not rush away. Give its significance time to sink in. After all, this message that you proclaimed is directly from God. It should leave them with a sense of awe.
Ask yourself this question and be honest. How should you dress in the house of the King of Kings?
If you went to Buckingham Palace or the White House, what would you wear? Why should you dress with any less respect for the only King that matters?
Also, what you wear sends signals to the assembly about how seriously you take your ministry. Dress how you proclaim - with dignity and respect. Never wear anything that will detract from the scripture. The focus must always be on the reading, not the reader.
When proclaiming, it should always be your goal to bring the Word to life. In order to do this, you should among other things, take advantage of action words. Action words have inherent life because people can generally envision the actions indicated. However, action words will remain dormant if you gloss over them, mumble or rush past them. Let's give them the attention they deserve.
Some words may require increased energy or force, others gentility or quietness; some may be drawn out, others hastened. Remember, action words are verbs (but not all verbs are action words and not all verbs are worthy of emphasis). Try to find those words that will help paint a picture for your readers. Underline the key words and consider how you might emphasize them to help bring the passage to life. Be careful though not to overreach in your attempt to add color. Otherwise, you may appear theatrical or insincere and that would be distracting for the listener. Also, be selective in what you emphasize; if you choose everything to stress, the result is that nothing is stressed.
Do not underestimate the congregation's appreciation of the lector who thoroughly and meticulously prepares his or her reading. They know that you have done this for them and they will be glad in their hearts though they may not actually tell you or thank you personally. the Lord knows, however, and He will smile down upon you.
These tips are a few small excerpts from Denise's training class and manual and are just the tip of the iceberg. The full program - taught with spirit, respect, and positive, constructive coaching - has never failed to produce the desired results.