Father John A. Hardon, S.J. Archives
Protestantism and Non-Christian Religions
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Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
In a broad sense, the expression lay reader refers to laymen within certain Protestant churches who lead the people in services where the regular minister needs help or is not available. It is an office that is most commonly associated, however, with the Anglican Communion. See. Anglicanism.
Lay readers have been appointed in the Church of England since the early nineteenth century, and the present form of their duties dates from 1886. Their number increased rapidly after 1886, and by 1905 the bishops made rules governing their status and manner of admission. These rules have been revised twice, in 1921 and in 1940. The 1958 Lambeth conference passed the following judgment on the subject: The work of the Reader should be described as that of an office, not of an order. The service of admission is to an office and that office is not deemed to possess any character of indelibility. See. Lambeth Conferences
Some of the duties commonly exercised by readers are the recitation of morning and evening prayers, publication of the banns of marriage, preaching sermons on certain occasions, teaching children their catechism, and receiving the alms of the faithful. On rare occasions the lay reader may be allowed to read the Epistle at the celebration of the Communion and administer the chalice to the congregation.
In 1963 Church of England canons were revised to permit women to hold full status as lay readers. They may conduct or assist at services but must not administer the sacraments.
Customs differ in different dioceses, but normally readers are admitted to office by the bishop, who at the same time specifies the extent and limitation of their duties. They may be restricted to a single parish or work for a whole diocese, depending on the nature of their episcopal mandate. Certain dioceses also have provisions for a Readers Board, on which the lay readers are represented. Their influence in the administration of policy may be considerable, according to their talent and their acceptability to the clergy and people.
In the Catholic Church there is no special office of lay reader. The Second Vatican Council, however, in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, provided for a similar role to be performed by lectors and commentators. A lector reads the Scriptures at liturgical ceremonies while a commentator explains their meaning to the faithful. The constitution extends the concept of liturgical function to lectors and commentators. It does not restrict their participation outside the sanctuary nor state that reading and commentary must be carried out by a priest or cleric whenever possible. Nevertheless, their services do not have the same broad application as the office of lay reader in the Anglican Communion.
For further information read Liturgy.
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