Tag Archives: RCIA

Lector, part two

Continued from here

The question is why I would want to be a lector in the first place. There are several reasons. First, I’ve always loved to read aloud. I spent many happy hours reading stories to my daughter when she was younger, putting on different voices for all the different characters. Second, I have terrible stage fright. I can walk into a classroom and teach, but strangers terrify me. I thought it might be good for me to get in front of a cathedral full of strangers now and again. Third, I want to know more about the Bible. Maybe reading it regularly will help me to learn about it. There’s something about religion that gets my students fired up, and I find myself resisting the common academic stance that there’s nothing for students to learn in religion. In fact, I think they need to study religion in college. Having teachers that are open to discussions of religion, and knowledgeable, and willing to accept that intellectual pursuits and spiritual ones are not mutually exclusive, these things might make all the difference to a highly religious student’s experience in college (and I have a lot of them, in my conservative, fundamentalist town). And it might allow us to find some common ground from which to begin conversations about global warming and the Iraq war. Maybe I won’t be seen as the enemy, the intellectual anti-religious Satan worshipper their mothers warned them about (and believe me, my students do get warned about us Satan-loving professors — using those words, too!) If they sense a kinship in inquiry and spirituality, perhaps they’ll be more willing to listen to the questions I ask and the viewpoints I present.

And finally, I just love the language of the Bible. It’s majestic and powerful and cadenced… and oh, wait… that’s the King James Version, which no one uses any more. Sigh. I have to settle for more modern translations, which might be more accessible and perhaps even more accurate, but which lack what I remember from my childhood — that soaring language, a kind of poetry. Still, it’s fun to read.

Eventually I was contacted for training, and after my lessons I was allowed to read at a daily mass in the little chapel. During the summer, I read on Thursday and Saturday mornings, to a scant dozen in the little chapel which I love so much. Then I was brought in for a Sunday service, along with my trainer, who had softened towards me by then, perhaps because I do enjoy it, when I’ve over being terrified, and because I do feel a kind of reverence in reading.

And now, now, I’ve been scheduled for Holy Thursday, one of the biggest masses of the year. Last year I sat up front with my fellow RCIA journeyers while the bishop washed our feet. Nada sat close by, participating too, and all I could remember was a story he told of being in India with his best friend. They’d been walking all day, and their feet were filthy. “And we went into a bathroom and he took off my shoes and washed my feet. I think that was one of the most moving moments of my life,” Nada said when he told me the story, and his face was soft as he remembered.

As the bishop came closer to me, with his jug of water, and the catch basin, and the small white towel, I realized what Nada had meant, how the act of foot-washing symbolized so very much: humility, love, grace, compassion. Nada’s friend’s act was an act of love and reverence towards him. The bishop’s action commemorated Christ’s washing of his disciples’ feet, as well as the words Jesus told the disciples at the time: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (KJV John 13:34). The bishop, an elderly man, sank to his knees before us, and washed our feet, and dried them gently, with words of compassion, and I was moved by it all, by the incense and organ music and choir, and the holy water sprinkled over us, and the prospect of being able to participate in the Eucharist in just two days. And by the bishop’s “peace be with you,” as he finished drying my feet, and stood carefully up to move to the next person, grimacing slightly, his knees paining him, and yet no word of complaint. Just a service to us on this eve of baptism and confirmation. It was grand.

In the end, perhaps reading on Sundays is a way of thanking them all, the RCIA team, the bishop and monseignor, the choir, everyone else, for that moment of understanding.

Lector, part one

Why do I find myself wanting to make my Catholic posts private? I think it’s because I lack what some Catholics might consider the necessary reverence towards religion in general and Catholicism in general. And yet that’s not really true, either. I am both reverent and irreverent. I revere the mystery that is life, that is Obadiah in flight, that is Bridgey envisioned before she came into my life, that is the light in my mother’s head. I revere the beauty in rituals, the grace of the Eucharist, or the power of the chanting at dawn in Chinese Buddhist temples. But I don’t revere dogma or judgment. I almost walked out of RCIA forever when a pompous young man gave us a fifth grade sex education lesson and told us adults that reverencing life means being anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia, anti-woman’s rights, anti-birth control. It was the only talk during the 18 months of my RCIA experience in which someone tried to tell us what to think, rather than presenting the church’s position and then inviting a discussion in which dissent was welcomed. He was new, I was told later. He’d never spoken before, and had volunteered when the usual facilitator couldn’t make it. He wouldn’t be invited back, my sponsor told me. I wasn’t the only one who’d been upset.

In a sense, I am anti-abortion. I couldn’t imagine having an abortion, and it pains me when Zeke tells me that her friend has already, at the age of 15, had four. But I would never deny Sarah or any woman the right to choose. If I were a doctor, I probably wouldn’t perform an abortion, but I’d never judge doctors who choose to do so. And I believe in the right to be taken off life-support, to death with dignity, to choice. None of these things are incompatible with a reverence for life. Still, I might not seem the natural choice for a lector. Certainly the head lector didn’t think so last year, during the mystagogy portion of the RCIA experience, when we were asked in what way we might serve the church, and were given many options, one of which was lector, or reader, or … here it comes … Minister of the Word.

“I like reading,” I said. “Maybe I could do that.”

The woman in charge of lectors lifted her head. “You?” she asked, and I could swear she wrinkled her nose a bit. It’s true I’m the one who always found every way possible to compare Catholicism to Buddhism, and who eventually chose Catholicism because the Dalai Lama suggested it was best to stick to one’s heritage (I’m simplifying, you understand!). I’m the one who walked out on the man who insisted that “Go forth and be fruitful” meant that anyone who would ever think about not having 14 kids was a sinner. I’m the one with the atheist father and the Buddhist mother, the one who kept saying, the whole time, “Well, I’m probably not going to come back.”

So when I said, rather flippantly, “I can read. How hard can it be?” the Woman in Charge of Lectors bridled.

“You do understand,” she said, “that you are not just reading when you Proclaim the Word?”

Right. I forgot. I’m Proclaiming.

“But reading’s part of it, right?” I said.

“It’s far more than reading. Not just anyone can be a lector. You need to be Trained. And you need to Proclaim. It’s a Serious Duty, an Honor, and must be treated with the Reverence it deserves.”

There’s that reverence thing again. I’ve never been particularly reverent when it comes to rules, to behaving right.

“I can try,” I said. The WiCoL frowned.

“We’ll see,” she said, ominously.

To be continued…