“Avoid immortality”?!

How a simple error is an opportunity for lectors (and listeners) to deepen their understanding of Scripture and the need for better preparation

The Second Reading from this past Sunday is pretty straightforward. St. Paul exhorts the Corinthians, “Avoid immorality.”

The word is immorality, as in “wickedness,” “evil conduct and qualities.” You know. Those wrongs we should avoid.

Yet for the second time in recent memory – at two different parishes in two different states – the lector at the Mass I attended actually read the word as immortality, as in “eternal life,” “the ability to live forever.”

Thus the lector announced to us all, “Avoid immortality.” Oh, boy.

Apparently, the “immorality/immortality” flub is not uncommon. Anecdotes of blunders by lectors are legion, such as the time when a lector allegedly announced St. Paul’s letter “to the Filipinos.”

These gaffes would be outright comical except for the fact that they raise some larger issues.

As a lector myself, I know I shouldn’t be overly critical of my peers. Being a lector is a challenge. On a number of occasions, I have prepared diligently all week for a reading only to later butcher an important line, one of which, to my horror, involved one of the most famous verses in the Old Testament. We all have embarrassed ourselves at various times with an unartful flub.

However, it seems that far too many lectors in the Church do not properly prepare for their roles on Sunday. To anyone listening in the pews with a knowledge of the readings, it is apparent whether or not a lector has taken the time to rehearse. And far too often at Mass, many lectors give the impression that they are only reading their assignment for the very first time.

Is the Church properly forming its lectors? Do lectors fully understand the crucial function that they perform at Mass? Do lectors understand the time, study, and practice that are necessary to properly prepare for Sunday? (Peeking at the readings the night before Mass doesn’t cut it. My own training as a lector (in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles) instructed me that, including ongoing Scripture study, preparation for a Sunday reading involves working at it every night for the entire week leading up to it.

Indeed, Vatican II underscored the priority that Scripture should have in the lives of Catholics and in the Mass. And if lectors are too often unable to exhibit this importance, how can anyone expect regular Catholics to do so?

One cannot help but wonder if there is also a psychological element at play in the “immorality/immortality” gaffe. In today’s hypersensitive culture, there is a prevalent discomfort, if not outright fear, in publicly declaring that any behavior – except obvious atrocities such as murder and child rape – is immoral. Could it be that the mere thought of publicly beseeching people to “avoid immorality” unconsciously induces the unprepared lector to avoid saying so?

Perhaps the Church faces an opportunity here. Better lectoring can only do wonders for us all.

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About David F. Pierre, Jr. 14 Articles
David F. Pierre, Jr. is creator and author of TheMediaReport.com and has written two books: Catholic Priests Falsely Accused: The Facts, The Fraud, The Stories and Double Standard: Abuse Scandals and the Attack on the Catholic Church. He is a graduate of Boston College and lives with his wife and family in Massachusetts.