An Unexpected Reader

The coronavirus in London, U.K.

I attend and serve at the 8am Mass in my parish. Today, there were definitely fewer people there, but I don’t think a lot were missing. Not yet.

We were missing two important people, though: our Readers.

In case you aren’t familiar with the Mass, we have four readings: one from the Old Testament, one from the New, and one from the Gospel. Sandwiched between them is a Psalm. Lay people read the OT, NT and Psalm, while the priest reads the Gospel.

At the 8am Mass, one person reads the OT and Psalm, while the second reads the NT and then returns from the pews to read the Bidding Prayers a few minutes later. When a Reader is away, someone else usually takes their place. This morning, however, that didn’t happen. On seeing this, the Parish Priest asked me to do the readings.

It was rather nerve wracking! Ito be fair, it could have been worse – I have been a Reader before, but only a long time ago (the Church doesn’t encourage people to do more than one ‘ministry’ at Mass and mine for some years now has been to altar serve). There were two complications – I wasn’t wearing my reading glasses, and while I had already read today’s readings after completing Lauds this morning, I had tripped over St. Paul once or twice due to his long run-on sentences. This meant I wasn’t very confident about having to read him aloud.

Happily, though, the readings went well. I didn’t make any big mistakes and managed to hold it together with St. Paul. I think I even understood him better than when I had read him silently earlier. The Holy Spirit was definitely working through me.

I returned to the lectern to read the Bidding Prayers. By now, I had had two or three minutes to get properly nervous so my heart was pounding away. When I started reading, I had to contend with having to read one or two prayers that, let’s just say, were written in a very general way, as well as with one or two typos. Neither were huge issues, though, and I got to the end just fine.

Mass continued. The coronavirus has put an end, for now, to the handshake that accompanies the Peace and the distribution of the Precious Blood so lay people no longer bring the chalices containing the water and wine to the Sanctuary. The priest still needs both but they are placed on the credence table (the table at the side of the Sanctuary where the various chalices and other items needed for the celebrating of Mass are kept until required by the celebrating priest) before Mass and are brought over to him by the altar server.

Because I am not used to bringing them to the priest before bringing the other things that he needs, I almost got lost in working out what to do first this morning. I had to pause, take a breath and think before moving on. Looking back, I can only shake my head at how easy I got confused but at the time I was a bit flummoxed! At least next week I will remember what happened and be prepared. I hope!

I wasn’t the only one getting flummoxed today – whoever prepared the credence table forgot to put a corporal on the chalice to be would be used for distribution of the Eucharist. When the priest realised this, he asked me to go and fetch one. Cue me dashing ‘backstage’ to pick one up. I almost took the wrong cloth before remembering and picking up the right one!

***

When I decided to write this post, I thought it would be a very quick and short one. Having written it, however, I see that I have used quite a bit of Catholic jargon. Apologies for that. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any way to avoid it. There are a couple of words I’d like to explain here: a corporal is a large piece of cloth that is unfolded on the altar. Its practical purpose is to protect the altar surface. I can think of one or two other reasons for it being there but that will suffice for now. The Sanctuary is the area in which the altar is located. In some churches, the Sanctuary is cut off from the congregation by an altar rail (or even, in old churches, a wooden rood-screen).

Another effect of the coronavirus outbreak is that the people doing the collection today (which in my church is done by passing round a bag that is then brought to the front of the church and taken by me to a safe, ‘backstage’) wore rubber gloves. Finally, when I say ‘backstage’ I mean either the corridor leading to the sacristy, where we get ready for Mass, or the Sacristy itself. In this post, I mean the former.

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