Changing the Text on the Fly

I have a question about being a lector that I am of two minds about.  I can see both sides of the question and I wanted to lay my problem  out here for discussion.   This Sunday’s second reading is from Romans 15:4-9.  Verses 8 and 9 read

For I say that Christ became a minister of the circumcised
to show God’s truthfulness,
to confirm the promises to the patriarchs,
but so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

I am a lector today so I was going over the reading carefully, and the conjunction “but” in the last line caught my eye.   As written, the sentence strikes me as ungrammatical, or at least extremely awkward.  Reading it out loud it sounded wrong to my ear:  the sentence feels incomplete and I keep waiting for the idea that is being introduced by the word “but.”   Further, the word “but” does not seem to fit the sense of the passage.   The word  “but” is usually used to introduce some contrasting thought and not to link two parallel ideas.  Using “but” in this sentence seems to suggest that Christ did not come to the Jews to confirm the old covenant but rather to forge a new covenant with the Gentiles.

Since Christ came to do both of these things, it would seem better to translate this as “and.”  Checking a few other translations, I saw that this is the more common translation:  the New Revised Standard Version uses “and”:

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. (NRSV);

The New Jerusalem Bible uses “and…also”:

I tell you that Christ’s work was to serve the circumcised, fulfilling the truthfulness of God by carrying out the promises made to the fathers, and his work was also for the gentiles, so that they should give glory to God for his faithful love (NJB);

the New International Version uses the words “and moreover”:

For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmedand, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

Putting all of this together, I think the word “but” in the NAB is not an appropriate translation, and that “and” would both convey the meaning better and would sound better as well.

So with this as the background, here is my question:  would it be acceptable for me, as a lector, to substitute the word “and” for “but” when proclaiming this passage?     Here, two responsibilities of a lector collide:  a lector is to proclaim the reading faithfully and clearly.  If you interpret faithfully as meaning “faithful to the literal text” then it seems hard to do both in this case.  If I am faithful to the text as written, clarity is lost.     If I clarify the text, I am no longer reading it as the Church has set it out.

Now this might sound quite picayune:  this correction is so small that I doubt anyone would notice, even among the people who follow along in the missalettes.   But I am very mindful of the can of worms I am opening by suggesting that lectors be allowed to make such corrections.  One of my most painful memories (in terms of bad lectoring) is of listening to a priest butcher the story of the rich young man from Luke because he wanted to make the passage gender neutral.   Obviously, this is an extreme case and quite different from the correction I am suggesting:  here the priest was trying to impose something extrinsic to the text on it and with no regard for how his “corrections” sounded.

One solution would be to ask my pastor before mass, but this seems to be just passing the buck:  the priest seems to have no more authority in this regard than the lector, and the proclamation of the word is as much the lector’s responsibility as his.  (Though in fact I will probably ask him.)

A parallel situation would be the priests who make (usually small) corrections to the text of the mass.  As Julia noted somewhere, there are priests who say “for the many” instead of “for many” in the consecration, and over the years I have seen other priests who have penned small changes into their missals and prayer books.    Again, there are good reasons on both sides of the argument for and against these changes.

Another similar situation comes from theater.  Every play begins with a fixed script from the hands of the author.  Some directors take liberties with this before a production; other times actors will “go up” on their lines in a performance, either deliberately or quite unconsciously, making a change that highlights something different in the performance.   Both practices are relatively common, but neither is universally accepted, as fidelity to the text is highly regarded and in some circles the text is considered sancrosanct.    This practice is not entirely parallel to my question:  liturgy is not theater, and in particular lectors are not actors.  (Some need to have this point made to them quite firmly.)  Nevertheless, theater is about conveying meaning through the spoken word, and it would be parochial to not look to their experience for some insight.

So what should be done?  The only hard and fast rule would be to hold my nose (as it were) and read it as written.   But if some flexibility and discretion to the lector is granted, how should it be circumscribed:  when would a correction go too far?   Are there other facets of this question that I am overlooking?  I look forward to your thoughts on this matter.

"Good on you. The first step toward discernment is self-examination. The work is hard. The ..."

Prelude to a Conversion
"If you don’t believe in God like me though you can have as many robit ..."

What would “pro-life” mean in a ..."
"If technology can solve these problems then we will be free, although if humans start ..."

What would “pro-life” mean in a ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Ronald King

    Well, David, it is kinda the last minute. My thought is to read it as written and then proposing a group discussion based on what you have written above. Every lector I have seen and heard has projected, at least in tone of voice, their subjective sense of the scripture they currently are reading, some more dramatic than others.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Group discussion with whom, Ronald?

      • Ronald King

        Propose a group discussion for interested members of the parish for educational purposes. Interpretation of scripture reflects the belief system of each member of the Church and such a discussion can have the impact of creating a more open and mindful awareness of core beliefs which either unite us or divide us within the Body of Christ.

  • dismasdolben

    Greek drama was, indeed, “liturgy,” and I think Catholic liturgy is “theatric” in the best sense of the word. In theatre, “production history” governs a lot of the interpretation of any classic play, and the mass certainly is a “classic.” I think, then, that you should pay close attention to the “tradition” in deciding what to do, and that, if you consult some priest, it should be either a very old one, or a very scholarly one.

    (See how “conservative” I can be, about SOME things?)

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      See below. My pastor is 70, but I am not sure that constitutes “very old” any more for a priest.

    • emmasrandomthoughts

      You know, I never thought about that before, the comparison between liturgy and Greek theater. Or more specifically, I hadn’t thought of Greek drama as a liturgical act. I had thought about liturgy being theatrical; I just hadn’t thought of Greek drama being liturgical.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Actually, if I recall correctly, the great Athenian dramatic competition was part of a religious celebration, and so indeed had liturgical aspects.

        • emmasrandomthoughts

          Oh it was a religious act, I guess never thought of religious act=liturgical act.

        • SeanB

          It was, and moreover, “leitourgia” in the sense that word was actually used in the classical Hellenic city states, ie funding public works and events etc, would most certainly have included funding the drama festivals.

  • gaudetetheology

    Oops, I copy-pasted incorrectly. Please delete my original comment and replace with the following:

    One possibility might be to read the text as given, but to use intonation and vocal stress and perhaps even some bodily gesture to present the contrast that the NAB translation obscures. In this case I would minimize and speed over the “but” so that it is barely heard, and proclaim the text something like this:

    For I say
    that Christ became a minister of the circumcised
    to show God’s truthfulness: (pause)

    (to) confirm the promises to the patriarchs,

    (but so that) the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

    Depending on your comfort and the local practice with gesture, you might accompany these last lines with gestures “on the one hand / on the other hand”; if that is out of line with personal or local custom, then I suggest shifting your weight and your glance instead, to subtly convey the same thing.

    Blessings on your ministry.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Well, I don’t use gestures as a lector—I have never seen it done, actually, and in my opinion they are not appropriate. Just out of curiosity: have you seen lectors use gestures? Where? And it is not clear to me how to use intonation or position to convey “and” when the text says “but”. I could see omitting the “but” entirely; the reading would still be a bit awkward, but it would convey the meaning better, particularly with the emphases you suggest.

      • gaudetetheology

        Hm. In my current parish in Columbia, MD, I’ve certainly seen priests use gestures while proclaiming the gospel, most often but not exclusively when they are reading Jesus telling a parable. I don’t recall that I’ve seen lay lectors do so. But the lector’s proclamation of scripture is an embodied proclamation, and there’s a continuum, not a sharp dividing line, between expression, gaze, stance, and gesture, and I’ve certainly seen lectors make extensive use of gaze and stance.

        I’d put the use of gestures firmly in the category of local culture. If folks normally talk with their hands and gesture when they are passionately engaged with what they are saying, then it might be perfectly appropriate for lectors to proclaim scripture in the same fashion. Similarly, if there are bible storytellers in the parish, and the community has been strongly influenced by the understanding of the oral tradition behind these texts, then a more embodied, storytelling-style presentation of the written text would be coherent with that understanding. On the other hand, in a community that enacts intensity and reverence with solemn, ritualized movement, then it would be inappropriate. If your choir never sways, and your folks never clap when they sing, your lectors should probably never gesture when they proclaim.

        Looking at all the translations you offered, and thinking about the rhetorical structure of the larger pericope of verses 7-12, I don’t see the text as saying simply Jews and Gentiles; I see more of a “not only for the Jews, but extending even to the Gentiles.” If you used the emphases and body language (stance and gaze) that you would use if it actually said “not only to confirm the promises to the patriarchs, but so that even the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” while actually proclaiming the text as written, that would convey the contrast between the two clauses. Part of how I’d do that would be to underemphasize the problematic connective phrases (that is, speak them quickly and quietly, to speed past them and focus on the clauses they’re connecting).

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          I must confess that I have spent a great deal of time in both southern Spain and southern Italy, both places where people talk a lot with their hands, and I have never seen a priest or lector use gestures, to the best of my recollection. I have been to a couple black Catholic churches but I do not recall seeing it there either. The pastor did gesture as he preached: heck, he put his whole body into his sermons.

          Maybe I am just suffering a failure of imagination, but I have tried your suggestion out loud for patching this reading, and I am not able to make it work. Grammatically, the “but” does not fit. The best I can do is omit it entirely.

          • A Sinner

            I’m not sure what you mean by grammatically it doesn’t fit. You admit that “and” fits. Well, “but” is simply another coordinating conjunction except one that carries with it a sense of contrast rather than mere joining. In this case it’s contrasting what He did for the patriarchs (confirmed the promises) with what He did for the Gentiles (gave them an occasion that they might glorify God for His mercy). It’s the same as it would be with “and” except with a sense of contrast rather than a mere list of equal things.

            Consider this sentence: “He came to lose the battle, but so that the war might be won.” “He came to take from the rich, but so that the poor might have food.”

            The sense is that He came to confirm the promises to the Patriarchs, not as an end in itself, but so that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.

            That notion that that the confirmation of the promises to the patriarchs was not an end in itself, but was rather for the sake of the Gentiles, is totally lost if you meddle with the passage. In this case, the NAB’s construction is the richest.

          • A Sinner

            So, again, maybe imagine an “[only]” in there. “But [only] so that…”

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            Actually, an “also” as in “But also so that…” works better grammatically. But the question is: can a lector say this, or just think it?

          • A Sinner

            Well I wouldn’t double the so! That is to say, if you were to make a minor adjustment that way I’d say “but also that” not “but also so that.”

            However, as I suspected, this debate really seems to be more theological.

            “But only” and “but also” (which is equivalent to “and,” basically)…seems to boil down not to grammatical or stylistic issues here, but to a theological one.

            Namely, the “but (only)” construction implies (as I believe Paul intended) an idea too close for comfort to supercessionism for some progressives, hence the attempt to neutralize the contrast implied in the but by rendering it as an “and.”

  • Adam Rasmussen

    IMHO, a lector should never change the text (s)he has been asked to read. Otherwise it would be up to each lector to decide what to change, which could quickly lead to bad things.

    The translation here does sound awkward, but it reflects the adversative “de” in the Greek. “For I say that Christ became a minister of circumcision for God’s truth, for to confirm the promises of the fathers, but that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy, as it is written” (my formal translation). The NAB is not perfect, but it is what we have. Let’s not fight over a conjunction.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      So why do the other three major texts translate this as “and”, another meaning of the Greek “de”? (But I am not fighting over it. :-)) I agree that casual or extensive changes to the text by lectors would be problematic, but is it necessary to maintain a rigorous adherence to the printed text to prevent this?

      • Adam Rasmussen

        “de” is extremely common in Greek and often has no adversative force. In this context, however, it is adversative. That said, “and” is preferable for a dynamic translation.

        I think it may be necessary because there is a lot of leeway in what one lector may consider extensive and/or casual.

  • Doc Fox

    There are two questions here: what should the reading really be said to mean in English, and what is the duty of the Lector under such circumstances. As I read (present tense) the Second Reading for today it seems to me the original intent likely was “but-also” or “yet-also”, for what was traditionally for the Jews and the Patriarchs is now to be shared with the Gentiles.
    As for the Lector up there at the ambo reading, intonations and emphases are OK, but substituting words or adding words is likely not proper.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Well, I have in the past quite unconsciously changed the text in more minor ways: omitting a repeated “of”, or reading “on” where the text said “upon.”

      But with regards to the question at hand: so I should read the text as written, even though you agree that the reading is not the correct meaning?

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    A coda to this story: before mass I asked my pastor about this. He told me that he had noted the same problem with the text when he read it the day before, and said that it was fine with him to read “and” instead of “but.”

    On the other hand, it turned out that the second lector was present, and I didn’t do that reading. (I always prepare both, just in case.) And he read it as written. He did his very best, but it sounded awkward and unclear.

  • Mark VA

    Mr. Cruz-Uribe, this is a very good question, touching on something we Traditional Catholics take very seriously – fidelity and obedience. My advice is as follows:

    Submit this in general terms to your Bishop, using this particular example as an illustration of the dilemma (which you have so clearly described). Then, accept his decision as final.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      A very interesting suggestion: let me think about it. However, it may have to wait as we are in a period of transition, with a new archbishop taking office next week.

      Out of curiosity, how do you see this as falling within the purview of a bishop, especially given the centralizing tendencies of the past few decades? (Not a sarcastic question!)

      • Mark VA

        I’m not quite sure I follow the “centralizing tendencies” aspect, but my thinking is simply as follows:

        This is likely a recurring situation, thus it would be of benefit to all lectors in the diocese to know how to legitimately proceed in such cases. The Bishop may delegate this to a designated expert, or he may answer the question himself. Most importantly, by referring this question to the lawful authority, we the laity are being faithful to the structure established by Christ.

        Either way, providing the necessary guidance to the faithful, especially in matters touching on liturgy, is part of the very essence of the Bishop’s office.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Thanks: the centralizing tendencies I was referring to was the tendency to remove decisions about liturgy from the purview of individual bishops or bishop conferences and reserve it to the Pope (or properly, some bureaucrat in the Vatican).

  • Frederick Kreuziger

    What the text clearly says is that Christ “came to be a minister to the circumcised ” for different reasons, one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles. What’s the problem? On the other hand, every reading is an interpretation. And, since the lector is an “approved” minister in the liturgy of the word, what’s wrong with him/her “interpreting” the reading not only by means of the text, but also also by his/her intonation, pause, etc.

  • turmarion

    Because of the weather, none of the assigned lectors showed up today at Mass, and so I was tapped to do both readings. I didn’t have time to look at them in detail ahead of time, but I can usually read quite well on the fly. As I got to the “but”, I stumbled very slightly as I saw the “but” while expecting an “and”, “yet”, or “also” from the context, and thinking internally, “What?!” I don’t really have a firm opinion on your question; but it did strike me as a rather weird translation choice, and one that is difficult to make sound right when reading aloud.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Thanks. I have no idea what I would have done if I had run into this cold. I am used to doing readings with little preparation, but this one would have thrown me.

  • dismasdolben

    Mr. Cruz-Uribe, I don’t understand why gestures aren’t “appropriate.” Italian and Spanish clerics use them all the time. Your disapprobation of them seems to me to be peculiarly Protestant-tinged and very American Catholic, i.e. textually literalist. (See, I will have no truck with cultural “Conservatism.” It’s really not very Catholic. It reminds me of the “more papist than the pope”-Catholics who I remember objecting to John Paul II’s beatification of Joseph Vaz in Colombo, when the mass included a Buddhist-style dhaniya as part of the “blessing of the gifts” at offertory.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Well, I have been called many things on this blog, but never “Protestant-tinged.” As I said above to Gaudetetheology, I have seen a lot of Spanish and Italian priests and lectors in action and never saw gestures during the readings. I am not sure why not approving of gestures is “textually literalist”—I just don’t think it fits and will (at least in the cultural milieu I am working in) generally be a distraction.

  • A Sinner

    gaudete has it right, David.

    “But” is not at all wrong here because there IS a contrast: between that which Christ is doing for the Patriarchs and that which he is doing for the Gentiles.

    The word order is a bit awkward, but it’s like a father saying, “Yes, I came to give Tina a reward, but to give YOU a punishment.” Christ came to give the patriarchs confirmation of the promises, but to give the gentiles an occasion to glorify God for his mercy. The “but” makes perfect sense, it’s just a bit awkward given that the construction “might glorify” requires a “so that” rather than an infinitive “to.”

    I hate the NAB, frankly, so I’m not saying the translation is anything like inspired. However, it is an act of pride to just insert your own interpretation by meddling with the approved liturgical text. In this case, for example, you would actually have been leaving out a notion (of contrast) just because it didn’t parse in your confused head (and yet it is there and technically quite correct). How arrogant of you. And frankly winds up making you seem a tad bit illiterate. Who are you to force that confusion on the rest of us who understood the use of the conjunction just fine?

    (Not that anyone would be interested, but the Douay, the true standard of Catholic English translation of Scripture…uses the “but”)

    • A Sinner

      Even more simply it’s a “You get this, but they get that” construct.

      “The patriarchs get confirmation of the promises made to them, but the Gentiles get an occasion to glorify God for his mercy.”

      It’s awkwardly constructed, but the “but” is not the problem. If anything the problem is that the parallelism is not made as clear between the patriarchs clause and the gentiles clause as it could be. But that may be Paul’s fault, not the NAB’s.

      It might be easier if it said “Christ came so that…the [i]patriarchs[/i] would get confirmation of the promises, but the [i]Gentiles[/i] would get being able to glorify God”…but that would require way too many liberties in translation. It’s the sense of it, though, and that sense definitely includes a “but” idea contrasting patriarchs and gentiles.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Like I said: if you have got to parse the passage this finely and explain why “but” fits suggests that the passage itself is unclear, which is the problem I was worrying about.

        • A Sinner

          It is absolutely an awkward passage, but changing the “but” is not the solution. The only “good” solution would probably be a radical “dynamic equivalence” translation that would depart radically from the structure of what Paul said. Yeah, this isn’t “third grade reading” level stuff. Why should we expect Scripture or Liturgy to be? Sometimes when it comes to run-on sentences with a variety of nested clauses and conjunctive constructions…things get confusing. That’s language.

          In terms of what you can do as a lector, I’d say the best you could do in this case is to really emphasize (by stressing the first syllables) “patriarchs” and “gentiles” to make it clear that these are the two concepts being contrasted by the “but.” That helps bring out the sense of it. “I came back to earth to bring a reward for the RIGHTeous, but so that the WICKed might be cast into Hell forever.” Same idea.

          Another way to have “clarified” things would have been to add “not only” before the patriarchs clause. You might imagine an implicit “[not only]” before the “to confirm the promises to the patriarchs” clause. There’s no equivalent in the Greek for that, and it’s not strictly speaking needed (and perhaps it adds a hint of a concept that isn’t really present)…but it might make things a lot clearer in the way you desire?

          Does understanding a “not only” before the patriarchs clause help?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Wow, I am not sure what I did to justify such vituperation: I am both “arrogant” and “illiterate”. If you read closely, I said in a comment that I did not change the reading, and that I was of two minds about making the change. But having to explain why, with the appropriate changes, the passage might be made to make sense, you really are driving home the point that was concerning me: as written this passage is awkward if not flat out ungrammatical and obscures rather than illuminates. And the fact that three other major translations use “and” instead of “but” suggests strongly that “but” is not the obvious reading here.

      Finally, you lost me when you praise the Douay as a “true standard” for translations. It was good once, but that was a very long time ago and it shows it age, badly.

      • A Sinner

        The Douay is beautiful, which is the main thing that matters in liturgy. Mass is not a Bible study, a class on critical theory, or some sort of kindergarten sing-along (though it often feels like these in the Novus Ordo…)

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          No, beauty is not the main thing. It is important, but equally important is understanding and participation. A beautiful sonorous reading that is incomprehensible to the average listener fails miserably in the goal of instructing the laity and nourishing them with God’s word.

        • A Sinner

          The Mass is not didactic.

          There has long been a tension here, of course, even in the East:

          But remember this: even in the Novus Ordo, the readings are ideally SUNG/chanted.

          This fact alone would indicate to me that the lessons are to be treated as a work of prayer and sacred art, not one of “comprehension.” Do any of us need to comprehend the words in polyphony by Palestrina when it’s used at Mass??

          Humans use their literal verbal understanding all the time. Mass is one of the few chances moderns get to access OTHER modes of consciousness/perception that are pre-linguistic and pre-rational. Who are you to insist on rationalizing the experience? (Yes, yes, I know, Vatican II).

          I’ll tell you, I don’t always understand 100% of Shakespeare when read on stage, but I’d never want an “NAB” translation of Shakespeare, nor for opera to be translated.

          Beauty is the main thing. The core of Mass may be that of a simple supper with Bible-study, but it has become encrusted in jewels, as it were, an ordinary scene made extraordinary (thereby revealing its eschatological substance) and insisting on trying to get back to the “original” “simplicity” or straightforward participation is like insisting that the truest Christmas tree is one left in the forest with pinecones and snow on it. Psh! Screw that.

          Mass is not the time for Bible-study.

    • turmarion

      I’d have to agree with you completely re the NAB. The current version is better than the first edition (from the late 70’s, early 80’s), admittedly, but that’s a low bar. In Canada they use the NRSV (I think), and the Brits, who in my opinion always have a better literary ear, use the Jerusalem Bible.

      As to the Douay-Rheims, the original version of it is so Latinate as to be nearly unreadable, even to someone who likes 16th Century English and who knows Latin. The version sold as the “Douay-Rheims” since the beginning of the 19th Century is almost always Bishop Challoner’s revision of the DR. You may or may not know this, but the DR was one of the already existing versions consulted by the translators of the Authorized (King James) version. Some of the DR phrasings actually made it into the KJV.

      Bishop Challoner was, interestingly, the son of a Presbyterian who wasn’t baptized as a Catholic until 13. He was well familiar with the KJV and was guided by it in the changes he made to the DR. You can google him or “Douay-Rheims” to read about the history involved.

      Really, Catholic I may be, but to me the KJV is still the great classic Bible of the English-speaking people. The Deuterocanonicals were translated for it, and can be found; and there’s not too much slanting of the text in terms of Protestant vs Catholic; besides which, unlike the DR, it was translated straight from the original tongues. Thus, if I were going to go for a Renaissance translation, I’d rather go to the KJV directly rather than to a version more or less made over in the KJV’s image. I don’t think any archaic translation is suitable for a lectionary, though. Of course, IMO, the modern translation that strikes the best balance between accuracy and readability is the NRSV, and if we had any sense, we’d follow Canada on that. Sigh.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        I am more partial to the New Jerusalem Bible than to the NRSV. I also like the NIV: its evangelical roots make it more conservative in some of its translation choices, and it has a clear and simple style that I like. The NRSV still has some occasional rotundity that I don’t like.

        • turmarion

          Actually, my favorite translation for pure literary quality is the New English Bible, and just behind, its late 80’s revision, the Revised English Bible. As with the Jerusalem Bible, the revision is slightly more formal equivalence than the original. They both are a little bit paraphrastic for my taste in terms of study; but for smooth reading, ease of understanding, and literary quality, I’d rank them at the top of English translations.

          I agree with you on the NIV. You make a valid point about the NRSV, but it’s a huge improvement over the RSV; and while I like the prose style of the NEB and REB better, the NRSV isn’t as loosey-goosey as those two can be at times.

      • A Sinner

        Yes but were Western Catholics and not Anglicans and therefore for pious as opposed to literary purposes, I’m more partial to Challoner’s DR as being a sort of happy blend: taking cues and style from the King James (the English “literary” standard of course!) but also keyed ultimately to the Vulgate.

  • Joseph

    David, the simple and late answer is as Reader, or Lector (if you are an installed Lector), your role is to read what is printed.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      That is the short answer: how about the long answer to why the conflict between fidelity and clarity cannot be overcome by changing one word in a way that brings out the fuller meaning of the text?

  • mike L

    As I see it my job as a lector “is to proclaim the reading faithfully and clearly.” What is the reading? I would argue it is the text which I am asked to read. In that regard I should read what’s on the page. If I am going to say different words because I think they are closer to what the text shoudl read, then I am not proclaiming the reading, but my interpretation of the reading.

    If the translation is poor, I would note that to the priest, whose job it is to give a homily on the meaning of the readings (as opposed to the printed words). If he feels that the words as written are a stumbling block to a correct understanding of Scripture, it is properly his prerogative to explain them to the congregation.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      I see your point, but is it really worth the priest’s time to sort out a grammatical point in his homily? I would think he has bigger fish to fry. So what should I do if the priest says, in a variant of my actual conversation, says, “The text is wrong, here. Read “and” instead of “but”” ?

      Also, every lector is engaged in an act of interpretation, even if he/she reads the text exactly as written. Every time I make a choice about intonation, pauses and emphasis, I am imposing an interpretation on the text. There is no escaping this. So my question then is: why is this kind of interpretation licit, but changing one word is not? If you see some of the other suggestions given to me for dealing with this, they amount to the careful use of emphasis and intonation to gloss over the problematic “but” and get the listeners to hear “and” even as I softly and quickly read “but.”

      • Mike L

        If it is not worth the priest’s time to sort it out, then it is not worth you worrying about changing the wording. If the priest instructed me to read different words, I’m not sure about whether that it is licit for him to do so. I probably would comply though.

        As for intonation et. al., that is a necessity of speaking – you can’t avoid doing it. Yes, you could read in a monotone, but that has implications for the interpretation of the text too. So while I agree you can change the meaning of the text merely through intonation, your intonation in unavoidable. Replacing words is something that is absolutely avoidable.

        In other words, I see a distinction between keeping the correct words but using intonation to bring out the meaning and changing words to bring out the meaning. One is, as I said earlier, proclaiming the reading as faithfully as you can, the other is proclaiming your words to your understanding of the reading.

  • Ronald King

    “Grammatically, the “but” does not fit” I agree and in everyday speech “but” may negate what is previously stated.

  • dismasdolben

    When I was young, we had an Italian priest in my parish in South Carolina who gestured constantly throughout both readings and sermons. He was from southern Italy, too, where you say you’ve been.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      I am not denying it happens, I am just saying that after 15 years of regular travel to Napoli, I have never seen it.

  • Julia Smucker

    I appreciate the way you wrestle with this dilemma, David. I have faced an odd version of it myself, having lectored somewhere where the text was occasionally papered over with more gender-neutral alternatives. This annoyed me because 1) it wasn’t really their change to make, 2) pronominal tap-dancing has a tendency to sound self-conscious and grammatically awkward, and 3) it gave me a fresh dilemma: change it back out of fidelity to the original translation (which I would usually look up beforehand to prepare, and which was visible through the overlaid paper if one looked closely), or stick with what they had out of deference to the local authority? Usually I recognized the role my own personal preference played in my dilemma and took the latter course, telling myself it was a small personal sacrifice to make for the sake of the Body and it wasn’t my place to police their liturgical decisions. But I remember once, reading from Isaiah, I changed “the Lord’s” back to the NAB’s “his” (without emphasis, not wanting to make a heavy-handed point) because it appeared right after another “the Lord” and would have sounded painfully redundant, but in the spirit of compromise I kept the seraph neuter.

  • Curtis Hurley

    Introduce the lection thus: “From Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, reading from the New Jerusalem Bible.”

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Part of me wishes the US Bishops had selected the NJB or NRSV as their approved lectionary. But I think that this is a bridge to far, if I may interject a military metaphor.