Before books on tape, before Muzak, the lectors read in a loud, clear voice to the cigarmakers of Ybor City.

In the early 1900s, cigars were rolled by hand, created by artisans. The factory owners, whether from noblesse oblige or from a desire to retain the best employees, provided a fairly unusual perk:

Every day, the lector would come in with a selection of the day's newspapers and great literature. He would walk up onto a platform near the center of the factory, clear his throat, and begin to read in a voice that carried to the back walls. While they quietly rolled cigars, the workers could stay in touch with current events, politics, and literature. They could let their minds play while their hands labored.

The factory owners occasionally exercised censorship over the selection of materials. One lector, for example, was told not to read anything by Victor Hugo because it tended to stir up only bad feelings about factory owners.

Ferdie Pacheco's paintings of Ybor City include several scenes with a lector:

Most cigars are now made by machine, and the lectors of Ybor City have almost been forgotten. It's worth remembering that, before Muzak, companies once provided streaming audio to help their employees stay better informed about the world around them.

Time to stand.

Time to walk towards the front of the church, bow in reverence to the altar, and take your place at the lectern where a large-print book has been opened to a relevant verse to be read to the entire congregation..

Some churches use a Bible itself, whereas others follow a printed Lectionary, a book which specifically contains the readings for the church year in order.

And once you've said "A reading from the (book/letter) of (X) (optionally, "to the (Y)")" everyone settles down, and you're on.

You're thankful the book is large print. Not necessarily because your vision is terrible or the lighting is bad, but because you don't want to have to concentrate too hard on following the text from a mechanical perspective. You're reading a text, an important text. A text which the sermoner giving the Homily is going to reference, so if your congregation misses the material in the text, it's going to make it that much harder for him or her.

And it's at that point that you start to remember all the things other lectors do that really got you interested in reading in the first place, to do it... better. From the old dear with the barely audible voice whobasicallymumbledthroughthefactthatAbrumwentdownwithEye-Zack... to the second coming of Brian Blessed, SHOUTING! EVERY! SYLLABLE! AS! IF! GIVING! A PRE! WAR! SPEECH! ON! GAME! OF! THRONES!

You're reading in a church - not to children at a Library, so you're not going to do silly voices or be too theatrical about it. It's a reserved affair and there's some decorum. But by the same time you're not reading a list of numbers off on one of those weird radio channels nobody can figure out what they're for that just repeat a sequence of digits. You've got to find that happy medium.

You also have another happy medium to try and find. The acoustics in a church, especially a larger one, never mind a Cathedral, are.... interesting. Sound carries in strange ways and bounces off groin vaults and Gothic arches with a peculiarity that can not only give the choir an echo and an ambience, but also confound speech. Usually when you design a church you design the acoustics in it for music, or for speech. Hopefully you're dealing with a long-lost Dean who prefered the latter. The practical upshot of this is that you're needing to enunciate clearly and deliberately, and speak the ends of words with an unnatural emphasis - without coming across like you're assuming the parishioners need their church programs with coloring book pages, or that you're telling them the story of the viper biting Saint Paul while also really angry with them at the same time. And you can't talk too fast, either, otherwise the people at the back are losing the point completely with the sound quality - or too slow, lest you get people restraining themselves from glaring at you for prolonging the service unncessearily, especially a very long and tedious but necessary passage.

So there you are, having organized your entire church attendance today around this moment - trying not to stand there with your face planted in a book, gauging and measuring your speech, gauging and measuring your speed. You made sure you sat near the front, and at the end of the pew, so as not to have to be all, "excuse me, pardon me, excuse me, pardon me" getting out to get up to the lectern.

If you're a truly goody two-shoes, you've not only purchased a copy of the Lector's guide to the Lectionary for the church year in question, read the five page commentary on the paragraph you're going to read that day, and read the text surrounding the passage, to give it context and essential reading tips on what to stress, what part of the passage is going to be key for the following sermon, etc. If you got to the church with five minutes to spare and totally blanked that you were the lector that week, you're up there winging it. In the worst case scenario you're bringing the program up to the lectern with you, hoping that the verger very kindly ensured that the book was open to the right page.

And it usually all works out right. If you mess up slightly, e.g. the word order is something like "unto us a son is born" and you inadvertently say "unto us is born a son" you just carry on, without skipping a beat, as if your text differs from the one in the program slightly, for those three people following along. Of course if you truly say something amiss or inadvertently overlook a key small word, like "not", making it "thou shalt commit adultery", then it behooves you to quietly amend and repeat that, without acting like it was the end of the world and getting flustered. The worst case never really happens, in other words, you've left your program at the pew, the book you're supposed to read from is closed, and you've completely forgotten not only to wear pants, but also how to read.

But even so, when you get to the end and say "the word of the Lord", you're hoping that there's no actual intent or meaning to their response, "Thanks be to God".






Lec"tor (?), n. [L. See Lection.] Eccl.

A reader of lections; formerly, a person designated to read lessons to the illiterate.


© Webster 1913.

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