by Paul Turner

Imagine you're with a group of friends swapping stories about recent trips. But each of you brings a written copy for everyone else. When it's your turn, you don't tell the story while everyone listens. Instead, everybody pulls out your written account and reads along with you while you speak. Sound like fun? Sorry, that's not how we tell stories.

Listening is an art as rich as reading. We still do it in classrooms, seminars, phone conversations, and the living room. Lively interaction between speaker and listener means the speaker proclaims ideas and the listener gives attention. In that low-tech communication, human beings connect.

The proclamation of Scripture recaptures the age-old art of speaking and listening. God's presence appears in the assembly as Word. In actively listening to the Word of God, as we naturally do in conversation, we open our hearts to wonder. Technology has made the mass production of written materials more available now than ever. With little effort, Scripture readings can be placed in the hands of every worshiper. Advocates of this practice say it permits the worshiper to use sight, not just hearing. However, it's like having everyone read your trip story while you tell it. It can let the air out. The event requires both the proclamation of the reader and the eagerness of listeners. Hearing the Word together bonds and expresses our community. If everyone reads the text silently, we become individuals again, with noses in our laps and faces turned down from one another.

We'll hear the Word of God with better attention if we prepare. Worshipers can read the texts prior to coming to Mass and pray over them throughout the week before. We may also discuss them with family and friends. Then our ears will be open to listen attentively to the Word of God. All eyes will be fixed on the one who reads. And our hearts will be joined as one body of believers. When the divine Word resounds in our assembly - heads up! And listen.

(This bulletin insert originally appeared in MODERN LITURGY, copyright (c) 1997, Resource Publications, Inc. It may not be reproduced without permission. Send permission requests to

(Paul Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, holds a doctorate in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University.)