Reader Services

Each of the liturgical services of the Byzantine Catholic Church, with the exception of the Divine Liturgies and the sacraments, can be celebrated without a priest; the priestly prayers and blessings are omitted, and certain other traditional changes are made.  This article provides a (proposed) order for these celebrations, which are referred to as Reader Services.   This order of services is also suitable for use in the home.

This order of services assumes the presence of:

However, they make also be used by individuals, families, or small groups, whenever a priest is not present to lead the services.

General Guidelines for Reader Services

When reader services are held:

The following table shows the common changes to all services when conducted in the absence of a priest:

When a priest is present:

When no priest is present:

Opening blessing

Leader: Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.

Exclamation at the Lord’s Prayer: For thine is the kingdom…

(omitted)

Small Litany

Lord, have mercy. (3) Glory…now and ever…

Other litanies

Lord, have mercy. (12) Glory…now and ever…

Dismissal

Leader: Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.

Additional changes to the services are listed below.

Vespers in the Absence of a Priest

The leader chants the verses of the prokeimenon. If there are readings, the leader (or a lector) announces the title, then reads the pericope from the center of the church, facing east.

After the Hymn of Glorification (“Make us worthy, O Lord…”), the Litany of Supplication is replaced by “Lord, have mercy” (12 times), “Glory… now and ever…” (as above), and then the leader may pray aloud the following evening prayer of Saint Basil the Great:

Blessed are you, O Almighty Master, for you have lighted the day with the brilliance of the sun and the night with the fiery stars.  You have counted us worthy of the length of this day and to come to the beginning of night.  Hear our prayer and forgive the voluntary and involuntary sins of all your people.  Accept our evening prayers and send down in return the greatness of your mercy and kindness upon us, your inheritance.  Guard us with your holy angels, clothe us in righteousness as a defense, protect us in your truth, and keep us in your strength.  Deliver us from all our enemies and their hostile attacks.  Grant that this evening and the approaching night and all the days of our life may be perfect, holy, peaceful, sinless, without violence, and free of nightmares.  Through the prayers of the holy Theotokos and of all the saints who from all ages have been pleasing to you.  Amen.

The “Amen” is part of the prayer and is not repeated by the faithful.

If it is a day of Litija, the litija hymns are sung while the faithful go in procession to the narthex  or outside the church. “Lord, have mercy” is sung 40 times. The leader reads the prayer, “All-merciful Master, Lord Jesus Christ our God…” and the faithful respond, “Amen.” Then the aposticha are sung as the faithful go in procession back into the nave of the church. Bread is not blessed.

Vespers is dismissed as follows:

Faithful:          More honorable than the cherubim... Glory… now and ever… Lord, have mercy. (3 times)
Leader:          Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.
Faithful:          Amen.

Matins in the Absence of a Priest

The leader chants the verses at “The Lord is God…,” the Matins prokeimenon, and “Let everything that lives…”

If there is a Gospel reading, it is read by the leader from the nave, facing east.  After the title (“A reading from the holy Gospel according to Name.”), the faithful respond, “Glory to you, O Lord, glory to you,” and the Gospel is read in a normal speaking voice.  Then the faithful repeat, “Glory to you, O Lord, glory to you.”  (During Great and Holy Week, other responses may be sung before and after the Gospel.) The leader replaces the Gospel book on the tetrapod and venerates it.

While the Canon is being sung, the faithful come forward to venerate the Gospel book, but there is no anointing.  If bread was blessed at Vespers by a priest, it may be distributed at this time.

The verses at “Holy is the Lord…” are chanted by the leader.

After the troparia of the day, the Angel of Peace Litany is replaced by “Lord, have mercy” (12 times), “Glory… now and ever…” (as above), and then the leader may pray aloud the following morning prayer:

Arising from sleep, I thank you, O Holy Trinity; because of your great kindness you have not been angry with me, though I am lazy and sinful, nor have you destroyed me in my sins.  Rather, you have shown your customary love for us, and you have raised me up as I lay in neglect, that I may sing this morning hymn and glorify your dominion.  Enlighten now the eyes of my understanding, open my ears to receive your words, and teach me your commandments.  Help me to do you will, to glorify you, to confess you from my heart, and to extol your all-holy name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, now and even and forever.  Amen.

The “Amen” is part of the prayer and is not repeated by the faithful.

Faithful:          More honorable than the cherubim... Glory… now and ever… Lord, have mercy. (3 times)
Leader:          Through the prayers of our holy fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.
Faithful:          Amen.


Hours in the Absence of a Priest

The Prayer of the Hours is said by the leader:

O good God, in all times and places you are worshiped and glorified both in heaven and on earth.  You are long-suffering and generous in your mercy and compassion.  You love the just and show mercy to the sinner, calling all to repentance through the promise of blessings to come.  Deem, O Lord, at this very hour, to receive our supplications and to direct our lives in the path of your commandments.  Sanctify our souls; purify our bodies; set aright our minds; cleanse our thoughts;  deliver us from all affliction, trouble, and distress; surround us with your holy angels so that, guided and guarded in their camp, we may attain oneness of faith and the knowledge of your unspeakable glory.  For you are blessed forever and ever.

And the faithful respond, “Amen.”  Then:

Faithful:          Lord, have mercy (3 times)
                       Glory… now and ever…
                       More honorable than the cherubim...
Leader:           Through the prayers of our holy father, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.
Faithful:          Amen.

In the Great Fast, continue with:

Faithful:          Prayer of St Ephrem the Syrian
                       Trisagion through Our Father (omitting the doxology)
                       Lord, have mercy (12 times)
                       Prayer specific to the Hour
                       Glory… now and ever…
                       Lord, have mercy (3 times)
Leader:           Through the prayers of our holy father, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.
Faithful:          Amen.




Notes and commentary

The Casoslóv for the Ruthenian Recension contains a few rubrics for reader services;  these have been summarized above, and supplemented with certain traditional replacements for portions of the services which are omitted in the absence of a priest - in particular, the singing of "Lord, have mercy" and a doxology in place of each of the litanies. 

During the Paschal Season, "More honorable..." at the dismissal is replaced by "Shine in splendor... Christ is risen from the dead..." as usual, and from Ascension to Pentecost, "Heavenly King" is omitted from the beginning prayers.