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Angela Tilby: Scripture is to be read and heard

21 October 2022


ONE of the distinctive aspects of the Prayer Book is its insistence on the systematic public reading of scripture in the context of morning and evening prayer. This is partially retained in Common Worship, at least for those who pray the Office during the week.

The Sunday eucharistic lectionary also honours the principle, at least in part; but there are a whole range of variations and options, which can make life difficult for those preparing Sunday worship.

On top of that, reading aloud doesn’t happen much these days, and it is too rarely that you hear scripture read confidently and intelligibly. Enter a new resource to help: Sunday Scriptures for Reading Aloud (SSRA.UK). Available online or in book form, it is the brainchild of the Revd Michael Hampson, a retired priest who, while he was in parish ministry, became concerned about the poor quality of scriptural comprehension among both readers and listeners.

He had the critical insight that, in this era of so much visual communication, the layout of any text for public reading is of vital importance. Blocks of text need to appear on the page in such a way as to guide both reader and listener. For example, and at random, here is the beginning of the second reading for 27 November, from Romans 13:

Now is the time
to be fully alert,
for the day of our salvation
is closer to us now
than when we first
became believers.

It is easy both on eye and ear, and the brevity of the lines helps those with reading difficulties to understand and be understood. It is much easier to follow than, for example, the three Word of the Lord volumes.

While compatible with Common Worship and the Revised Common Lectionary, SSRA selects for continuity, prioritising whole Gospels and epistles over the permitted variations. Some may want to retain a wider choice. There are small simplifications in the text, which may raise some eyebrows, but, to me, these seemed as justifiable as the NRSV’s alterations for inclusivity.

I have to confess that I was mildly sceptical of SSRA at first, but I have become convinced of the worth of the product by its sheer clarity and the conviction behind it: that scripture needs first to be heard, and that the public reading of scripture is a vital part of Anglican worship. And I love the simplicity of the layout. Just see, read, and hear.

Over-stretched ministers struggling with too many choices should be grateful. Cranmer’s collect is a reminder that you don’t mess with the scriptures: “Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given to us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.”

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