Is it bow or bow?

Is it bow or bow?


What is it about today’s first reading at Mass that so flusters lectors? To refresh your memory it’s the story of God’s covenant with Noah and his promise to put a “bow in the clouds” to serve a sign of that covenant.

That’s “bow” as in “rainbow” or “bow and arrow.” It’s not “bow” as in “the front of the boat” or “to bend at the waist.”

Yet for the past several times this reading has been read at Mass, the latter version is how the lector has pronounced it at several different parishes. Are they even listening to themselves? How does that even make sense?

I think it shows that they either don’t understand the reading themselves and/or that they didn’t spend any time reading it before standing at the ambo at Mass. Which, it’s apparent, is an all too common occurrence these days.

Photo credit: Domenico Bettinelli, copyright 2000. All Rights Reserved.

  • I have heard the same error. It might be time to revise the translation so that all the lector has to do is read the words without thinking.

  • Serving as lector at our Sat. afternoon Mass this weekend, I confronted this word and (fortunately) got it right.  I had reviewed the readings in advance and wondered why the wording is “bow,” rather than “rainbow.” 

    I try to review the readings prior to Mass in order to make sure that I have an understanding of them.  If there are any unusual words I consult with Father about pronunciations.  (Same thing with the prayers of the faithful—sometimes among the deceased for whom we are praying I encounter ethnic names, and I want to make sure that I’m pronouncing them correctly).

    Sometimes, though, I get pressed into lector service at the last minute and it’s not always possible to do such a review.  Maybe that’s what happened in your parish this weekend.

  • It’s bow and not rainbow because the bow is supposed to remind us of the bow in bow and arrow. A covenant promise places the parties in a condition of penalty if they break the covenant. What God is saying, essentially, is let Himself be killed if He breaks His promise. He’s letting us know that this is a true covenant.

    Rainbow would push that meaning even further away. Unfortunately, mispronunciation does the same thing.

  • ![CDATA[

    It’s funny that you bring this up because it went through my head at Mass this morning.  When I reviewed the readings before Mass, I initially read it (in my head) as the “other” bow.  I corrected myself because the context was out of sync.  But I was curious to see how the lector would do and he was solid.  That’s why he reads it out loud and I read it in my head!

    My understanding of the reading was that the usage is bow as in rainbow, not bow and arrow.  Your explanation adds an interesting angle to it.


  • (long-shot)

    Or out of nervousness accidentally said the other way out of habit instead of how they know it should be said.

    I have been a lector, despite my anxiety of public speaking.  I could say things perfectly fine while reading at home and right before Mass, but then get in front of people and completely screw something up.  Then I feel like a bum because I just messed up a precious text.

  • I am one of several people who serve as a lector at my parish.  We all had to audition.  I always practice the reading beforehand at least 3 times aloud to make sure i can do my best to be heard, understood and to convey the meaning of sometimes awkwardly translated ancient text.  I sometimes need to seek the priest’s advice if i don’t understand a passage.  in my view, if I don’t understand it, then i shouldn’t be reading it.  I am amazed that some churches seem to let anyone read.  it ruins my church experience when some fool is stumbling through a passage, pausing at awkward and incorrect moments and mispronouncing words.  i also think it is the parishioners’ duty to speak up when someone really shouldn’t be reading without some further coaching or experience.

  • My understanding is that the sign of the rainbow was a promise to give the people a fair hearing before judgement is passed.  This would be a normal aspect of judgement in a covenential context.  So it wasn’t that God had judged incorrectly, but that he did not give the people he passed judgement against the hearing that he normally would have to someone who had violated a convential promise.

    Given that the judgement God had passed upon the people had come by flood caused by rain, a rainbow would be an appropriate reminder.  Though perhaps an upwards facing bow would also be appropriate since it was the cries of the people towards God that prompted God to establish the bow.

  • Our lector got it right and I can only be grateful that the lector wasn’t the little girl who always tags along with her mother.  Mom reads one reading, the kid stumbles through the other one.
    I cringe.

  • For the record, a scholar wearing a yarmulke told me today that the same ancient Hebrew word, kesnet, is used for rainbow and for bow, as in bow and arrow. He thought for a moment, and added that the same is true in modern Hebrew.

    Previous mispronunciations by lectors have not proved to be so informative in the long run.

  • Most lay readers are ill-equipped. They read as though there is no distinction between the Genesis account, the prophecies, the Acts, the epistles, and so on. Even when being expressive, one genre is indistinguishable from the other. At any given parish, one or two out of ten has any business at all being up there.

    I know that sounds rather jaded, but such has been my experience.

  • I’m a lector at my church and I read that reading a few weeks ago.  When I was practicing, I did have to stop and think, because my first instinct was to pronouce it as bow as in the front of a boat.  The lector workbooks my church uses did have a pronouciation guide for that word, plus the meaning of the passage in the accompanying notes.

    And Rick, I know what you mean about lectors stumbling over passages.  There is this one lector at my parish who refuses to practice his readings because he “wants to be fresh”.  Then he spent 5 minutes the 3rd Sunday of Lent stumbling over the 10 Commandments!  How do you not know what you’re reading when you read the 10 Commandments?  And how can you convey the reading to the congregation if you don’t even know what you’re saying.

  • I sing at 3 Masses a weekend and that weekend all three lectors pronounced this as if taking a bow, instead of bow & arrow. It is so important for lectors to pronounce words correctly so that the meaning is understood.  Not everyone follows along with the printed readings.  If one is only listening, the meaning is lost.  Also, when a lector is unprepared and fumbles over words in the reading, this is very distracting for the congregation who are now concentrating on whether the lector will get the next complicated word right instead of hearing the Word. Unprepared lectors are not “proclaiming” the Word; they are reading it. And it shows.
    The Responsorial Psalm is part of the Word.  In order to proclaim rather than just sing the Psalm, I try to read it, pray it and rehearse it throughout the week leading up to the Masses.
    When I don’t take time to do that, I feel it.
    All of that being said, everyone has an off day once in a while.  Ministries in the church tend to be volunteer and none of us are perfect. I suppose if someone thinks they could do it, they are more than welcome to sign up!