ROME, 21 AUG. 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary Father Edward
McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I am interested in the ministry of sacristan but can find no
information in any detail as to what a sacristan does. It seems that
each parish is different. The only thing I find is in the General
Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) at No. 105. Can you say more
about this? —
R.S., Fargo, North Dakota
A: The aforementioned text of GIRM, No. 105, says: "The following also
exercise a liturgical function: The sacristan, who carefully arranges
the liturgical books, the vestments, and other things necessary in the
celebration of Mass."
This is further developed in the Ceremonial of Bishops, No. 37.
This book spells out that the sacristan, always under the general
direction of the clergy, undertakes the overall preparation of
liturgical celebrations, including all that is needed for special days
such as Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday.
The sacristan thus arranges the books needed for the celebration,
marking all of the divisions. He or she lays out the vestments and
anything else needed for the celebration, such as cruets, chalices,
ciboria, linens, oils, processional crosses, candles and torches.
He or she also takes care of the ringing of bells that announce the
celebrations. The sacristan should ensure the observance of silence in
The sacristan in harmony with the pastor also makes sure that the
vestments, church furnishings, liturgical vessels and decorative objects
are kept in good condition and, if necessary, sent for gilding or
Other practical indications apart from these official recommendations
are that the sacristan ensures that the things necessary for worship are
always available. There should be a ready supply of fresh hosts and of
duly authorized wine, sufficient clean purificators, corporals, hand
towels, incense and coals.
In this context the sacristan is responsible for making sure that those
who wash the altar linens do so according to the indications of the
missal and that the water for the first wash is poured down the
sacrarium or to the earth. The sacristan also takes care of burning old
linens and other objects that are no longer suitable for liturgical use.
He or she also makes sure that the sanctuary lamp has sufficient oil,
that the altar cloths are changed regularly, and that the holy water
stoups are clean and replenished frequently.
The pastor may also decide to entrust other responsibilities to the
sacristan. This might include coordinating others who help with the
general decor of the church, such as cleaners and flower arrangers. The
sacristan might also maintain the practical dealings with external
agents such as funeral directors and photographers so that proper
decorum is maintained at all times.
In order to carry out these duties, the sacristan needs to have a fairly
good idea of the content and norms of the principal liturgical books and
an understanding of the intricacies of the liturgical calendar.
A good sacristan is a boon to any parish and, as the GIRM says, the post
fulfills a true liturgical function. As the Ceremonial of Bishops
states: "The adornment and decor of a church should be such as to make
the church a visible sign of love and reverence toward God" (No. 38).
* * *
Follow-up: A Sacristan's Duties [9-4-2007]
After our piece on the duties of the sacristan (Aug. 21) a priest kindly
notified us of a useful resource for sacristans. He wrote:
"Here is another resource for you in reference to the sacristan
question. There is a manual called 'The Sacristy Manual,' published by
Liturgy Training Publications, by G. Thomas Ryan. It gives some valuable
It is worthwhile mentioning that several Catholic publishing houses have
issued useful liturgical guidebooks and resources addressing various
aspects of liturgical service. For example, Paulist Press published this
year W.T. Ditewig's "The Deacon at Mass," a very recommendable
theological and practical guide to what the deacon should and should not
I would probably quibble with the author regarding a couple of minor
technicalities, but then liturgists are wont to quibble over such