ROME, 24 JUNE 2008 (ZENIT)
Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the
Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Can you provide any insight into the role of the commentator? The
commentator is quite common here in the United States, and every church
seems to have a different job description for this person. For example,
in our parish before the start of Mass the commentator greets the
people, asks if anyone is celebrating a birthday or anniversary or is
visiting. Then there is the usual happy birthday or anniversary song.
Then the commentator gives a 5- to 6-minute reflection and words of
advice for the coming week. During the Mass the commentator sits in the
sanctuary; directs the people via hand signals whether to sit, kneel,
rise; calls out the music/song that we will be singing, etc. At the end
of Mass, before the final benediction he/she reads the announcements;
gives comments and their take on the homily; and thanks the people, etc.
I have suggested this is taking the role of "commentator" a bit too far,
but cannot find anything in the GIRM to help back up my claim. Can you
M.P., Keaau, Hawaii
A: I think you are correct that this is taking the role of commentator a
bit too far.
The liturgical function of the commentator is described, along with that
of sacristans, ushers, and those who take up the collection, in the
General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 105:
“The commentator […] provides the faithful, when appropriate, with brief
explanations and commentaries with the purpose of introducing them to
the celebration and preparing them to understand it better. The
commentator's remarks must be meticulously prepared and clear though
brief. In performing this function the commentator stands in an
appropriate place facing the faithful, but not at the ambo.”
No. 352 of the GIRM later insists on the need for preparation: “Since,
indeed, a variety of options is provided for the different parts of the
Mass, it is necessary for the deacon, the lectors, the psalmist, the
cantor, the commentator, and the choir to be completely sure before the
celebration which text for which each is responsible is to be used and
that nothing be improvised. Harmonious planning and carrying out of the
rites will great assistance in disposing the faithful to participate in
This is all that is said about the commentator. By saying that the
commentator intervenes “when appropriate” could be interpreted that this
function is best used whenever there is something special, such as a
confirmation or ordination that requires some explanation.
The insistence that this office’s functions must be meticulously
prepared and are specifically orientated toward helping the people live
the celebration would seem to exclude spontaneous interventions and
unprepared remarks based on the homily.
Likewise it is highly debatable that the assembly’s singing "Happy
Birthday" is the most appropriate spiritual preparation for Mass.
It must also be remembered that GIRM, No. 31, specifically assigns the
presentation of the rite and any concluding summaries to the presiding
priest and not to the commentator: “It is also up to the priest, in the
exercise of his office of presiding over the gathered assembly, to offer
certain explanations that are foreseen in the rite itself…. In addition,
he may give the faithful a very brief introduction to the Mass of the
day (after the initial Greeting and before the Act of Penitence), to the
Liturgy of the Word (before the readings), and to the Eucharistic Prayer
(before the Preface), though never during the Eucharistic Prayer itself;
he may also make concluding comments to the entire sacred action before
GIRM, No. 50, however, foresees the possibility that the brief
introduction to the Mass of the day may also be assigned to a lay
Although it is not a specific function of the commentator to call out
the songs or make the usual announcements at the end of Mass, it is
practical so as not to multiply the number of people in the sanctuary.
All the same, it would be better to find another means to designate the
songs so as to limit interruptions to the prescribed rite.
The duty of indicating, whenever necessary, the posture to be adopted by
the people has traditionally fallen on the deacon, or on the cantor. It
is usually only necessary when some special rite is celebrated, such as
the Litany of Saints during ordinations.
The duty of indicating, whenever necessary, the posture to be adopted by
the people has traditionally fallen on the deacon or the cantor. But No.
43 of the GIRM also allows this task to be assigned to another lay
minister if necessary: “With a view to a uniformity in gestures and
postures during one and the same celebration, the faithful should follow
the directions which the deacon, lay minister, or priest gives according
to whatever is indicated in the Missal.”
I believe that such indications are usually only necessary when some
special rite is celebrated, such as the Litany of Saints during
ordinations or in places where there are frequent visitors from
different parts of the world who might be used to other practices.
Otherwise I believe that it is better to leave aside choreographic
gestures and indications for regular Sunday Masses. Some of these might
have been necessary at the beginning of the reform until people got used
to the new rite. But after nearly 40 years of practice I think most
Catholics now know when to kneel, sit and stand.
Something similar can be said about the persistent habit of cantors
raising their hands, or saying “Response” after each psalm verse or
invocation of the prayer of the faithful. It was all very well when the
responsorial psalm and the intercessions were liturgical novelties, but
by now it is sometimes a bit theatrical and distracting.
It is worth noting that such gestures are studiously avoided in papal
Masses celebrated in Rome. The faithful easily interpret the appropriate
moment to intervene as indicated by a pause, the cadence of the melody,
or the intervention of the organ.
* * *
Follow-up: A Commentator's Role [7-8-2008]
Related to our piece on commentators (June 24), a Texas reader
mentioned a specific situation: "I attended a Catholic Church in which
after receiving the holy Eucharist, the priest would stand and ask the
congregation if they had any Good News for that week. He would state
that people could talk about anything they wished to share. This would
lead into all sorts of comments from the congregation, from a visit from
an aunt to a child going potty for the first time. Upon questioning, the
priest he said it came under "announcements." Is this permissible to
occur during the sacred liturgy?"
While "announcements" is a fairly broad concept and can cover a
fairly wide range of matters, the General Instruction of the Roman
Missal, No. 90, laconically states that following the prayer after
Communion there may be "Brief announcements if they are necessary."
It is hard to consider the "announcements" heard by our reader as
being very necessary, or even very useful.
Announcements are usually conceived as brief communications referring
to the life of the parish, diocese or the Church in general. They
usually cover such themes as upcoming retreats, courses, parish and
diocesan events, special collections or prayer intentions, and
occasionally some particular need of a parishioner.