ROME, 30 JUNE 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: At a conference organized by one of the ecclesial
movements and attended by nine priests and two bishops, a Christian
Brother was delegated by one of the lay-leaders to bring the Blessed
Sacrament to the hall for adoration each day. At both the beginning and
end of the 45-minute adoration, the Christian Brother proceeded to bless
the people with the monstrance
not just a single blessing, but rather the triple blessing used by a
bishop. I relate the details of this incident to inform you of how
uninformed the lay-leaders were. Also, on each occasion at Mass the
bishops were seated together near the altar with a lay master of
ceremonies, and the priests were seated on a much lower level, at the
front of the congregation, and at a distance of about 15 to 20 meters
from the bishops
even though there was room for all or most of us to be seated with the
bishops. When I complained before the last Mass about the unnecessary
distance between priests and bishops, I was just ignored and left to
believe that I should have more respect for the authority of the
lay-leaders. Are priests obliged in these circumstances just to fall in
with the wishes of lay-leaders? Have lay-leaders the authority to direct
how and where priests should sit in matters like this? Lastly, does a
celebrant or principal celebrant have a right to say that he has no
need, or does not want a master of ceremonies (particularly a lay MC) at
a Mass? At the conference mentioned above, a lay MC before one of the
Masses commented to the principal celebrant that "I am the one in charge
A: There are basically three questions involved. I will address the
first two briefly and expand a little on the third.
First, it was an abuse to have an extraordinary minister (the Christian
Brother) exposing the Blessed Sacrament when ordained ordinary ministers
were present. Furthermore it was a grave abuse for the religious brother
to attempt to give a blessing with the Blessed Sacrament. This rite is
strictly reserved to the ordained ministers, and the brother might even
be subject to canonical penalties for illegitimately carrying out these
Second, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal foresees that,
insofar as possible, concelebrating priests should be seated within the
sanctuary. If this is not possible due to elevated numbers, they should
be as close to the presbytery as possible, with no other faithful seated
between the ministers and the concelebrants.
Finally, the role of the master of ceremonies is outlined in the
Ceremonial of Bishops, Nos. 34-36. The norms make it clear that he is at
the service of the liturgy in order that a solemn celebration be carried
out with grace, simplicity and order.
He is needed to "prepare and direct the celebration in close cooperation
with the bishop and others responsible for planning its several parts."
It continues: "He should seek to ensure an observance of liturgical laws
that is in accord with the true spirit of such laws and those legitimate
traditions of the particular Church that have pastoral value."
Before the celebration he should "arrange with the cantors, assistants,
ministers and celebrants the actions to be carried out and the texts to
be used, but during the celebration he should exercise the greatest
discretion: he is not to speak more than is necessary, nor replace the
deacon or assistants at the side of the celebrant. The master of
ceremonies should carry out his responsibilities with reverence,
patience and careful attention."
Regarding the qualities required of him, the document says: "He should
be well-versed in the history and nature of the liturgy and its laws and
precepts. But equally he should be well-versed in pastoral science, so
that he knows how to plan liturgical celebrations in a way that
encourages fruitful participation by the people and enhances the beauty
of the rites."
The qualities mentioned in these norms in no way exclude the possibility
of a lay master of ceremonies and, indeed, there are many excellent lay
masters in churches and cathedrals around the globe.
In this sense the question of "obedience" toward a master of ceremonies
or of his being "in charge" should be largely beside the point.
Preparing a proper liturgical celebration is a collaborative effort in
which the master of ceremonies coordinates beforehand with the various
A master of ceremonies who arrives saying he is "in charge" has probably
failed in his duties to adequately prepare the ceremonies in advance.
If anybody is properly speaking "in charge" of the celebration, it is
the principal celebrant. For example, it is he, not the master of
ceremonies, who determines the texts to be used, which optional ritual
elements are included or omitted, and what is to be sung or recited. In
preparing the celebration the master of ceremonies may make suggestions
to the celebrant as to what is most appropriate. But the final decision
rests with the celebrant. The celebration can even make changes during
the course of the celebration if unforeseen circumstances recommend it.
The master of ceremonies is "in charge" of coordinating all those who
assist at the Mass and these should diligently follow his instructions.
Although we have said that, strictly speaking, concelebrants do not owe
obedience to the master of ceremonies, this statement must be qualified
in some cases. There are situations in which a large number of
concelebrants arrive shortly before the beginning of Mass, and it is
materially impossible to prepare the celebration beforehand.
In such cases the priests should punctually follow the MC's indications,
not so much out of obedience to his person as to obedience toward the
reverent and dignified celebration of Mass.