These notes are intended to be an aide-memoire for MCs at a Missa Cantata, or for those training servers. They are not a substitute for a proper manual on the liturgy, eg. Fortescue and O’Connell, and do not cover all the special variations for particular seasons.
Many of the practices at the Missa Cantata are a matter of local custom, rather than being laid down definitely by authority, so small variations are to be expected. Since servers may have been trained in different customs, where a team is going to be serving together regularly, of for an important occasion, it is worth practising beforehand.
Preparation for mass
Usually six lit candles on the altar. (Make sure they’re lit).
Credence table – cruets of wine and water, bell, lavabo bowl and towel, communion plate, small missal for readings in English if needed, card for extra prayers at the end (eg for the Queen or for the Salve Regina).
Missal open on the bookstand at the correct page for the introit.
Chalice at the middle of the altar; corporal spread out and burse standing at gospel side of the crucifix.
Note - Ensure that the correct places needed for mass are marked at the correct pages – proper for the day, additional collects, preface – and that you can find them easily. Note - It’s often sensible to check with the master of the schola, in case they are doing anything unusual – musicians often do. The procession to the altar At a sign from the MC all bow to the cross and process from the sacristy.
Thurifer first, with boat-bearer if there is one; then acolytes; any other servers (for example torch-bearers); clergy; MC; celebrant.
Common error – processing too quickly. Common error – strictly speaking there should be no crucifix carried in the procession to the altar, unless it has been preceded by a genuine procession (not just from sacristy to altar). At the foot of the altar Usually at the foot of the altar the servers genuflect in pairs, go up the steps, and to their places. (Sometimes they all line up, if there is a small number, and genuflect with the celebrant.)
The acolytes put their candles on the credence table, and stand by it. All stand until the preparatory prayers.
Take the celebrant’s biretta, with the solita oscula, and put it on the sedilia.
Note – if the Blessed Sacrament is not reserved, the celebrant will bow instead of genuflect, but all servers genuflect to the cross. Note – where acolytes are inexperienced, they may be unsure where to put their candles, and need direction. Teaching note – make sure that genuflections to the altar or cross are on the right knee. (Genuflections to a prelate will be on the left knee.)
The solita oscula As an act of ‘liturgical politeness’, when the MC hands anything to the celebrant, he kisses it first and then the celebrant’s hand; when he takes anything from the celebrant, he kisses first the hand, then the object. This applies to the biretta, thurible, spoon, etc. The object is merely touched with closed lips.
Theses kisses are sometimes omitted, in accordance with local custom. They are always omitted in masses for the dead, or in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed.
Preparatory Prayers All kneel for the preparatory prayers, except the thurifer who may remain standing.
As the celebrant approaches the altar, all stand. The MC raises slightly the lower part of the priest’s alb while he is ascending the steps.
Common error – not standing as the priest ascends the steps. Incensing of the Altar Indicate to the thurifer to ascend the steps, and present the thurible.
The MC takes the boat, presents the spoon to the celebrant (with solita oscula), and says ‘Benedicite, Pater reverende’ (Bless, reverend father). After the incense has been blessed, receive the spoon, and pass the thurible to the priest, solita oscula. Common error – The thurifer being too far away from the celebrant, or not holding his thurible at a suitable position for easy access. It is recommended that as the celebrant incenses the altar, the MC should accompany him on the right, and the thurifer on the left; possibly holding the sides of his chasuble. As the priest genuflects, they should help to support his elbows.
The first acolyte removes the missal from the altar as the incensing starts, and stands to one side with it, replacing it straight after that side of the altar is incensed. You may need to signal the acolyte to do this.
Teaching point – the missal and stand should be parallel to the edge of the altar, not at an angle. Take the thurible from the celebrant (solita oscula), descend to the bottom of the steps at the epistle side, and incense the celebrant with three double swings. The thurifer should be to your left, and both bow profoundly before and after. Return the thurible to the thurifer, who will take it to the sacristy.
Note – After the incensing the thurible is usually taken out into the sacristy, not kept on the sanctuary. Teaching note – Ensure that the servers know that they must genuflect when they are entering or leaving the sanctuary. Reverences to clergy in choir. Where there are clergy present in choir, they should be reverenced by anyone entering or leaving the sanctuary, as the thurifer does here. After genuflecting to the altar, a moderate bow to the clergy is given. If there are clergy on both sides, then the side of the greater dignity is reverenced first, or otherwise the gospel side.
Introit and Kyrie The MC assists the celebrant at the missal – to his right, and ideally one step down - turning pages and indicating the place as necessary.
Note - Bow to the cross at the Gloria Patri, and at the holy name of Jesus. Bow your head also at the name of Mary, the saint in whose honour the mass is celebrated, or the reigning pope.
The Kyrie may be said by the celebrant either at the missal or in the centre of the altar. In either case, the MC remains at the missal, and answers in a low voice.
Note – If the sung Kyrie is lengthy, the priest may sit during it. See below for details of the procedure.
Gloria in excelsis Deo The celebrant intones the Gloria – if there is one - and then says it in a low voice. The MC stays at the missal, bows when the celebrant does, and crosses himself at the end with the celebrant.
When the celebrant has finished, he genuflects at the centre, and goes to his seat directly.
Sitting Down The celebrant sits at his seat during the Gloria and Credo, and sometimes the Kyrie.
The celebrant genuflects at the centre, and goes straight to his seat accompanied by the MC. When he is there, the acolytes help him with his chasuble, putting it over the back of the seat. The MC gives him his biretta, solita oscula. The acolytes (and other servers) then sit down – often to either side of the celebrant. The MC remains standing, near the celebrant, facing down the church.
Common error – servers not sitting down. When the time comes to return to the altar, the MC bows to the celebrant, and takes his biretta, solita oscula. The servers stand, and assist with the chasuble. The MC and celebrant return to the altar by the longer way, that is they go to the foot of the altar steps, make a reverence, and ascend the steps.
During the Gloria the celebrant needs to reverence the altar several times. The MC gives him a sign by bowing to the celebrant, and then turning and bowing to the altar during the required words.
The times that a reverence is made are during the: adoramus te; gratias agimus tibi; Jesu Christe; suscipe deprecationem nostrum; Jesu Christe. At the cum sancto spiritu the MC signals the celebrant, and they return to the altar by the longer way as described. The MC goes to the missal for the collects.
The Collects After the Gloria, or immediately after the Kyrie if there is no Gloria, the priest sings the collect or collects for the day. The MC turns the pages of the book if need be to find the second and subsequent collects.
Note – Check beforehand that you know which collects are being sung, and where to find them in the book.
Kneeling and Standing Note – At masses for the dead, and at ferial masses celebrated in violet, except Christmas Eve and during Septuagesima, all kneel during the collects, postcommunions, Oratio super populum, and from the Sanctus to the introduction to the end of the Canon.
Common error – this is often not done, or done by some and not others, looking messy. The MC should ensure that servers know beforehand what is to be done, and give the signal when required.
Epistle, Gradual, Alleluia, Tract, Sequence The MC turns to page to the epistle for the day, and stands by the celebrant as the epistle is sung or said, turning the page. He says Deo gratias in a low voice at the end.
Note – other servers should sit during the epistle. The MC may need to signal them to do this. The celebrant also reads, in a low voice, the Gradual and other chants for the mass. He then goes to his seat by the shorter way, as usual.
Gospel During the Gradual the thurifer should come out of the sacristy and take his place near the altar ready for the Gospel.
At a suitable point, usually at the start of the Alleluia, the MC should indicate to the priest that he needs to return to the altar.
Note – Check the length of these chants in the book beforehand, so you can judge when the return needs to be made, especially if there is a tract or sequence. Incense is put into the thurible, using the same process as at the start of mass. Meanwhile, the acolytes take their candles from the credence, and form up at the foot of the altar steps, where they are joined by the thurifer.
The MC takes the missal and stand, and joins the group. They all genuflect together, and move to the gospel side, timing it to arrive for the start of the last Alleluia of the chant.
Note – the two acolytes should stand near the gospel book, facing the epistle side, with the thurifer between them. After he has announced the gospel, the priest is given the thurible, solita oscula, by the MC, for the incensing. He returns the thurible to the thurifer afterwards.
Note – the thurifer should not swing the thurible vigorously during the Gospel. At the end of the Gospel the MC says Laus tibi Christe in a low voice, then takes the thurible, descends with it to the bottom of the altar steps, and incenses the celebrant with three double swings.
1962 warning. The rubrics of the 1962 missal appear to have abolished the incensing of the celebrant after the Gospel in the Missa Cantata, though it is retained in High Mass. It is commonly retained. However, be aware of this issue in case you are questioned.
The MC returns the thurible to the thurifer, and goes back to the altar to move the missal and stand close to the chalice, for the offertory. Meanwhile, the other servers genuflect in the centre, and return to their places – the acolytes to the credence table, and the thurifer to the sacristy.
Sermon If there is a sermon, the MC gets the celebrant’s biretta, joins him before the altar, genuflects, and leads the celebrant to the pulpit. He sits near the pulpit during the sermon, and leads the celebrant back to the altar at the end, taking his biretta to the sedilia.
Credo Common error - Check beforehand whether the Credo is being sung. Misunderstandings about this by choirs are common. If the Credo is sung, the priest intones it, and then continues in a low voice. The MC bows and genuflects with him. Then the priest goes to his seat as before.
As the choir sings the Et incarnatus, all servers should kneel. This is usually just after the celebrant has completed saying the Credo, so it is convenient to kneel at the altar before sitting down. Otherwise, the celebrant bows from his seat, and others kneel.
During the Credo, there is a bow to the altar during the simul adoratur. At the start of the last verse, the MC signals to the celebrant, and they return to the altar by the longer way.
Note – the thurifer should be preparing his thurible during the credo, if there is one, or otherwise during the sermon. If there is neither, somehow the addition of charcoal may need to be contrived between the gospel and the incensing of the gifts. Offertory When the celebrant has sung Oremus, and said the offertory verse in a low voice, the gifts are offered.
The MC stands by the celebrant, usually on his right, being ready to assist if necessary. He may take and fold the chalice veil, on the altar. The acolytes bring up the wine and water, the MC standing nearby to oversee this.
A ciborium of small hosts may be needed, and this may need to be brought to the altar for the offering of the host.
Meanwhile, the thurifer returns to the sanctuary, ready for when he is needed after the Veni sanctificator. Incense is put into the thurible and blessed, as before. The gifts are incensed, and then the altar, as before. Support the celebrant’s elbows as he genuflects with the thurible. The first acolyte will need to remove the missal and stand from the altar while that side is being incensed.
The MC incenses the celebrant, with three double swings, as at the start of mass. Then the acolytes bring the lavabo bowl and cloth to the celebrant.
If there are any clergy present, the MC may incense them, or the thurifer may do this. Usually a double swing for each. If there are clergy on both sides of the sanctuary, the gospel side is usually done first. The MC then returns to the missal.
The thurifer incenses the MC with a double swing, bowing before and after. Similarly for the acolytes. Then any other servers on the sanctuary.
The people are then incensed from the centre. Three single swings – centre, left, right.
Note – the order of incensing can be complicated for an inexperienced thurifer, and is worth practising. If there are torch-bearers, they now process with the thurifer to the sacristy, to prepare their torches.
The MC answers the Orate fratres in a low voice, and then assists at the book while the celebrant says the secret prayers.
Preface, Sanctus, Benedictus After the secret prayers, the MC turns to the page for the Preface, which the priest sings.
At the Sanctus, an acolyte should ring the bell three times. The thurifer processes out from the sacristy, leading the torch-bearers. The torch-bearers genuflect in a straight line across the sanctuary, and kneel symmetrically with their torches.
Common error – banging the foot of the torches on the floor of the sanctuary. Canon The MC assists at the book, turning the pages. At the mementos of the living and the dead, he takes a pace away from the celebrant, returning as the prayer resumes.
Note – certain seasons have a proper Communicantes; be alert for this. Note – often, depending on the altar missal, several pages will need to be turned over at once. It is better to check beforehand. At the Hanc igitur, a server rings the bell once. A server assists the thurifer with putting in incense – this is done standing, even in masses where the servers otherwise kneel. The thurifer then kneels at a suitable place, usually at the epistle side, ready for the consecration. Kneeling in the middle is not recommended.
Immediately before the Quam pridie, the MC kneels to the left of the celebrant, and all others kneel as well.
During each elevation, the MC raises the bottom of the priest’s chasuble; a sever rings the bell three times – usually once on the genuflection, once on the elevation itself, and once on the genuflection; and the thurifer incenses three times – usually along with the bell – each time using a double swing.
Note – in some churches, by local custom, a triple swing is used at the elevation. After the elevations, the thurifer returns to the sacristy. His work is done.
The MC stands, returns to the book, and turns the pages as necessary. When the celebrant genuflects, he genuflects with him.
Common error – it is a continental custom to ring the bell at the Per ipsum. In England this isn’t done. Pater Noster to Communion The MC continues to assist at the book, turning the pages, and genuflecting with the celebrant.
At the Agnus Dei, the torch-bearers move from kneeling across the sanctuary, to kneeling on either side of the altar, facing each other across the sanctuary. It is advisable to practise this movement beforehand. The MC may need to signal the torch-bearers to do this.
Note – someone may need to close the gates of the altar rails, or to spread a houselling cloth on the rails. This is best done in good time, rather than at the last moment. At the Domine non sum dignus, a server rings a bell each time.
The MC bows as the priest communicates.
After the priest has received the host, the servers kneel on the altar step ready to communicate. The MC remains standing by the priest until the pall has been put back on the chalice, and then joins them.
Note – someone needs to collect the communion plate from the credence table. If the Confiteor is to be said for the people’s communion, it is said now.
1962 alert. Whether the Confiteor is to be said has been debated in extenso. In England, it is more commonly done than not, but some object to it. I advise you to follow local custom, and not to engage in debate.
After the Domine non sum dignus – which strictly speaking should be said by the priest alone – the servers communicate. Afterwards, they genuflect and move out of the way. The MC (or sometimes the thurifer) bears the communion plate to the altar rails, for the communion of the people.
The priest’s alb may need raising slightly as he descends and ascends the steps.
As the priest returns to the altar carrying the ciborium with the Blessed Sacrament, any servers he passes bow their heads in reverence.
When the Blessed Sacrament has been consumed, or returned to the tabernacle, the MC signals for the servers to stand.
The thurifer leads the torch-bearers back to the sacristy. They return having laid aside their torches, and their work is done.
The acolytes bear wine and water to the celebrant for the ablutions, and the MC oversees this.
The MC moves the book back to the epistle side, and finds the right page for the communion antiphon. He moves the chalice veil – or has another do so – to the gospel side, and may assist the priest with it. Also he may open the burse for the priest to put the corporal in. He then returns to the book.
Note – there’s a lot for the MC to do at this point, and he may wish to use another server to assist him. Postcommunion Having read the communion antiphon in a low voice, the priest sings Dominus vobiscum, and then the collects. The MC turns the pages for the collects, as need be.
Recall that at certain times the others on the sanctuary kneel for the collects, but usually they stand.
After the last collect, the MC shuts the book, with its pages pointing towards the centre of the altar. (Unless there is a proper last Gospel, which there usually isn’t.)
After the Ite missa est, or Benedicamus Domino, the MC moves to the gospel side. He kneels for the blessing, and the servers with him, where they are.
The MC holds the card for the celebrant during the Last Gospel. He does not genuflect, when others do at the Et verbum caro factum est. After the genuflection, the acolytes fetch their candles from the credence, and the sanctuary group form up for return to the sacristy. The MC fetches the biretta, and gives it to the priest, solita oscula. If there is a prayer after mass, eg for the Queen, or the Salve Regina, then a card or book may be needed for this. The celebrant often removes his maniple for this, since it is strictly after mass, and the MC takes it from him.
All genuflect together and return in good order to the sacristy.
In the sacristy, all bow together to the crucifix, and then kneel for a blessing.
MASSES FOR THE DEAD
At a requiem mass, the ceremonial is more austere.
The candles on the altar are unbleached where possible.
The solita oscula, of things handed to or taken from the celebrant, is omitted.
Reverences for the choir are carried out as usual.
Incense is not needed until the offertory. At that point, the altar and the celebrant are incensed, but nobody else is. Incensing at the elevation is as usual.
At the collects and postcommunions, all servers and members of choir kneel.
Remember that the sequence Dies Irae is sung, so returning to the altar to prepare for the Gospel should not take place too soon.
The acolytes do not carry candles in procession at the Gospel, but accompany the book without candles.
Candles are usually distributed to the clergy in choir, after the Epistle, and they hold these lit during the Gospel, and also from the Sanctus until after Communion. They may need assistance from an acolyte to light these candles.
Torches may be used as usual from the Sanctus until after Communion. These are commonly white candles, rather than unbleached.
The acolytes and choir kneel from the Sanctus to the end of the Canon.
If there is a homily or panegyric, it is given at the end of mass, and before the absolutions of the dead.
If Absolutions for the Dead are carried out, either at the coffin or at a catafalque, then an acolyte will be required to carry a processional cross, and another to bear the holy water and aspersorium.
ASPERGES AND VIDI AQUAM
The Asperges, or in Paschal time the Vidi Aquam, is done before the chief mass on Sundays in all parish churches.
In the procession, the thurifer walks first carrying the holy water and the aspersorium. His thurible will remain in the sacristy, or if more convenient on a stand in the sanctuary.
The MC will hold the edge of the celebrant’s cope in the procession.
Nobody takes holy water at the church door.
The thurifer remains, with the holy water, at the foot of the altar steps, while the acolytes take their candles to the credence.
After reverencing the altar, the celebrant kneels, and all the servers and choir with him.
The MC dips the aspersorium into holy water, and gives it to the celebrant, with solita oscula. The celebrant intones the antiphon, and then sprinkles, the altar, himself, and the servers beside him. All rise. The acolytes and the choir are sprinkled, and then the people.
Usually the celebrant goes down the church, sprinkling the congregation with holy water. He is accompanied by the MC, who holds his cope, and the thurifer who carries the holy water.
During the singing of Gloria Patri, all turn to the altar and bow.
After the sprinkling is finished, the MC takes the aspersorium.
On return to the altar, all genuflect. The celebrant needs a book or card for the versicle and collect.
All genuflect, then the priest goes to the sedilia where he takes off the cope, and puts on the chasuble and maniple, assisted by the MC and other servers. He then returns to the foot of the altar steps, and begins mass as usual.