REVIEW: The General Principles of Ceremonies of the Roman Rite: For Inferior Ministers

To restore continuity to the Latin Church’s liturgical worship, and by doing so supporting and accelerating his "Marshall Plan" to revitalize our Catholic identity after decades of enervation, Pope Benedict gave us Summorum Pontificum

It is a great gift to priests, especially younger priests, who will alter their ars celebrandi for the newer form as Mass as well.

Seminarians and priests of the Latin Church must learn to celebrate the sacred mysteries in their own Rite.  Ambrosian Rite priests should know the older and newer forms of that distinguished rite of Mass.  Romans must know their forms, traditional and post-Conciliar.  Training and resources must be provided so that they can reclaim what is rightfully theirs and yours.

Not only do Roman priests need these tools for the older Mass.  So do the lay people who serve for Holy Mass with the older, traditional Roman Rite.

To that end Romanitas Press has put out a booklet called:

The General Principles of Ceremonies of the Roman Rite: For Inferior Ministers by Louis J. Tofari.  (Abridged Edition)

Hopefully by studying this book, inferior ministers (in the sense that they are not the priest, deacon or subdeacon), can become superior in serving Holy Mass.

This booklet, an advance of a forthcoming comprehensive edition, is geared for a "typical parish situation".  Therefore, the booklet doesn’t teach about how to use the biretta properly (what I call "birettiquette"), etc.. 

On p. 9 there is a good paragraph about "Roman balance".

The author delves into deportment, uniformity, walking, sitting, turning, kneeling, genuflecting, bowing, sitting, standing still, gestures such as striking the breast, how to hold things, and one of the greatest challenges for servers and their training what to do with your hands.

The text is salted with Latin phrases, (with typos here and there).  I am not sure how many ten year olds will be planning their next move depending on the ratio accomodationis or adapt themselves ex actu functionis.  But certainly kids are smart, and if taught also these distinctions they can learn them with surprising speed.  Ceratinly thost who train servers should be aware of these divisions and categories of circumstances which can change how people do things during Mass.  No matter what, everyone should know terms such as in plano, and per longiorem.

There is a section on lighting (and extinguishing) candles and what the priviledges of the sacred ministers are, as well as a glossary.

There are some photos and diagrams.

I was amused to find a little apologia (p. 7 ff.) about "rubricians". I have jokingly spoken of the need for a new group or order of priests called "The Rubricians", whose apostolate it would be to ferret out and correct liturgical abuses and teach the rubrics far and wide, aided of course by the faithful "Sacristines", a solemn yet joyful foundation of women who would get sacristies properly organized, stocked and teach the arts associated with care for the altar.  So, I was happy to read in the booklet about "misconceptions about rubricians" who are identified as those who have "made a special study of liturgical law".  For example, a common misconception about rubricians is "1. There are too many rubricians."  I agree.

The booklet came with a card to be used by servers. Thhis contains the texts to be spoken when serving Mass, with interlinear pronunciation guide.  This might be useful to North American servers, since the pronunciation guide is colloquial rather than standard (the symbols for which might not be in common use by ten year olds… though… well … see above). 

The well organized card unfolds to reveal within, inter alia, more correction of errors.  There are lists of common errors together with a pronunciation key.

This is a good first edition of this booklet.  Those who train servers would find it useful.  So would priests!  Priests, and seminarians, need to know all these things even if they are not doing the training or serving Mass. 

As a matter of fact, I think it is a good idea for priests to serve Mass from time to time.

And when they do, they should be at least as prepared as the ten year old who, using this book, can easily toss out terms like per longiorem.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mila says:

    Father Z, as soon as that foundation of “Sacristines” is set up, count me in!

  2. Looks very similar to my Matters LiturgicalCollectio Rerum Liturgicarum translated by Rev. Thos. W. Mullaney, C.SS.R. ©1956

    Speaking of ceremonies I attended a Solemn High Mass today and saw the deacon chant the so-called “second Confetior” on behalf of the altar boys in the sanctuary. It was very nice, they all beat their breast(s) in unison and the priest absolved them, as usual.

    Also the choir sung the Last Gospel, very nice, but I’ve never witnessed this done before (I’ve seen the priest chant the last Gospel before).

    Has anyone else witnessed similar rubrics at Solemn High Mass ?

  3. Bailey Walker says:

    “Interior” ministers?

  4. It seems standard for the altar boys (and everyone else) to strike their breasts at the triple mea culpa when the deacon chants the “second confiteor” before communion.

    However, I’ve never ever heard of the choir singing the Last Gospel. And actually, I understand that the celebrant does not chant it either, but instead says it in a low voice.

  5. Henry Edwards : Thanks for the clarification, I can count the number of Solemn High Masses that I’ve attended on the fingers of both hands.

    I saw what took the place of the last gospel (-Luke Ch.2, if memory serves…) chanted at the principal Solemn High Mass on Christmas day (as the Last Gospel is the Gospel on Christmas day)–I don’t see anything in my Collectio Rerum Liturgicarum prohibiting or advocating the chanting of the Last Gospel.

    Maybe a priest could weigh in on this ?

  6. inillotempore:

    It turns out that the manner of reading the final Gospel at solemn Mass is fairly clear cut. On page 514 of the most authoritative source (in English) that I know of — O’Connell, The Celebration of Mass — we read that it is

    “said silently(18) except for Dominus vobiscum, and the last words so that the subdeacon may respond”

    Footnote (18) says

    “R.M., n. 513e.”

    And rubric 513e says

    [In a solemn Mass the celebrant] “says quietly the other words which are said aloud in a low Mass;”

    Finally, looking back to Rubric 511 (final paragraph) we find that the last Gospel is listed among those “other words” said aloud in a low Mass.

    It occurs that the ability to sort this out might be a good test of the qualifications of priests beginning to celebrate the TLM these days. (Just kidding, I guess, though from some things I hear these qualifications are beginning to be a matter of concern.)

  7. DebbieInCT says:

    I’m with Mila!

  8. Nan says:

    I thought it was liturgists from the Department of Faith who ferreted out liturgical abuses?

    They say the difference between terrorists and liturgists is that you can negotiate with terrorists…

  9. The Vocal Expression of the Different Texts
    Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani

    38. In texts that are to be spoken in a loud and clear voice, whether by the priest or the deacon, or by the lector, or by all, the tone of voice should correspond to the genre of the text itself, that is, depending upon whether it is a reading, a prayer, a commentary, an acclamation, or a sung text; the tone should also be suited to the form of celebration and to the solemnity of the gathering. Consideration should also be given to the idiom of different languages and the culture of different peoples.

    In the rubrics and in the norms that follow, words such as “say” and “proclaim” are to be understood of both singing and reciting,
    according to the principles just stated above.

  10. The last Gospel for the third Mass of Christmas is the Gospel of the Epiphany. It is not sung but the priest and all in the church genuflect at the words “and falling down they woershipped Him”.

  11. Dare one hope that the book takes a stab at Cassock albs etc? The correct attire for inferior ministers is cassock and surplice (or cotta which is the same thing as the surplice as far as the rubrics are concerned).

  12. Stephen says:

    Anyone come across the book The Externals of the Catholic Church: A Handbook of Catholic Usage by Mgr John F Sullivan (1951 US, 1955 UK). Came across it in a charity bookshop. It seems quite useful. Anyone know it?

  13. Mark S. says:

    In illo tempore; I believe the rubric you quote is taken form the modern rite of Mass. The Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani is found in the 1970/1975/2002 Missal and its rubrics do not apply to the 1962 Missal. The rubrics of the 1962 Missal are covered by the “Rubricae Generalis”, “Ritus servandus” and “De defectibus” of that Missal, plus various directives given over the course of the years by the (now defunct) Sacred Congregation of Rites. Paragraph 513 of the Rubricae Generalis of the 1962 Missal states which parts of a Sung Mass are chanted, recited aloud, or recited silently by the priest, and the Last Gospel falls into the last category. If you would like me to post the text of this paragraph, please re-post, and I’ll be happy to do so.

  14. Mark S :

    The GIRM says, at least on the Vatican website (see link above)
    “General Norms for All Forms of Mass”

    I didn’t intend a rabbit hole here, just wondering if the The General Principles of Ceremonies of the Roman Rite covered such subject matter.

    The scary thing is, and I am sure I have heard people opine here that since there are two forms for the one rite in the R.C. Church, that the new stuff would be imposed on the old (One wonders about hidden agendas where this has been tried)).

  15. Mark S. says:

    In illo tempore: Yes I agree with you 100% – for all forms of the Ordinary Form of Mass. The document you are referring to applies only to the post-Vatican II Mass. The 1962 Missal has its own rubrics which are integral to that rite of Mass and are fully approved for that form of Mass. If you examine the document you are referring to, it clearly refers to the modern rite of Mass. If it applied to the 1962 Missal that would mean that the 1962 form of Mass would be absolutely identical to the modern rite of Mass – which clearly it isn\’t! The two forms of Mass each have their own sets of rubrics, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal for the modern form, and the documents I lay out above for the 1962 Missal. When the document you are referring to says \”General Norms for All Forms of Mass” it means all forms of Mass in the post-Vatican II form of Mass, not that the pre-Vatican II form is required to conform to post-Vatican II rubrics.

  16. Ian says:


    You are correct. According to O’Connell, and by a study of the 1960 Rubrics, the Last Gospel at a Sung or Solemn Mass, if it is said (it is omitted at various times) is said in “silently”, that is the priest says the words in the same tone of voice as he says the prayers during the Offertory. At Low Mass the Last Gospel is recited aloud.


    Using the 1960 Rubrics, there is no Last Gospel for the third Mass of Christmas. Prior to 1960, the Gospel you mention was used, but I do not believe the genuflection was retained. As of 1960 the Last Gospel with only one exception is always the Incipit of St. John’s Gospel. It is omitted entirely at the third Mass for Christmas and whenever a liturgical ceremony takes place immediately following Mass (e.g. Procession on Corpus Christi). The sole exception is for Palm Sunday in Masses no preceded by the blessing of and procession with Palms. At these Masses the Gospel for the blessing of Palms is read in the place of the Last Gospel.

  17. Jack007 says:

    Our local FSSP priest has always said the Last Gospel silently after Sung Mass and explained it to me as above. Now I see he was right!

    So, are there no more “proper Last Gospels” in the 1962 rubrics, save one? Which one?

    Thanks. Very informative postings here!
    Jack in KC

  18. Mark S. says:

    Jack007: As far as I’m aware – and somebody lease tell me if I’m wrong – the only “proper Last Gospel” is on Palm Sunday. If for some reason the Blessing of the Palms with the procession has been omitted, the Gospel from the Blesing of the Palms is used as the Last Gospel.

  19. This,although slightly off topic, might be of interest as it shows the evolution of the Last Gospel in the Dominican Rite
    Last Gospel viz-a-viz the Latin Rite.

    It would be great if Fr. Z (or someone else “in-the-know”)could point us in the direction of an authoritative history of the liturgy, the various sacrementeries used and how liturgical traditions evolved.

  20. Christopher Milton says:

    is there a version of this book for the ordinary form?! I’ve been asked to help with the training of alter servers at my parish and would love to get my hands on something not from 1974.

  21. inillotempore says:

    Christopher Milton :

    The G.I.R.M. is a good place to start.

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