QUAERITUR: A rule that the priest is the only one in the sanctuary during the consecration?

From a reader:

Is it a rule that the priest is the only one in the sanctuary during the consecration?

No, there is no such rule.

Surely the deacons (subdeacons) and other servers must be there near to the altar, within the sanctuary.  The proper place of clergy is also within the sanctuary, even if they are not serving.

However, there is another point the question stresses.  Should the sanctuary be reduced to a place just like every other place in the church?

NO!  Quod Deus avertat!

The clergy in the sanctuary, who are “in choir” vest in special garb befitting their rank, and servers wear clerical garb because they substitute for clergy.  Should there be a gaggle of lay people in street clothes in the sanctuary?

NO!  Extra omnes!

The church architectural form helps us understand Christ’s will for the Church with a hierarchical structure.  The church has a nave, a place for the baptized, and the church has a sanctuary, the place where the priest/mediator is in his role as Head of the Body (the congregation).  Should that distinction be blurred and the roles of clergy and laity muddled, should the dignity of lay people be denigrated by forcing them into the priest’s domain?

NO! Absit!

In short, no, there is no such rule.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Our Catholic Identity and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. kittenchan says:

    So is there an authoritative document out there which positively forbids laymen from entering the sanctuary during Mass (except in cases of emergency blah blah blah), or something along those lines? I speak in reference to the phalanx of EMHCs which accumulate in the sanctuary during the Agnus Dei.

  2. Matt R says:

    @kittenchan, if I recall correctly, EMHCs are supposed to approach the altar during the priest’s communion.

  3. Shonkin says:

    Hey, 55 years ago I was an altar boy. I was always in the sanctuary (kneeling on the steps) during the consecration.
    See the damage Vatican II did? A whole generation just doesn’t remember what Mass is supposed to be like.

  4. PaterAugustinus says:

    There is an old, pious custom (observed in the Sarum Use, at least – I’m not sure in which others) whereby all the ministers *do* leave the Sanctuary during the consecration. From the conclusion of the Sanctus, they stand without the Rood Screen in that use, and return when the priest crosses his arms over his breast in preparation for the Supplices Te Rogamus.

  5. Volanges says:

    This is the document people are wondering about.

    GIRM 162. The priest may be assisted in the distribution of Communion by other
    priests who happen to be present. If such priests are not present and there is a
    very large number of communicants, the priest may call upon extraordinary
    ministers to assist him, i.e., duly instituted acolytes or even other faithful who
    have been deputed for this purpose.97 In case of necessity, the priest may depute
    suitable faithful for this single occasion.98
    These ministers should not approach the altar before the priest has received Communion, and they are always to receive from the hands of the priest celebrant the vessel containing either species of the Most Holy Eucharist for distribution to the faithful.

  6. wmeyer says:

    Shonkin, amen.

    Also, people clearly have no clue what “extraordinary” means. I have seen 8 EMHCs with a congregation of no more than 120. In that parish, they clearly believe in some sort of entitlement to serve.

  7. sullibe says:

    This past Sunday my husband and I visited the chapel at our Alma Mater where we were married; it was the 100th anniversary of the Chapel and they were celebrating with a Mass. They also provided the opportunity for couples who were married in the chapel to renew their vows – which was special for us because Sunday was our 12th Anniversary. However… they brought all all the couples up into the sanctuary of the Chapel (my husband and I stayed down off the steps), blessed water (complete with all hands elevated – we didn’t do that), renewed baptismal promises and then we all renewed our vows.
    Afterwards, couples instructed to remain in the sanctuary during the Eucharistic prayers, moving everyone who had been in front and down off the steps (there were probably 20-25 couples) to back behind the altar. My husband and I skillfully excused ourselves from the nonsense to tend to our children and took our place in the pew, but the whole thing was unsettling to say the least.
    At the least when we actually renewed our vows I was able to tune everything else out and focus on the vows themselves. *sighs*

  8. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I recently saw a televised Celebaration where the choir was ranged behind the Altar which included the curious distraction of the choir director shaking her head, “No!” (to some question from the choir) very visibly in the background just as the Celebrating Bishop was praying the vernacular equivalent of “ut mihi ut illis proficiat ad salutem”!

  9. Pingback: Sacred Music Hobby Lobby God Rosary Jesus Wife | Big Pulpit

Comments are closed.