ASK FATHER: Priest invites people to stand around altar during consecration

From a reader…


Today [actually a while back at the time of this posting] the associate pastor, a newly ordained priest, asked us, since there were fewer people than usual present at Mass, to come up after the homily around the altar and “all celebrate Mass together”. The Pastor was there as well. (The new associate pastor is diocesan, but the pastor is from a liberal religious order. I haven’t a clue whose idea this was.)

A few of us stayed in our seats. It did not seem right to go up there. Is it actually wrong? Should I/we do anything about it? (I’m a convert.)


A “newly ordained priest”? And here I thought this silliness was dying off.

It is, of course, but the fact that there are pockets here and there that still pop up is still depressing.  Even as pandemics die out, the occasional case of the disease will present itself.

Father seems not to have obtained a good education on the nature of the priesthood, or the nature of liturgical prayer. Perhaps, as I try to imagine the best scenario, he’s merely trying to impress the aging-hippy pastor with how forward-thinking he is.  Therefore he is putting on display his grasp of the aging pastor’s formation: the summer of love, disco, bell bottoms, liturgical tambourines, etc.

Here’s an idea.   Since Father seems to think that people are “celebrating liturgy” together in the same manner that he is (thus, calling them around the altar), perhaps he ought to share both his Mass stipends and his paycheck with them too.  Fair’s fair, right? Aren’t we all about peace and justice? Schleiermacher’s ghost would approve, but I’ll bet Father won’t go that far.

To your dilemma.  Don’t go up.

Back in 1997 several offices of the Roman Curia cooperated in an authoritative document called Ecclesia de mystery, called in English “Instruction On Certain Questions Regarding The Collaboration Of The Non-Ordained Faithful In The Sacred Ministry Of Priest. This instruction clarified the distinct roles of laypeople and of priests. In that document, we find:

In liturgical celebrations each one, minister or layperson, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to that office by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy.” (SC art. 29). During the liturgy of the eucharist, only the presiding celebrant remains at the altar. The assembly of the faithful take their place in the Church outside the “presbyterium,” which is reserved for the celebrant or concelebrants and altar ministers. [Notitiae 17 (1981) 61]

Bottom line: the lay faithful (except those in liturgical serving roles) are not permitted to be inside the sanctuary, that is, “around the Altar” during the Holy Mass.

What to do?  Other than rolling your eyes and then looking for a different parish for daily Mass, there aren’t many action options.

Depending on the diocese, a letter to the local bishop would probably result in one of three things.

1) A “strongly worded letter” from the bishop to the priest telling him to cut it out;

2) A “strongly worded letter” from the bishop to you telling you to stop calumniating a wonderful priest who empowers the laity;

3) The ceremonial placing of your letter either in the special round file (often used in chanceries for such correspondence) or else in Father’s file, where it will sit until the quinquennial culling.   NB: Letters of complaint about Father’s use of Latin or maniples seem to have longer shelf-life for some reason.

Good luck.  Pray that Father finds a better priestly mentor and then grows up.

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, Priests and Priesthood. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Joseph-Mary says:

    Upon my reconversion back in the mid-90s, the priests would invite us to stand around the altar as well. I did a few times but it did not seem right. I recall speaking with some of my new holy friends and they were worried about disobedience if they did not stand around the altar. We had to figure all that out. So I soon began to not accept the invitation. Also we started to not accept the invitation from the bishop to stand during the consecration. All that nonsense slowly began to go away but for a time half the parish was kneeling and half standing at the consecration ( being a ‘resurrection’ people who did not need penance, you know). I know longer live in that town or diocese.

  2. The Masked Chicken says:

    I was once in Luxembourg for a conference and I went to daily Mass at one of the churches near the conference site. I was the only one there. The priest invited me up on the sanctuary. I held the liturgical books. I guess that was alright. On the other hand I have had to suffer through the altar call horror a few times in my life. Many people don’t mean to be liberal about liturgical practices. They simply don’t know any better and trust the priest. I suppose one cannot always do that, these days, sigh.

    The Chicken

  3. JamesM says:

    This happens in my home parish. The priest is even bold enough to post a picture of it on the parish website.

  4. The Astronomer says:

    When told by our presider from campus ministry at college to join him around the altar, extend hands and recite the Eucharistic Prayers, I elected to sit in my folding chair. I got alot of ‘stink eye’ from fellow students and the presider.

    Welcome back, Kotter….

  5. Thorfinn says:

    Seems to me the proper course is to speak in person or send the newly ordained priest a note — a kind note, as always — describing the confusion and noting the results of research into the matter. It is quite possible that the priest has not received sound formation and does not realize that this mode of celebration is not an allowable option. Maybe he ignores it, maybe he doesn’t care, maybe he has been taught that the directives are just guidelines — or maybe he comes around sooner or later.

    Whether contacting the priest or not, it is important to let the bishop know (perhaps depending on the diocese as noted) since it could be an indicator of the type of formation at least some of the diocese’s seminarians are getting. Time to stop sending vocations off to the Seminary of St Daryl the Apostate, eh?

  6. CradleRevert says:

    I typically drive 35 minutes to attend Mass at a FSSP parish, but I once attended Mass at the nearby diocesan parish due to some car troubles I was having. The priest there also invited the children of the parish to come surround the altar during the consecration. I don’t know if this is their normal practice. It also happened to be Mother’s Day, and rather than give a homily the priest invited all the children to come sit on the steps of the sanctuary while he did a little “Mother’s Day Q&A” with the children.

    This happened almost two years ago now, and I know that the parish has since received a new, younger Associate pastor. From what I’ve seen on Facebook, he appears to be doing good things there. It looks like he wears the biretta at all his Masses, and he’s been encouraging the use of the chapel veil. At their weekly Spanish Mass, they’ve even begun the practice of receiving communion on the tongue while kneeling. It appears that things are getting better there.

  7. lh says:

    At daily Mass at a nearby parish this happened as well, by a visiting priest. An older gentleman and I refused, everyone else went up to the altar. The priest proceeded to tell us that we were placing ourselves outside the Church by not “participating”, he continued scolding us but we still wouldn’t budge, much to his frustration. Those who joined him on the Altar were upset and angry that we would not cooperate and were “lacking in charity”. It was very trying, thanks be to God He gave us courage.

  8. MattH says:

    One of the reasons I became Catholic is that I became convinced that the New Testament teaches the existence of an ordained priesthood passed on by the laying on of hands, which gives the the power to offer sacrifice and to forgive sins. The priest and bishop are called to do these things – I am not. If anyone thinks that ordained and non-ordained can “celebrate together,” then I guess I do not understand why they are Catholic and I certainly do not understand why they would bother going through years of seminary training to become a priest.

  9. majuscule says:


    A very interesting picture of your church and the special Children’s Mass! It looks like a beautiful church.

    Is that the unused high altar behind the crowd in the sanctuary (at least I think it’s the sanctuary).

    Let’s try to look at the bright side. One of the girls has her head covered!

  10. Dialogos says:

    This is yet another reason I think it’s good to re-install altar rails (and even Rood screens): to demarcate boundaries (which, current psychology assures us) are good. Coming from an Eastern Orthodox background it is absolutely clear where the sanctuary is (behind the iconostasis and royal doors). When I began serving as an acolyte in the Latin rite i had a hard time overcoming a fear of the altar–in the East no one touches the altar unless one is a subdeacon or higher in rank.

  11. Blaise says:

    I would be tempted to reply out loud to the priest’s invitation declining and citing my reason that such abuses were specifically forbidden in a recent Church document. After all the priest is asking for it really.

  12. marytoo says:

    This post brings back memories for me. Many years ago on Palm Sunday, before my husband converted, our family arrived too late to get seats together – Mass was very crowded, we had to stand and ended up getting separated. The priest at this parish always invited the children up around the altar and to my horror my husband, thinking it was the thing to do, sent my then 2- and 4-year olds up with the rest of the gang, which numbered so many that my children were actually standing off the sanctuary at the top of the aisle in full view…one calling “Hi, Mama!” to me as I stood in the back of the church (looking around in innocence like, who’s that kid talking to …?) and one…with his finger up his nose. I know. Needless to say it never happened again. After 12 years there we left, found the old Mass and within two years my husband converted. True story.

  13. JimGB says:

    The worst such abuse I saw was at a funeral Mass where the priest, a friend of the deceased’s family, invited the grandchildren of the deceased to stand around the altar during Mass. Maybe one could give him a pass for that under the circumstances if that was the extent of it, but then he handed one of the kids the chalice to hold up during the doxology while he raised the large plate holding the Consecrated Hosts. He also allowed a family member to read a poem she had composed as a tribute to the deceased, after the second reading and before the Gospel. The priest was “of a certain age,” and was obviously trying to personalize the Mass for the family, but it makes one wonder what else goes on in his parish where the liturgy is involved.

  14. The Egyptian says:

    our current pastor. he is of “that age”‘ does it with the first communion class every year, our associate pastor 8 years older is just as bad, just like the picture from JamesM, holding hands and all, he says he wants them to see what he does and prove it is not mysterious, GGGAAAGGG
    we are the last stop before the retirement home for the priests of the Society of the Precious Blood, any attempts to change things are met with the “be glad you still have a priest” bit, which is why I can get NO ONE to listen about these things

    majuscule, if you look close it ts the remains of the “high” altar, front chopped off and a tiny shelf to hold the sacred vessels when “putting them away”, pity

  15. Ahhhh. How situations like this lead one to ponder God’s infinite mercy in denying us the fruit of the tree of life, and instead allowing us to be consoled by the wonderful certainties of the ‘biological solution’ …

  16. Hopefully, in that “best scenario,” the new priest gets to whip out his biretta the moment the aging hippie pastor hits 75.

  17. Faith says:

    Some priest told me that letters to the bishop end up in the Crank File. He meant that there just filed in a file cabinet drawer, in a file with our parish’s name. It’s called Crank File because this cabinet is full of letters from cranks.
    Do you think this is true? What’s the use of writing to the bishop? If you write a letter to the diocesan newspaper would it get in? Besides, I think the pastor and his cronies would take criticism and suggestions as ATTACKS and all the priests would circle around their confrere to protect him.
    It’s very discouraging. What can we do?

  18. Lori Pieper says:

    I realize that it’s wrong to ask people to come up and “consecrate” together with the priest, but I recall as one of the most beautiful memories of my childhood the saintly old white-haired priest who called us up to the altar during the consecration to explain to what was going on. I was then about eight years old. This would have been in the 60’s either during or just after the Council. This was a priest, mind you, who had loved and celebrated the traditional Mass all of his life, who understood the mystery and wanted to pass it on to us. I learned so much about the Mass this way, and I am forever grateful to him.

  19. Gaz says:

    I did only once. I knelt for the consecration. Daggers from the nuns.

  20. Warren says:

    Sad to say, standing around the altar was my first experience of Mass.

    The very popular priest would invite us into the sanctuary just prior to the “Preparation of the Gifts”. The Sign of Peace took five minutes at least for the priest to wander through the crowd. By the grace of God, soon after I was received into the Church I started attending another parish that was solidly Catholic. Of my 15 peers in the RCIA class (which was a joke) run by Sister Beige Pantsuit, I am the last man standing, as it were.

    Thanks be to God, the college Mass now has an orthodox chaplain, a married priest (Pastoral Provision) who converted from Anglicanism. Students, faculty and staff kneel in the congregation and there is no intentional deviation from the norms. That is, except when we have visiting priests who think they are still in the 1980s. Pray! Fast and pray! It make take a decade or two, but if that dissent and liturgical abuse ridden college parish can change, any parish can.

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