PRACTICAL: What should be in a traditional MC’s “Go Bag”?

paxHere in the realm of the Extraordinary Ordinary, where I am President of the Tridentine Mass Society of the Diocese of Madison (a 501(c)(3) organization – please make a generous donation today!) I am fortunate to have as a colleague a young layman who acts as MC for many of our functions.  He is super well-informed about his work and the Roman Rite.

The other day I mentioned that I was impressed that, if something were needed in a pinch, he always seemed to have what was necessary.  So…

I asked him what he thought should be in the traditional MC’s “Go Bag”.   This is what he sent:


Always take along:

  • Rituale Romanum
  • Liber Brevior
  • Holy Water
  • Salt (preferably already blessed)
  • Pen and pencil, notepad
  • Safety pins
  • Lighter
  • Matches, for when none of the available lighters will work (and that will eventually happen)
  • Swiss Army Knife (preferably one that includes a corkscrew)
  • Corkscrew (if not on the knife), for when you arrive and there is no wine in the sacristy so someone has to make a run to the store to buy a bottle, and it is corked (yes, this has happened when I was serving, and fortunately I had a pocketknife to open it)
  • Paperclips – for some reason they are needed more often than one might think

Helpful, but not essential:

  • Needle and thread
  • Standard straight pins
  • Copy of Fortescue, J.B. O’Connell, or L. O’Connell
  • Pontificale Romanum and a copy of Stehle (for Pontifical liturgies)

Essential references to own for study / rehearsal:

  • Fortescue, Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described (best general resource for all common parish ceremonies)
  • B. O’Connell, The Celebration of Mass (most in-depth resource for Masses celebrated by a priest)
  • O’Connell, The Book of Ceremonies (best resource for basic serving rules and principles, e.g. different types of bows and genuflections, how to light and extinguish candles, etc, as well as a basic overview of parish ceremonies, though less depth than Fortescue and never updated to post-55 Holy Week. Also a great appendix on liturgical chant)
  • Stehle, Manual of Episcopal Ceremonies (best resource for anything Pontifical)
  • Wapelhorst, Compendium Liturgiae Sacrae (most in-depth explanation of what is happening and why, for all types of Masses and the Divine Office. Lots of helpful charts and tables to summarize the more complicated ceremonies)
  • an actual Missale Romanum (i.e. not just a hand Missal), with the complete Rubricae generales, Ritus servandus, De defectibus, and the in-line rubrics

So to all you aspiring MC’s out there, get a “go bag”, get to studying and…

¡Hagan lío!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Guido03 says:

    Thanks. Regarding the texts you mention above – is there a resource that you or your MC could recommend for a layman who would just be starting out? I’m thinking along the lines of a helpful text on serving the Mass that is fairly straightforward.

  2. Precentrix says:

    For someone completely new to serving the EF, given that mostly you would be serving Low Mass:


    Small enough to have with you and if I recall it gives a rough pronunciation guide to the Latin.

    (I’m a woman, it’s not like I’ve used it myself).

  3. mschu528 says:


    How to Serve, by Dom Matthew Britt, OSB, is pretty much the English-language standard for novice TLM servers. The Canons Regular of St John Cantius put it back in print after Summorum Pontificum, and sell it for $12.50: HERE

  4. Titus says:

    That Wapelhorst book isn’t in English anywhere, is it? I see Latin copies littered about the internet, and even some old catalogue listings for it on Google Books (5th edition, $2.50!), but nothing indicating it was ever published in the vernacular.

    I should just keep my Latin in better shape, shouldn’t I?

  5. acardnal says:

    How to Serve” is also available at Amazon.


  6. Cicero_NOLA says:

    I don’t imagine there is anything analogous to those server resources for those of us without EF options? Would it be possible to use Britt’s “How to Serve” (or similar) for NO mutatis mutandis or is that a bridge too far?

  7. Thom says:


    If there is anything along these lines for servers in the OF, I have yet to find it, and I’ve been looking. As altar server coordinator for my parish, I have had to develop my own book based on EF resources (including Britt), adapted to the rubrics of the OF and the architecture of our parish church.

    I’m happy to share the PDF of our altar server manual, if you like – though after several years of use, experience, and learning, it is badly in need of revision.

  8. acardnal says:

    Another website which caters to the TLM/EF Mass and which I just learned about is Romanitas Press. They offer traditional training and educational materials: HERE

  9. wolfeken says:

    Excellent list. I would also add the current year’s FSSP Ordo, so any confusion about commemorations and propers for such days as March 19 and 20, 2017, can be put to rest.

  10. rtrainque says:

    We use the booket mentioned above for basics and low Mass. For a “how-to” for everything else, our priest is a fan of Collins:

  11. Stephen Matthew says:

    Father Z,
    Perhaps you could suggest some resources for the celebration of the ordinary form in a manner that respects both Catholic tradition and the legitimate reforms of the most recent council?

    If such resources do not exist, perhaps an online collaboration of your readers could begin drafting something that might be both a solid resource, yet avoid triggering any of the alarm bells of the average parish priest of post-conciliar formation. It would be a project of “mutual enrichment” and a part of the hermeneutic of continuity and also a flowering of the Spirit of Vatican II. It would have to include at least one person with a sense of humor and at least one person familiar with subversive literature.

  12. Geoffrey says:

    @Stephen Matthew:

    As an instituted acolyte and occasional master of liturgical ceremonies at my parish and for my bishop, I could not agree more!

    Aside from the liturgical books themselves, all that is really out there is “Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite: The Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours: A Manual for Clergy and All Involved in Liturgical Ministries” by the Most Rev. Peter J. Elliott, and “Ceremonies of the Liturgical Year: A Manual for Clergy and All Involved in Liturgical Ministries” by the same.

  13. Cicero_NOLA says:


    Thanks for the offer. I sent you an email.

  14. Thom says:


    I’ve sent you rather a large bundle of PDFs. Enjoy, and may it prove of use.


  15. Titus says:

    Stephen Matthew: Go to Nashville and hear Mass downtown at St. Mary’s (this parish does not get the internet attention it deserves, but it’s a robust Reform of the Reform parish). Or visit an Oratory, or St. John Cantius in Chicago. One need not reinvent the wheel.

  16. As an MC for the Traditional Mass (and in the “ordinary form” for at least four bishops) for more than a decade now, I read the list with great interest, not to mention curiosity. It seems to me that I am more likely to have need of Fortescue or O’Connell for any given occasion, than I am blessed salt.

    Fortescue is good for an all-around explanation of ceremonies, but in most cases it presumes a Missa Solemnis, at times to the exclusion of a Missa Cantata. O’Connell (JB) is a superior guide to the Mass itself. A competent MC will have both, and have them in his “go bag.” Neither does justice to pontifical ceremonies, so Stehle would be de rigueur for those occasions. (I wish I could find a copy.)

    The best source of material and resources, in my experience, is Biretta Books, the publishing and supply arm of the Canons of St John Cantius in Chicago. They publish a little pamphlet entitled “Ceremonial for the Missa Cantata with Incense.” It takes regional variations in customary law into account, and I always gave a copy to my MCs-in-training.

    An article in Regina magazine about the work of MCs for the TLM underscored two significant challenges; that of MCs who would be more knowledgeable than the priests they serve, and logistical challenges of modern “wreckovated” sanctuaries. To this I would add a third, the differences in training methods. Some communities, such as FSSP, have their own way of various little things, especially in training servers, as well as matters of courtesy and protocol.

    Just my two cents worth.

  17. Latinmass1983 says:

    Good list …. though I think that Msgr. Pio Martinucci (Rex cæremoniariorum) would be doing the equivalent of “rolling in the grave” at finding out that he didn’t make it to the list and that Wapelhorst did …. maybe we just won’t tell him!

  18. Mike of Arkansas says:

    I suspect that a Liber Usualis, preferably the Desclee 1962 edition, could be a useful addition to an MC’s library.

    I’m happy to see the inclusion of Rev. J. B. O’Connell’s Celebration in the list of essential references. I wish I had access to one when I was a server in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but there was probably no copy anywhere in my small parish. Although most of its content was way “above my pay grade”, it contains much that I would have appreciated as one who took the privilege of serving very seriously.

  19. Stephen Matthew says:

    Thanks for those suggestions.
    I have seen “modern” books for servers, MCs, sacristans, etc. but all of them I have seen have been been written from entirely the wrong point of view with rather questionable assumptions about liturgy.

    Thanks for the Nashville suggestion, that isn’t too far away. I do thankfully have some first hand experience of liturgy done well, but most of our local parishes seem to wandering in the dark without even a clear idea of what better might look like.

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