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Ordo Missae of the 1962 Missale Romanum

A Rubrical Guide For Altar Servers

By Louis J. Tofari

 General Principles of Ceremonies (for inferior ministers): Reverences

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The rules for bowing differ between sacred ministers and inferior ministersSacred ministers are instructed not to bow while kneeling,[1] whereas inferior ministers are instructed to bow while kneeling (which is not necessarily a position of deportment for them at all times). However, when inferior ministers are next to a kneeling sacred minister they do not bow (following the rule of cum ratione accommodationis), unless the sacred ministers are explicitly required to bow; these times are:

  • During the Credo at “Et homo factus est.”[2]
  • During Benediction, before standing to impose incense.
  • During Benediction, before and after incensing the Blessed Sacrament.
  • During Benediction, for the hymn, Tantum ergo, at the words, “veneremur cernui”.[3]

“Bows should not be made unless they are required by the rubrics.”[4] It follows then, that bows should not be made to the tabernacle or altar cross upon ascending to or before descending from the predella (e.g., when switching the missal, etc.)[5].

When Kneeling
Bow straight ahead. The only time one turns while bowing when kneeling are those who, by proximity, are next to or immediately behind the celebrant at these times:

  1. During a Solemn High Mass: During the celebrant’s Confiteor when he turns toward the deacon and subdeacon and says, “et vobis, fratres” and “et vos, fratres.”
  2. When the sacred ministers and/or the servers say the Misereatur.
  3. When the servers say the Confiteor, at the words, “et tibi, pater” and “et te, pater” (however, this is not done at the second Confiteor).

When Standing
One should pivot on his feet so as to face the tabernacle, and then make the appropriate bow, and then pivot back to face the former direction. This should be done smoothly and in unison with any other ministers. In anticipation of making the bow, one should turn towards the altar, at least a second or two before the word or action arrives, so that the bow can be made on cue.

During The Sung Gloria And Credo: Whom To Follow -- The Celebrant Or The Choir?
During the sung Gloria and the sung Credo, the servers follow the bows (and the genuflection) of the celebrant as long as he is at the altar. Once he leaves the altar to go to the sedilia, they then act according to the words sung by the choir, as does the celebrant himself.

There Are Three Types Of Bows[6]:

  1. Simple: With the head only.
  2. Moderate: With the head and shoulders at a sixty degree angle.
  3. Profound: With the head and shoulders at an almost ninety degree angle.

Bows Are Made For Five Reasons:

  1. Whenever something is said aloud that requires a reverence[7].
  2. When kneeling, for a word or phrase said aloud that requires a genuflection for those standing[8].
  3. When ministering (servicing) to a sacred minister.
  4. When an act of reverence is required towards a personage or object (side altar, Good Friday, etc.).
  5. For an action of the celebrant that requires an objective reverence (e.g., for the genuflections of the Consecration, and at C’s Communion of both Sacred Species).

Bows Are Not Made:

  • By an inferior minister when he is kneeling next to a kneeling sacred minister,[9] not even for the Gloria Patri or the Holy Name.
  • By an inferior minister towards anyone or anything before sitting down.
  • To someone who is kneeling.[10]
  • From the Veneration of the cross on Good Friday until the Vigil Service on Holy Saturday, all bows to persons are omitted.[11]
The Simple Bow
Almost all of the bows made during a ceremony are simple bows.

A Bow Is Required For These Words Said Aloud By A Sacred Minister:

  1. At the Holy Name of Jesus (but not when the title “Christ” is mentioned by itself).
  2. During the Gloria Patri (but not for the second part: sicut erat…).
  3. During the Gloria at these words: in excelsis Deo (just at Deo), adoramus te, gratias agimus tibi, Jesu Christe, suscipe deprecationem nostram, Jesu Christe.
  4. “Oremus.”
  5. At the name of Mary, and the name(s) of the Saint(s) of the day. However, if the name of another Mary occurs[12], or another saint of the same name, do not bow for it. Do not bow for the name of the Apostles on their feast day when the Gospel is announced (e.g., “Sequentia Evangelii secundum ... “).[13]
  6. During the Credo at these words: in unum Deum, Jesum Christum, (a moderate bow is made for the genuflection at: Et incarnatus est), simul adoratur.
  7. During the Preface at: “…gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro.”
  8. During the entire recitation of the Agnus Dei.
  9. During the Last Blessing at: “Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus . . .”
  10. At the name of the reigning Sovereign Pontiff and of the local Ordinary.[14]
  11. During the season of Lent for the Oratio super populum: When the celebrant says, “Oremus (make a simple bow): Humiliate capita vestra Deo (make another simple bow until the prayer is concluded; do not make a bow for “per Dominum Jesum Christum…” as your head is already lowered).[15]

When Ministering To (servicing) A Sacred Minister
A bow always is the first thing and the last thing done when ministering to a sacred minister. One is considered to be servicing a sacred minister at these times:

  • When presenting either the Epistolarium or the Evangeliarium.[16]
  • When presenting the cruets at the Offertory (either to the celebrant or to the subdeacon).
  • For any kind of Lavabo.
  • When receiving the Pax (or in giving it to one in choir via a pax brede)[17].
  • During the Ablutions.[18]

When servicing the celebrant or a sacred minister, the bows are made directly in front of him, not in plano before the servers ascend to the altar to perform their duties.

A bow is not prescribed in any of the books for the ministers (i.e., the MC and thurifer) before they ascend to the predella for the imposition of incense and should therefore be omitted.

When An Act Of Reverence Is Required Towards Other Personages

  1. Bows are returned if the personage bowing is of equal or higher rank.
  2. Whenever the thurifer incenses someone (or a group) the first thing and last thing that he does is bow toward them.[19]

The Moderate Bow
The moderate bow is used only:

  • During the Misereatur's and Confiteor's said by the servers.
  • When kneeling, for words said aloud by the celebrant that require a genuflection for those standing (e.g., during the Credo at Et incarnatus est[20], for Flectamus genua on some Ember days).
  • For the four genuflections of the Consecration action.[21]
  • When kneeling under the conditions of in coram Sanctissimo: [22]
    • Before rising to impose incense into the thurible.
    • Before and after incensing the Blessed Sacrament.
    • During Tantum ergo at the words veneremur cernui.

The Profound Bow
A profound bow is used before and after incensing the celebrant and when incensing the book of the Gospels. Otherwise, it is hardly used by inferior ministers, except in regards to prelates during pontifical ceremonies.

Do Not:

  • Make a profound bow while kneeling. The moderate bow takes its place and “is equivalent to a profound … bow while standing.”[23]
As with bowing, for the inferior ministers the rules for genuflecting differ somewhat from those of the sacred ministers. Likewise, a genuflection should not be made unless it is prescribed.

Predella Protocol
Whereas the sacred ministers have the privilege of genuflecting on the altar steps[24], inferior ministers do not have the privilege of genuflecting on the predella within or outside of the ceremonies, except in cases of the principle cum ratione accommodationis.[25] When this occurs, one may not rest his hands on the altar, as only the celebrant has this privilege.[26]

There Are Two Types Of Genuflections:

  1. The Single knee genuflection.
  2. The Double knee genuflection.
Genuflections Are Made For Seven Reasons:
  1. When entering or leaving the sanctuary.
  2. When crossing the center of the altar.
  3. When coming to or leaving from the center of the altar.
  4. When going to an outside point (leaving the view) of the altar.
  5. When standing, for a word or phrase said aloud that requires a genuflection (during the Last Gospel at Et homo factus est, during some Graduals or Alleluias, for “Flectamus genua,” etc.).[27]
  6. When the special rules for in coram Sanctissimum apply.
  7. On Good Friday from the Veneration of the cross to the Vigil of Holy Saturday inclusive (this entire period of time is treated as in actu functionis).[28]

Like bowing, a genuflection should not be made unless the principles or a specific rubric calls for it. Therefore the principle that “whenever one server has to genuflect, the other server should genuflect with him in the center” is incorrect. This is not only wasted motion, but this “rule of thumb” does not even make sense and certainly does not comply with the Roman character of the ceremonies; an action should not be made unless there is a need or reason for it.

Direction Of Genuflecting
When genuflecting, normally one genuflects directly ahead; however, on occasion, it may be necessary for one to turn and face an object (be it the Blessed Sacrament, the altar, the book of Gospels, etc.) and then make the genuflection.

The Single Knee Genuflection
The majority of genuflections made are single knee. A single knee genuflection is made by bending the right knee, so that it touches the floor near one’s left foot.

When A Single Knee Genuflection Is Made, Do Not:

  • Bow your head.
  • Make the sign of the cross (each action means something different).
  • Touch your knees with your folded hands (or put your hands on your knees).
  • Slouch your body.
  • Genuflect at an angle towards the object you are genuflecting to, especially when crossing the center of the foot (e.g., the altar).

Special Rules of In Coram Sanctissimum
Under those conditions in which the Blessed Sacrament is considered exposed, a single knee genuflection is made by an inferior minister in plano before ascending to the predella, and in plano after descending from the predella (without turning one’s back). This is done also outside of a service when lighting and extinguishing candles, or performing sacristy work on the altar where in coram Sanctissimum conditions exist.

The Double Knee Genuflection
A double knee genuflection is made by going to your left knee, then to your right, making a moderate bow, then standing again (you must stand before you kneel again, unless the place where you are genuflecting is the same place where you are going to kneel[29]).

A double knee genuflection is used only during times of in coram Sanctissimum. When they are used differs depending on the conditions:

In Actu Functionis
When this condition exists, a double knee genuflection is only made for these two reasons:

  1. When entering or leaving the sanctuary.
  2. When going to an outside point (leaving the view of the altar).

All other genuflections (e.g., like crossing the center of the altar, ascending to and descending from the predella) are single knee genuflections as usual.

Outside Of A Service

  1. For those reasons listed for in actu functionis.
  2. Every time one crosses the center of the altar.

Special Consideration On Genuflecting
If where one would genuflect is the same place where one would kneel (e.g., both times in plano), then one is not required to genuflect and then kneel, but one simply remains kneeling after performing the moderate bow.[30]

Solita oscula
are given to the celebrant only (i.e., during a Solemn High Mass, not to a deacon or subdeacon who may be a priest).

Solita Oscula Are Given In This Order:

  1. When giving: Object first, then the celebrant’s hand.
  2. When receiving: Celebrant’s hand first, then the object.

There Are Two Exceptions To The Receiving Rule Regarding Sacramentals:

  1. Blessed Candle: Candle first, then the celebrant’s hand.
  2. Blessed Palm: Palm first, then the celebrant’s hand.

The reason for this is that these sacramentals take precedence over the celebrant.

The Items That Receive Solita Oscula Are:

  1. Biretta: On one of the sides.
  2. Cruets: On the side of the cruet (not the lip or handle)[31].
  3. Aspergilium: On the end of the handle.
  4. Incense spoon: On the end of the handle.
  5. Thurible: On the disk (where the chains are attached).

Solita Oscula Are Omitted:

  1. For Requiem Masses.
  2. For ceremonies in coram Sanctissimo.
  3. From Good Friday to the pre-Mass ceremonies of Easter Vigil inclusive.

[1] At these times kneeling is a position of reverence and not of deportment for them.

[2] SRC rescript 29156 prescribes this for Christmas and the Feast of the Annunication, and by application this should be done by the sacred ministers if they kneel at the foot while the choir sings these words (after having said it themselves at the altarr).

[3] SRC 41792.

[4] L. O’Connell, pg. 43.

[5] This is neither prescribed nor mentioned in the rubrics for inferior ministers, even by those who are quite specific; i.e., J.B. O’Connell and L. O’Connell. There was one exception, which has fallen out of use anyhow because the action is no longer performed: The acolyte used to process into the sanctuary and recess out carrying the missal. After the Leonine Prayers, he would pick up the missal and bow to the tabernacle in unison with the celebrant (who was about to descend with the chalice), thereby following the principle of cum ratione accommodationis. It should be mentioned also that those bows that the sacred ministers customarily perform towards the tabernacle are hotly debated by rubricists, of whom most state that these are not required and therefore should not be performed.

[6] Cf. The Acolyte, Issue 3, pg. 16; the Guild’s Handbook, pg. 9; L. O’Connell, pg. 35, f. 14; J. B. O’Connell, pg. 264 f (in the three volume set); and J. B. O’Connell, pg. 200 (in the 1962 edition) for clarifications on how many types of bows exist.

[7] Cf. above, VARIOUS CONDITIONS THAT AFFECT REVERENCES, section E for further clarification.

[8] Same as footnote 24.

[9] With exception to those times that sacred ministers are required to, as mentioned above in the section BOWS.

[10] L. O’Connell, pg. 43, Fortescue, p. 26.

[11] L. O’Connell, pg. 43.

[12] E.g., during Gospel for the Votive Mass of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the name of Mary of Cleophas is mentioned, but just mater for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

[13] SRC 376725; cf. L. O’Connell, pg. 35, ff. 15.

[14] E.g., during Benediction if Tu es Petrus is sung, a bow is made for the name of the Pope, but only when the celebrant is standing for the Oratio Pro Papam.

[15] Fortescue, pg. 41.

[16] Usually, an extra Missale Romanum is used for both of these books, due their rarity.

[17] This is actually a reverence made out of courtesy or respect, rather than that of performing a duty towards the person.

[18] This includes both parts of the Ablutions: When Ac1 is alone on the predella, he performs the necessary bows by himself, and when the celebrant goes to the acolytes, they again make both bows before and after.

[19] This may be done from a distance; however, unlike the bows made when servicing the celebrant.

[20] Sacred ministers are required also to bow for this phrase if they are kneeling during the Credo, after reciting it at the altar. SRC 2915, 6.

[21] This is the rule given by the Guild’s Handbook, by L. O’Connell, pg. 160-161 and in a slightly different version by J. B. O’Connell, pg. 359-360.

[22] As mentioned previously, these bows also apply to the sacred ministers. These occasions occur during Benediction, the Forty Hours Exposition, on Holy Thursday during the Translation of the Blessed Sacrament, and during any Procession of the Blessed Sacrament, namely on the feasts of Corpus Christi and Christ the King.

[23] SRC 4179, 1 and L. O’Connell, pg. 37. Whenever profound bows are prescribed for sacred ministers, it is when they are standing.

[24] The first and last genuflection, though, is always performed in plano by the sacred ministers.

[25] Technically, this rule should even include major clerics outside of a ceremony, since they are no longer fulfilling the function of a sacred minister in actu functionis and consequently no longer have the privilege.

[26] L. O’Connell, pg. 43, Callewaert, pg. 26.


[28] L. O’Connell, pg. 39 and SRC 30495.

[29] A server always genuflects in plano. So if the server were kneeling in plano, instead of kneeling on an altar step, etc., he would simply kneel, perform a moderate bow, and then remain where he was already kneeling.

[30] L. O’Connell, pg. 40. This principle is more often performed by sacred ministers than by inferior ministers.

[31] This is done at the Offertory only when presenting them to the celebrant. This is also a particular custom in the United States that ought to be observed in this country.

Copyright © 2007. Louis J. Tofari. All rights reserved.
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