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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): Rules of Precedence and of Proximity

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“In all ceremonies strict precedence is observed.” [1] Proximity is a sub-principle, or a necessary conclusion, of the principle of precedence. And though it is not explicitly named in the rubric books, it cannot be denied that its various rules exist.


What is meant by a superior is usually the celebrant, though this can also imply any of the sacred ministers.



Inferior ministers walk in front of and, depending on the circumstances, to the left of superiors. The place of dignity in a liturgical procession is at the end.

Kneeling Or Standing

Inferior ministers stand or kneel slightly behind a superior.[2] Inferior ministers also kneel one level below that of the celebrant or the sacred ministers.[3] However, there are times when both sacred and inferior ministers kneel on the same level (e.g., during Benediction).



Inferior ministers walk behind the superior in surplice and stole. The order of dignity is reversed for a non-liturgical procession.


If two or more servers (e.g., the acolytes with the crossbearer) come to a point where only one or two may proceed through, the highest ranking server(s) always goes first (i.e., Ac1 at Low Mass or the crossbearer at High Mass, then Ac1).


At certain times, an inferior minister will be required to step back one step to allow someone of higher rank (either a sacred or inferior minister) to pass.


Turning falls under the rules of proximity.

When Turning By Yourself

Always turn in the direction of the nearest object (e.g., the altar) or personage that holds the greater dignity (e.g., the celebrant versus the deacon). In cases of conflict or of choice, turn to the right.

When With Another Person

When with another server or sacred minister, always turn towards him. This is called an inward turn.

Practical Point On Inward Turning

If proceeding to another part of the sanctuary with another server, upon turning, the inside server must always allow enough time for the outside server to keep up with the movement. Each turn should be performed gracefully and simultaneously to show unity of action.

Turning Under The Conditions Of in coram Sanctissimo

When the Blessed Sacrament is exposed do not completely turn your back when descending from the predella. These times occur:

  • After the presentation of the cruets at the Offertory.
  • After ministering the Lavabo.
  • Immediately after the Consecration action when the servers go in plano to the center of the foot to genuflect.
  • After ministering the Ablutions.
  • When changing the missal and the chalice veil.

In these cases, the servers turn slightly toward each other and descend from the predella almost facing each other (almost side-stepping). If the servers are to return to the credence, upon reaching in plano, the servers then turn inwards completely and perform their duties as usual.


During the reading of the Gospel, all should be facing towards the book out of respect for the Word of God.[4] Extraneous actions should not be performed during either the Gospel or the Last Gospel.[5] To do so shows a lack of reverence for God’s Holy Word.

[1] L. O’Connell, pg. 29.

[2] E.g., during Psalm 42, the server should be about one foot away from the foot; this not only satisfies the rule of precedence, but it also gives the celebrant more room when he turns around upon descending from the predella.

[3] If one is serving at an altar that has just one step, i.e., the predella, the server should kneel in plano and not on the predella, except during the Consecration action, and when receiving Communion (i.e., when he normally would be on the predella).

[4] Following this rule of proximity, the Missale Romanum gives the direction for the celebrant during a Solemn High Mass to turn and bow toward the tabernacle (or altar cross) instead of toward the Gospel book.

[5] There is one exception to this rule: During a High, Solemn or Pontifical Mass, the servers line up for the Recessional after signing themselves. The reason for this is historical; at one time the text of the Last Gospel was said by the bishop or priest to himself while returning to the sacristy as a private devotion. Later this was made an official part of the Mass due to the influence of the Franciscans. During Low Mass, however, one should wait until the end of the Last Gospel before retrieving the biretta or prayer card from the credence and/or the sedilia.

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