Holding the Missal for the Celebrant & Bowing During Mass


Two questions.

  1. What is the origins of the altar-server holding the missal for the celebrant? It’s absent from the EF so it is a new tradition? Are there rubrics governing it?

  2. To whom does GIRM 275 (bows during Mass) apply? A plain reading makes it seem like most of it applies to everyone, at least during the responses.



It’s absent in the EF because in most cases, you’ll find the priest is at the altar, and does not need the missal to be held. It came about because of need for the missal to be held, with Masses being celebrated from the chair. However, if you look at the EF pontifical Mass that are celebrated from the throne, or from the faldstool, you’ll find that a server does hold the needed books for the bishop-celebrant at the chair. So it is not completely new, just expanded, as you might say.


Thanks but that begs the question, what’s with saying Mass from the chair?


Mass is not said from the Chair.

Some opening and closing prayers, the penitential rite, the creed and the Gloria are said from the Chair by the presiding priest.

The Word is proclaimed from the ambo and the Eucharistic prayer is said/sung at the altar.


It doesn’t have to be.

My parish has three priests. When I serve, I hold the book for two of them as they stand in front of their chairs, but the third prefers the book on a stand at the altar during the whole Mass. He celebrates from the altar and uses the ambo to proclaim the Gospel, say the homily, and read the prayers of the faithful. He only goes to the presider’s chair during the first reading and psalm, and for a brief moment of silence after communion.

For this priest, most of the Mass is done from the altar, and I really have nothing to do except during the liturgy of the Eucharist, so I just stay at my chair and pay attention in case I have to bring him a tissue or he has a coughing fit and I have to bring him an emergency bottle of water from the sacristy fridge or something like that. :shrug:

If there is no altar server, the sacristan will set the Roman Missal on the stand at the altar, and the priest will do everything at the altar.

The altar server is there to add dignity and reverance to the Mass, and to take care of mundane tasks so that the priest can better pray the Mass without having to worry about cruets, pitchers, bowls and towels. My experience is that most priests welcome a good altar server.



Let me point something else out. I’m sorry if you already know this but I think it is important for those who may read this post and don’t understand.

“Sacred Tradition” (with a capital T) is revelaed truth. It’s source is God and it never changes. Lower case t “tradition” is not revealed truth. This is sometimes referred to as ecclesial tradition, and it’s source is not God. ecclesial tradition can change. Ecclesial traditions are not revealed truth.

Our ecclesial traditions often contain our revealed-truth Sacred Traditions. For example, the rosary is an ecclesial tradition (lower case t). The rosary itself is not revealed truth and it can chage. Pope John Paul II added the luminous mysteries. Other prayers have been added and taken away. The rosary contains revealed truth, but the rosary itself is not revealed truth. Praying six Our Fathers and fifty three Hail Mary’s is not revealed truth. That Mary was full of grace is revealed truth but the number of decades is not revealed truth. The rosary is an ecclesial, lower-case t tradition. The revealed truths contained in the rosary are upper-case T Sacred Tradition.

The same is true of the Mass. It contains revealed truth but the Mass itself is not revealed truth. The Mass can change, but the institution of the Eucharist cannot, because it was revealed to us by Christ. The color of the vestments, placement of the altar, hymns and such are ecclesial traditions and can change. The institution of the Eucharist is Sacred Tradition and cannot change.

Whether altar servers hold a book or not, or even whether they are present is not Sacred Tradition, but ecclesial tradition. Altar serves and what they do are not revealed truth, so their presence, dress and modes of service can change.

Many confuse ecclesial tradition with Sacred Tradition. Altar servers and what they do are not Sacred Tradition. They are not truth revealed to us by God.



It is less confusing, and more accurate, to refer to lowercase-tradition as discipline or custom. Discipline consists of the practices of the Church which are regulated by Canon Law or particular law and can be dispensed or changed by competent authority. Custom is practice that arises organically and generally consists of things that are not already regulated by law. Custom can acquire the force of law and therefore become discipline.

Holy Tradition is a completely different animal. Holy Tradition is the inspired Word of God given to us in Church documents from the Apostolic Age to the present. Holy Tradition only concerns itself with matters of faith and morals. It is transmitted by the Magisterium and consists of doctrine and dogma, which must be believed by Catholics. Holy Tradition confirms and completes the revelation contained in Sacred Scripture. Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium are the Pillars of the Church.


The point is that many people think they are Traditionalists when they really are traditionalists.

I don’t mean that as an insult but to point out the confiusion of Sacred Tradition which comes from the deposit of faith and ecclesial traditon or discipline. When something which isn’t in the Sacred Deposit of Faith changes, they get all angry and bent out of shape, or they have a crisis of faith.

That need not happen.


  1. This is a very old practice.

  2. From a plain reading, yes, it seems that it applies to everyone.


GIRM 275. A bow signifies reverence and honor shown to the persons themselves or to the signs that represent them. There are two kinds of bows: a bow of the head and a bow of the body.

  1. A bow of the head is made when the three Divine Persons are named together and at the names of Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Saint in whose honor Mass is being celebrated.
  1. A bow of the body, that is to say a profound bow, is made to the altar; during the prayers Munda cor meum (Almighty God, cleanse my heart) and In spiritu humilitatis (Lord God, we ask you to receive); in the Creed at the words Et incarnatus est (by the power of the Holy Spirit . . . made man); in the Roman Canon at the words Supplices te rogamus (Almighty God, we pray that your angel). The same kind of bow is made by the deacon when he asks for a blessing before the proclamation of the Gospel. In addition, the priest bows slightly as he speaks the words of the Lord at the consecration.

At the mentioning of the names, everyone should bow. IOW, this is not limited to the verbal responses of the individual, but whenever the Divine Persons or Saints (F,S,HS ; Jesus ; Mary ; Saint of the Day) are named by priest, deacon, or congregation.

If you watch traditional Latin Masses, this is readily apparent. That practice has continued de jure, but rarely de facto.

That having been said, one should not make a show about it. I remember when I went with two of my buddies to Europe on a pilgrimage, and we went to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. We went to Mass in the apse, and it was beautiful. However, everything was in French, so I didn’t understand any of it (an argument for the return of Latin?). But what I remember most about that Mass was some guy in the small congregation who, at seemingly random moments would get up from his pew, face the altar, and make a dramatic body bow, and then sit down. No one really said anything, but it was kinda silly to see. I figured out that he was taking GIRM 275 a little to literally, and was drawing undue attention to himself.

A slight head bow is appropriate, but don’t make it into a rubrical show of piety :wink:


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.