Who is to be in the sanctuary? (Part of Liturgual Abuse)

By sanctuary I mean the area around the altar with stairs marking the edges of the sanctuary.

I went to a Mass in a different parish today, and the Mass was almost wonderful … except one thing.

During the “Lord’s prayer”, the priest asked the children to come around the altar. So herds of children rushed around it, and some parents carrying their children gathered there as well.

I understand how people want children to understand how being close the God Jesus is like, but “they are doing it wrong.” Personally, It created a massive distraction and became obstacles for the laity, as now it is so crowded that we could not see the chalice (and such). I also thought that the bread and wine there was then became the body and blood of Christ, and by having children over the altar would be very dangerous as the host would be prone to damage (desacration is what you might call it).

Is there a canon law or Novus Ordo rule or GIRM instruction that specifies only the ordained and lay ministers (Altar servers, Acolytes) can (and should) stay in the sanctuary area during the Mass, and that only lectors, and EMs can be in the sanctuary area when performing actions (doing the reading, recieving the hosts for distribution, etc.)?

How so? Were the children climbing on the altar or something? How would they damage the Host?

(And any damage to the Host wouldn’t be desecration unless it was deliberate).

Well no one did. But it was a dangerous act nevertheless I should think.

It isn’t allowed.

It is a shame too. My son in his 30’s said it was what made him interested in mass as a child.


Has anyone ever heard this little phrase.

Matthew 19:14
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

But maybe he meant “unless I am in the form of the consecrated host 'cause they might “abuse” me”". :thumbsup:

Hmmm. Sounds suspect to me.

So, if someone can produce the exact wording of the catechism that forbids children approaching the altar, I’d love to see it, because I can tell you I have seen this sort of thing many times in many places and it is always beautiful.

Jesus Christ trusted the hierarchy with the control of the official prayer of the Church

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]


You, your pastor or the liturgical committee of your Church has the right to approach the Congregation for Divine Worship and convince them that Jesus wants the children around. Until their positive answer collect the children for the consecration of Our father around the altar is abuse. This is the basic difference between Catholics and other Christians, the obedience to the Magisterium.

The Catechism is the Church’s teaching document; however, it is not a legislative nor a liturgical document. It was not meant for those purposes. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments regulates the norms and rubrics for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Laszlo has already provided some pertinent citations from the CDWDS, itself. Some 23 years later, then-prefect Francis Cardinal Arinze re-affirmed that children, in this case, youth, are not allowed in the sanctuary:

Life Teen’s Liturgical Reform
Life Teen, the Phoenix-based Catholic youth organization, announced in July that it will cease its idiosyncratic liturgical practices. Monsignor Dale Fushek, Life Teen’s founder and former Vicar General under Bishop Thomas O’Brien, sent a letter July 2, saying that he confirms “our adherence to the new GIRM, and as always, our obedience to our own local Bishops”.

The letter asked that “all parishes that implement the LIFE TEEN model” make these changes. The teens will no longer surround the altar during the Eucharistic prayer; they will cease saying, “The Mass never ends, it must be lived”, at the end of Mass; the rock-party atmosphere before Mass will be toned down to “make sure there is a period of silence to begin the liturgical celebration”; and they will “make sure the music does not in any way detract from the action at the altar, ambo or chair”.

“I am sure these issues will be hard on some parishes and teens”, Monsignor Fushek wrote. His letter said that Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted met in Rome with Cardinal Francis Arinze, of the Congregation for Divine Worship, about Life Teen.

Not even Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion approach the altar until after the celebrant has communicated.

We should also look at the context in which the episode St. Matthew records in his Gospel account hapened. This gathering of the children was not within the context of Ancient Israel’s sacrificial cultic temple worship. Jesus had great regard for the norms and rubrics governing Ancient Israel’s sacrifical cultic worship because they were dictated by no less than God, the Father, Himself, in anticipation of the perfect Sacrifice and perfect Priesthood of His Son. We should not confuse the two.

What is the source of this above?

Here is from the Bridgeport diocese:

  1. Extraordinary ministers approach the altar as the priest receives Communion. After the priest has concluded his own Communion, and given Communion to the deacon, he distributes Communion to the extraordinary ministers, assisted by the deacon, and then hands the sacred vessels to them for distribution of Holy Communion to the people. Extraordinary ministers should not take the sacred vessels from the altar themselves, but should be handed them by the priest or deacon.


same words here



  1. The details of exactly when extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion approach the altar, as well as stations for the distribution of Communion under both kinds, must be determined in each parish.

Ours do not approach until after the celebrant has communicated. The GIRM does state that EMHCs are not to approach the altar before the celebrant has communicated.

In any case, the rubrics are specific as to who can approach the altar. Gathering a group around the altar is not one of those instances.

This is wrong on so many levels.
Whats next, let people borrow the holy books to take home to read over dinner? Rent a chalice? Hey kiddies, Wanna dress like a priest?

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]

Could they be called “altar ministers” if they all wear liturgical garb?

Help me out priest

I use this copy of the GIRM because it is not broken into parts, easy to search


where it says that EMHCs are not to approach the altar before the celebrant has communicated?

I agree with you that lay people (except the altar servers) are not to be around the altar until the priest start the communion.

From the 2002 General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) approved for the USA, which can be accessed from romanrite.com/girm.html :

“294. … The priest celebrant, the deacon, and the other ministers have places in the sanctuary. Seats for concelebrants should also be prepared there. If, however, their number is great, seats should be arranged in another part of the church, but near the altar.”

“295. The sanctuary is the place where the altar stands, where the word of God is proclaimed, and where the priest, the deacon, and the other ministers exercise their offices. It should suitably be marked off from the body of the church either by its being somewhat elevated or by a particular structure and ornamentation.”

“195. … Then the lector takes his own place in the sanctuary with the other ministers.”

Who are “other ministers”? Under the heading “Other Ministries” in 100 - 107 it describes altar servers, extra-ordinary ministers of Holy Communion, non-instituted readers, psalmist, choir, choir director, sacristan, commentator, those who take up the collection, ushers, and Master of Ceremonies. So it seems permitted, at least, that these people be in the sanctuary with the ordained ministers.

Yes, of course. Thank you for clarifying.

Thanks for that, laszlo.:thumbsup:

Excellent point. Now, that you mention it, that DOES make perfect sense. However, come to think of it, when I’ve seen it done (the little mission where I am does not practice this - we have only one Mass and so adopt a more conservative bent), the children approached the Altar/ the sanctuary/the “presbyterium” (who calls it that?), stopping short of the step before it, so no technical “abuse” transpires in this case. My opinion on children being allowed to draw closer to the altar makes no difference so I will withhold it; but I can speak to the slight “disruption” of allowing the children to congregate before the sanctuary (again - not IN it). It is not just a gimmick. I can see a three-fold purpose:

  1. The children are taught the special significance of the “Our Father” about which Pope Benedict XVI says: “we may be sure that each of us, along with our totally personal relationship with God, is received into, and sheltered within, this prayer.”

  2. The mothers/fathers of the children can feel the special intimate communion of being a parent among many - something which is deeply lacking in today’s society.

  3. The congregation can see and pray for our future generation who are under more and more stringent attack from our increasingly secular society.

I’m sure you can see other benefits.

Perhaps all that is called for is for the liturgical director to be approached with laszlo’s [Notitiae 17 (1981) 61]. I don’t see why a compromise can’t be reached.

Okay, so it’s wrong.

With all due respect, Fr. Corey. Gathering in a group for a prayer is a far cry from taking (or even touching) holy books or chalice. Perhaps we should see it that way but I find it difficult - I will try.

However, as a mother, I really have to wonder what’s wrong with dressing like a priest? I sometimes wish my children had this desire or inclination. Maybe if more were allowed to play at such things as toddlers, more boys would be ready to answer the call later in life.

Again, I mean no disrespect whatsoever.

The big problem is that the children wind up losing the real meaning behind the Mass. With all due respect, a lot of the liturgical abuses that occur happen because of well-intended, but, misguided attempts at “improving” things. Novelties wear off and then the chlidren are left with nothing really substantive.

Parents are their children’s first teachers. It falls to them to teach their children how to behave during Mass and what the Holy Sacrifice is all about. Children need not have to surround the altar to “see” what is happening.

Let’s say that the celebrant decides to exercise his legitimate option of celebrating Mass facing the crucifix, thus, facing the same direction as the faithful. Would you then have the children stand in front of the tabernacle so that they can see what is happening? I highly doubt that you would do that.

It is not necessarily important that we “see” everything happening at the altar. It is more important that we teach the children to unite their prayers to the action of the priest. It is also important to teach them that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not our own personal property. The Mass is the Church’s highest prayer. It is too great a mystery for us to treat it as we wish.


You guys are really answering the OP. 14 responses and only 1 providing evidence from documents. If you don’t provide any evidence, then this becomes an opinion. So please, answer the questions.

PLAT, there are some opinions that are consistent with the documents cited. EMHCs, for example, do not show up at the altar prior to the celebrant communicating. Generally, lectors go and proclaim the readings and then leave the sanctuary. The cantor will, in most cases, chant the psalm and the Gospel acclamation and then leave. Other than the celebrant (and concelebrants), and deacon(s), the only other individuals who would generally be in the sanctuary would be the altar servers, as these will generally ring the bells at the consecration and as the celebrant communicates.

The thing is, to show that the act is a form of abuse, you must provide solid evidence, not just a description of it. I haven’t contact the church yet, perhaps I should? Or write a note to the bishop?

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m on your side on this, but the removal of the altar rails probably sent the message that there were not to be any solid restrictions on entering the sanctuary during and outside Mass. Documents have the force of law but can’t guarantee that the law or rules won’t be broken. Proper execution by every pastor and bishop would be necessary to enforce at least the spirit of those rules.

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