The minister of ceremonies (referred to as the master of ceremonies in some literature) plays a critical function in the overall supervision of the whole service - ensuring that all runs smoothly and cueing specific actions during the service.
The minister of ceremonies must have a demonstrated ability to read clearly in public, be familiar with the lectionary, and be willing to undergo diocesan training, if required, in order to be licensed to administer communion. In addition, a server who attains the level of minister of ceremonies should be prepared to assume the role of subdeacon at the same time as needed based on server availability. The minister of ceremonies must have a clear understanding of the liturgy, including the roles of the celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon, and have demonstrated proficiency in serving at all previous levels. The minister of ceremonies must be able to prepare the vessels and vestments for mass in the event of an emergency. In addition, the prospective ministers of ceremonies must show leadership potential as evidenced by the ability to write customary notes for special services, mentor new servers, and be a positive role model for other servers as well as the congregation at large, by virtue of the visibility of the position. Because the minister of ceremonies role constitutes a parish leadership position, this person should also have an understanding of the culture and history of the parish.
Ministers of ceremonies also meet with the Acolyte Warden and Rector to make decisions about promotions, plan liturgies, and to conduct rehearsals.
Responsibilities and Conduct
The minister of ceremonies is expected to arrive no later than 30 minutes prior to his or her assigned service. Repeated tardiness will result in probationary status and possible dismissal from the Guild.
The minister of ceremonies should vest in black cassock, black cincture, and surplice (if available, the minister of ceremonies should wear a Florentine-style surplice to allow the sacred ministers to easily identify him or her during the service).
Prior to the start of the service, the minister of ceremonies should verify that all preparations have been completed, including ensuring that all readings have been marked to their proper place and that all necessary preparations for the administration of Holy Communion have been made by the altar Guild and that the credence is properly prepared. The minister of ceremonies also checks to ensure that the sermon is in place on the pulpit and that copies of the service leaflet are on the seats for each of the sacred ministers. The minister of ceremonies should also check to ensure that the Preparation for Mass prayer cards are available in the vesting area for the sacred ministers and servers.
No less than 15 minutes prior to the start of the service, the minister of ceremonies takes attendance of assigned servers for the day and ensures that all roles have been filled, making alternate arrangements in the event that an assigned server is not present. He/she assigns Communion duty as needed. No less than 10 minutes prior to the start of the service, the minister of ceremonies ensures that the subdeacon, deacon, and celebrant are vesting or are vested and ready to go.
After the celebrant has prayed with the servers, the minister of ceremonies releases them to move to the rear of the nave for the entering procession. The minister of ceremonies is the last to leave the vesting area after ensuring all preparations are complete and roles filled.
If incense is being used in the service, the minister of ceremonies must confirm with the thurifer that the fire alarm system has been deactivated and put into test mode.
Once the celebrant has concluded the prayer among the assembled procession, the minister of ceremonies rings the bell to signal the start of the service and to initiate the procession. The minister of ceremonies precedes the sacred ministers in procession. Once passing through the altar rail gate, the minister of ceremonies takes up position on the pavement on the epistle side of the altar, facing the cathedra.
Incensing of the Altar
When incense is being used in the service, the altar is incensed prior to the Opening Acclamation. The minister of ceremonies cues the thurifer to approach the celebrant with the thurible.
Opening Acclamation, Collect for Purity, Summary of the Law, and Gloria
The minister of ceremonies stands in place at the foot of the altar near the credence, making the proper reverences throughout.
Lessons and Psalm
The minister of ceremonies is seated in the sanctuary for the epistle reading, singing of the psalm by the choir, and the New Testament reading. It is permissible for the minister of ceremonies to sit in one of the sedilia seats (never the center seat) during these readings for convenience.
Gospel Procession and Reading
During the singing of the Gradual hymn, the minister of ceremonies cues the crucifer and acolytes (and thurifer, if incense in being used) to form up the gospel procession. The minister of ceremonies remains standing during the gospel reading, facing the processional party at the center of the nave. During the returning procession, when the subdeacon reaches the ambit of the altar, he or she hands off the gospel book to the minister of ceremonies, who places it on the credence.
After placing the gospel book on the credence, the minister of ceremonies moves to be seated in the sedilia for the Sermon.
The minister of ceremonies rises for the Creed, facing the altar, making a simple bow at the name of Jesus, moderate bow at the mention of the Incarnation, and the sign of the cross at the final phrase of the Creed.
Prayers of the People
The minister of ceremonies remains standing for the Prayers of the People, making the sign of the cross at the prayers for the dead.
Confession and Absolution
The minister of ceremonies approaches the bottom step of the altar and kneels for the Confession, making the sign of the cross at the Absolution.
If incense is being used, the minister of ceremonies cues the thurifer to approach to have incense laid on by the celebrant. After incense has been laid on, the minister of ceremonies retrieves the veiled chalice and paten from the credence and moving up the steps to the footpace hands it to the subdeacon. After the deacon has folded the veil, the subdeacon receives it and hands it to the minister of ceremonies, who places it on the credence.
Incensing at the Offertory
If incense is in use in the service, the altar and offerings are incensed at this time. The minister of ceremonies cues the thurifer to approach the footpace and hand off the thurible to the celebrant. The minister of ceremonies stands on the pavement near the credence, facing the altar. The minister of ceremonies bows to acknowledge the thurifer before and after being censed by him/her.
Preface and Sanctus
The minister of ceremonies remains standing. When the celebrant reaches, “Therefore…” just preceding the Sanctus, the minister of ceremonies cues the deacon and subdeacon to move to the footpace. At the start of the Sanctus, the minister of ceremonies bows with the sacred ministers to the words, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts,” and then resumes an upright posture.
The minister of ceremonies cues all altar servers (except for the sacred ministers) to kneel in place at the foot of the altar.
Lord’s Prayer, Fraction Anthem, and Prayer for Humble Access
The minister of ceremonies remains kneeling.
The minister of ceremonies receives Communion with the rest of the altar party. After receiving, the minister of ceremonies serves the chalice to the communicants on the epistle side of the altar rail and also stays watchful for anything needed by the sacred ministers during the administration of Communion.
When all have received, the minister of ceremonies takes the water cruet to the altar for use in the Ablutions and signals the acolytes to stand by on pavement at the epistle side of the altar to receive the cleaned vessels and veiled chalice.
Post-Communion Prayer and Final Prayers
The minister of ceremonies stands in place on the pavement at the epistle horn of the altar and cues the sacred ministers to move into formation for the Blessing.
Blessing and Retiring Procession
After the Post-Communion Prayer, the minister of ceremonies kneels to receive the Blessing. After the Blessing, the minister of ceremonies cues the altar party to rise and the crucifer and acolytes to move into position for the retiring procession. The minister of ceremonies joins the procession head of the subdeacon and behind the choir.
After the dismissal, the minister of ceremonies is responsible for supervising all sanctuary cleanup including lectionary, pulpit, and high altar (review the work of the Altar Guild). The minister of ceremonies must be certain all water glasses are removed, all candles are extinguished, that the credence table is empty, and that the sanctuary is left in perfect order. The minister of ceremonies gets counts of Communions from the ushers and records the number in the register along with attendance figure (on slip from offering bason).
If incense has been used in the service, the minister of ceremonies must confirm with the thurifer that the fire alarm system has been put back into service, and inspect the panel to ensure it is operational.