Introduction & Background

The sacristy, the small room located near the sanctuary of the church. The sacristy often contains all of the tools, books, liturgical appointments, vestments, (and electronics) used in the celebration of the Sacraments.  Occasionally there is a separate work sacristy, which has a sink for trimming plants and janitorial supplies, as well as more storage.  There may also be a vesting sacristy where the priest, deacon, and/or other liturgical ministers vest for the liturgies. These may contain a closet with the vestments and a work table for preparing the texts for the liturgy. 

The Sacristan is essentially the steward of the sacristy. It is principally the role of the sacristan to prepare the liturgical books, to set out all the implements for the celebration of the Sacraments, and often to oversee the tidiness and order of the church interior. While it varies from parish to parish, it is the sacristan who usually provides a great resource to the clergy. 


The Ordo: An Essential Tool

The Ordo is the small book that gives information about each day’s liturgy. It covers everything from the options for the readings, the color of vestments, and which types of Mass may be permitted for the day. While looking at a page of the order can be intimidating at first, it is the greatest resource of the sacristan.


Figure: A Page taken from the Ordo

Figure: A Page taken from the Ordo

Reading the Ordo

The ordo employs a number of codes located in the front of the book to indicate what ought to be prepared for each liturgy.

Let’s take a look at a sample page and decode it to prepare for a daily Mass:

  • On this page from the ordo for November, we can see that November 7 is a Wednesday of the 31st week in Ordinary Time (known as a ferial day).
  • The vestment color (Gr) is green.
  • The V indicates that a priest may celebrate a votive Mass for a particular need or occasion and the R indicates that the priest may celebrate a funeral Mass or a Requiem, a Mass for the dead.

On a ferial day, a priest may choose from any of the prayers in the Roman Missal. This means he can use any opening collect, any preface for the Eucharistic Prayer, and any post-communion collect. While he usually just uses the prayers from the prior Sunday (In this case, the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time) the ordo indicates wider permission and even suggests an option that correlates with the readings:  Sugg: 16 Sun; 21 Sun.

The readings for the Mass are also indicated, should the sacristan need to check the Lectionary before Mass to make sure it is correct:

  • RDGS: 487 indicates the index number in the lectionary (usually in brackets [487] and not the page number) and thescripture verses: First Reading, Psalm, and Gospel.

Following the lectionary listing, there is a brief synopsis for the priest to make quick connections should he wish to preach a homily.

On Sundays, Feast Days and Memorials, the ordo can be a little more complicated. For Example, on Friday the 9th of November, we see that there is the observation of a Feast Day (F) THE DEDICATION OF THE LATERAN BASILICA. The capital Letters and lack of italics, indicate that this is an obligatory feast – if the priest is celebrating Mass that day, he must observe this feast with all the proper (Prop) prayers for it.

Additionally, the Gloria (Gl) must be said as well as the preface for the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica (prop Pf) before the Eucharistic Prayer. The vestment color is (Wh) white. Following the scripture synopsis is a brief background of the feast (or saint) to be observed. This can aid the priest or deacon in preparing for a homily.


Preparing the Sanctuary and Sacristy for Mass

Preparing the Chalice     

In a similar way one gets ready for the day by putting on clothes in a certain order, the sacred vessels used for Mass are prepared. Chalices are built in a certain order so that the priest, deacon, or acolyte can easily prepare the altar at the offertory without having to fumble around. The building of the chalice also helps to bring decorum to the altar, after all, this isn’t a picnic lunch, The Eucharistic Prayer is actually a great honor and a real sacrifice that is about to be offered.

The Chalice is built in the following manner, from the base of the chalice upward:

Building The Chalice

  1. The Chalice is set out. If there is a cross or dominant feature on the base, that denotes the “front” of the chalice. This should be facing the priest at the altar.
  2. The Purificator is placed so that the two “flaps” are on either side of the chalice. The center of the purificator may need to be pushed inside the cup of the chalice so that the “flaps” do not drag.
  3. The Paten is set on top of the purificator.
  4. The Host is placed on the paten
  5. The Chalice Pall is placed on top of the paten and host.
  6. The corporal is placed on top of the pall with the open edge of the fold facing the right side.

Feasts, Solemnities, Special Seasons


On solemn celebrations, the addition of the chalice veil and burse may occur. In which case, step, following step 5 :

6a.  The Chalice veil is placed on top of the  chalice pall, covering the chalice completely.

6b.  The nurse is placed on top of the chalice veil.

7.    The Corporal is placed inside the burse.