The Liturgy Series: Ars Celebrandi – Celebrating and Concelebrating Mass, by Fr. Paul Turner

Ars Celebrandi The Art of Celebrating and Concelebrating Mass“… that is the book title for this first post of The Liturgy Series of this year. Possibly one of the first questions for readers of this blog is, why is a lay-person who has no degree in Theology or Liturgical Studies reviewing a book on how to celebrate and concelebrate the Mass?

One of the main reasons why The Liturgy Series came to be, was because of my interest in the Sacred Liturgy. As exemplified in the series, I hopefully wanted to ensure to provide examples of what it means to have dignified books and articles for Liturgical Celebration, and now, the concern is: A parish has beautiful Sacred Vessels, brand new liturgical-worthy vestments, handsomely bound copy of the Roman Missal… but how about the Mass? How is it to be celebrated?

Many of the things I have spoken about in The Liturgy Series would be in vain if the Mass were to be celebrated hastily, irreverently, or worse… according to a particular priest’s/congregation’s desires on whim, and not in fidelity with the liturgical books. Now, the conversation on liturgical abuse is not just a topic for the clergy. While bishops and priests have much to do with how Mass is celebrated, those involved in Parish Ministry, especially in the ministries of Lector, Acolyte and Music ministry have tendencies to stray away from liturgical books as well. As someone involved in various liturgical ministries at my parish, especially as Liturgical Master of Ceremonies, I strive to ensure that the liturgical components from texts to music follow closely with the norms of liturgical books. While I have my own tastes and preferences, those must be set aside in liturgical planning and give precedence to what Mother Church desires. This does not mean a scrupulous, nit-picky approach with clergy and ministers – not at all. The bishop is the Chief Liturgist of his diocese and thus, it is his role to “elucidate the inherent meaning of the rites and the liturgical texts, and nourish the spirit of the Liturgy in the Priests, Deacons and lay faithful so that they are all led to the active and fruitful celebration of the Eucharist.” (RS 22) Thus, the ideal liturgical planner should be educated himself, but should not use his reading and education to spark any instance of “liturgical wars” with bishops, with priests or with other pairsh ministers. Anything expressed must be done in a spirit of charity and obedience to Mother Church.

Now back to the book… Ars Celebrandi is first and foremost, not step-by-step guide to celebrate Mass. It is, rather, as the title suggests, a book that provides pointers for (future) priests to celebrate and concelebrate the Mass well. Therefore, it implies that the reader already has an idea how to celebrate the Mass. The book is divided into nine-chapters, in which the headings alone give one a very good idea of what would be addressed (rather than one-word headings, like some philosophy University textbooks). I will give an overview of the content in three sections, grouping the headings as I see there are three overarching themes in the book.

Revisiting Foundations

After a comprehensive introduction, the first two chapters are titled: [1] Understanding the Calendar and [2] Presiding: Grounding Principles. I was a bit surprised why Fr. Turner would start this book with a first chapter on the calendar. However, upon reading the first chapter, one comes to the understanding that there is so much to the Liturgical Calendar than just the Liturgical seasons. There are rules on days of precedence, levels of Solemnities, Feasts and Memorials, which in turn dictates which Mass and Lectionary texts are to be used for a particular celebration. As someone in liturgical ministries, it helps give one a sense of the need to communicate with the presider well before the Mass to prepare Lectionary text and appropriate liturgical music arrangements. The first chapter is more than just a review of the Liturgical Calendar – it is quite eye opening for myself as a lay person. While I have read a fair bit on liturgical planning, it never hurts to have a refresher, or in this case, an in-depth look at the Calendar, which helps everyone on the liturgical planning team to be on the same page as Mother Church, not on our separate assumed liturgical calendars. With that in mind though, Fr. Turner spends a number of pages on choosing Eucharistic Prayers which can in itself reflect the nature of specific days in the Liturgical Calendar – that was a really interesting read. Even though lay-people do not recite the Eucharistic Prayers, it is good to know that there is a good variety available to the presider, besides Eucharistic Prayer II, “You are indeed holy O Lord, the fount of all holiness…)

The second chapter lays a foundation for the synthesis of words, action and liturgical spirit. Right off the bat, in the first paragraph of the chapter, it refers to what the Introduction stated, and I think these are words worth reflecting upon, “Less is more. Do what it says; don’t do what it doesn’t say. Offer sacriifice and share communion. Be intentional. Involve the people.” (Ars Celebrandi 25) This is the synthesis that chapter 2 really wants to bring about as Fr. Turner speaks of a wide array of topics from priest’s “personal style” of celebrating Mass, the question of Mass Ad Orientem and the principle of “progressive solemnity.” When the synthesis of these factors work well in accordance with fidelity to the Church, it leads to full, conscious, and active liturgical participation of the faithful that Vatican II envisioned (see Sacrosanctum Concilium 14).

Working the Synthesis

The following five chapters are: [3] Intentionality in Act, [4] Intentionality in Word, [5] Interactions, and [6] Overlooked Rubrics. Having set the foundations, Fr. Turner lays out the how in the next five chapters which makes up a bulk of the book. These chapters I think are at the heart of the book.

Chapter 3, Intentionality in Act gives an in-depth walk through some of the gestures of the presider at Mass. Interesting enough, there is reference to the preparation of the priest and wearing of vestments in the first pages of this chapter… something I would not think about in terms of “action.” I was even surprised to know a good piece of advice for presiders, that an “intentional presider removes his watch…” (AC 34) I am amazed at the little details that Fr. Turner brings up because the little things to make a big difference to the people and in turn, for the act of celebrating for the presider. Actions speak volumes, especially when looking at ars celebrandi with the lens that “less is more,” in many instances.

The fourth chapter, Intentionality in Word, as the heading suggests, speaks to the words of the priest. What I am amazed at is the depth of explanation and analysis that Fr. Turner provides for various parts of the Mass, including the Eucharistic Prayer, and even more surprising, the Collect. The Collect specifically caught my attention because how often do we hear the Collect, but never intentional about analyzing the parts of a single paragraph. The chapter offers explanation and suggestions on how to pray the prayers of the Mass well with intentionality, specifically the presidential prayers and private prayers. Moreover, there is a section on the Homily which provides some interesting insights that I keep to myself as a lay person (I would never make recommendations to a deacon, priest or bishop on how to give a homily… I simply have no place to do so. It is best to keep thoughts in this area to myself!)

Chapter 5 and 6 are really interesting chapters. Chapter 5 is titled merely as Interactions. There is a lot of interactions between the priest and ministers, and the congregation throughout the Mass and as I mentioned, little things do make a difference. Fr. Turner covers many different aspects of interaction from eye-contact, how to give cues, and even addressed microphone usage – complete with the section on when a priest should turn on/off microphone during Mass to better establish the presidential parts of Mass, and the congregation’s parts at Mass. Chapter 6 covers Overlooked Rubrics which honestly, is my favourite of the chapters. While in lay men’s terms, it addresses “what do priests often forget and overlook at Mass?” the pointers in there are quite practical for liturgical ministers. For example, Fr. Turner spends a three addressing, “communion from the tabernacle.” (see AC 89-91) Sacristans would benefit from knowing about that so to prepare a suitable amount of bread for consecration at a specific Mass. There is also a section on “announcements,” and for Vietnamese parishes like mine, I think some lay people would benefit from the points raised by Fr. Turner.


The last couple chapters of the book are dedicated to this topic to “Concelebration.” While seemingly to have little relevance to lay people unlike the previous chapters, Fr. Turner strives to make it relevant for liturgical planners to take into consideration many factors of preparation for Masses of concelebration. From the chapters, I can extract the necessities to prepare not only seating, but also, the preparation of appropriate number of Sacred Vessels, logistical flow of communion for Concelebrants, establishing the role of Concelebrants in Masses with/without Deacon(s), with Lay Ministers… In brief, there is much to think about when preparing for Masses with concelebrants to avoid last minute questions and concerns that may in turn, detract from the essence of the Liturgical celebration.

Final Remarks

Ars Celebrandi by Fr. Paul Turner is just one of many of his great liturgical guides and commentary. I personally refer back every year to Glory in the Cross in preparation for Holy Week. While Ars Celebrandi was written for liturgical presiders in mind as the primary audience, lay ministers in the area of liturgical ministry like myself would benefit greatly from this title. Again, it is not to be nit-picky with priests, but rather, to be informed about what it means to partake and plan a liturgical celebration well. A good part of that falls on liturgical ministers, and that must come with an understanding of what we do at every Mass, at every liturgical celebration. Fr. Turner does this well with clear, concise language. I recommend this book in every sacristy library for future reference not only by clergy, but liturgical planners and ministers as well.

You can check out Ars Celebrandi: Celebrating and Concelebrating Mass here at Liturgical Press.

Disclaimer: Vincent Pham was provided a review copy of Ars Celebrandi: Celebrating and Concelebrating to provide an honest review of it on this blog. The Catholic Man Reviews thanks Liturgical Press for the opportunity for us to review this title on our blog and look forward to future collaborations. All thoughts and opinions expressed in here are our own and reflect our sincere thoughts about the title.

One thought on “The Liturgy Series: Ars Celebrandi – Celebrating and Concelebrating Mass, by Fr. Paul Turner

  1. Pingback: The Liturgy Series: Sacred Oils, by Fr. Paul Turner | The Catholic Man Reviews

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