Re-Reading Sacrosanctum Concilium: Article 32

Vatican website translation:

32. The liturgy makes distinctions between persons according to their liturgical function and sacred Orders, and there are liturgical laws providing for due honors to be given to civil authorities. Apart from these instances, no special honors are to be paid in the liturgy to any private persons or classes of persons, whether in the ceremonies or by external display.

Latin text:

32. In Liturgia, praeter distinctionem ex munere liturgico et Ordine sacro manantem, et praeter honores ad normam legum liturgicarum auctoritatibus civilibus debitos, nulla privatarum personarum aut condicionum, sive in caerimoniis, sive in exterioribus pompis, habeatur acceptio.

Slavishly literal translation:

32. In the Liturgy, outside of the distinction maintained from liturgical office and sacred Order, and outside of the honors owed according to the norm of liturgical laws to civil authorities, let no regard for private persons or conditions, whether in ceremonies or in external show, be maintained.

The last of the norms arising from the hierarchic and communal nature of the liturgy seems to argue that the relation of the baptismal priesthood to the priesthood of the ordained be authentically signified. Thus those who assume liturgical functions OUTSIDE of ordination (e.g., members of a choir) may wear distinctive vesture, while the ordained have rather clear strictures on the vesture they are to assume as they exercise their liturgical ministries. Those who belong to the baptismal priesthood who do not assume a particular liturgical function (i.e., who pray as the congregation or assembly) could signify that by their clothing as well (“Sunday best”) but this is not as regulated.

I think the force of this norm might be to challenge practices such as distinctions in seating for the laity at a liturgy based on the ability to pay (“pew rent”) or ethnic heritage (there were cases in the United States where cultural racial segregation was carried over into the congregation’s seating at liturgy). It may also raise some questions about how groups such as the Knights of Columbus or the Boy Scouts might be properly integrated into liturgical worship.


  1. Around here, the Knights of Columbus (possibly those of 4th degree?) tend to show up at masses with a bishop, and participate in the entrance procession as a sort of honor guard. Perhaps it’s arguable that it’s sort of a liturgical role (albeit not one explicitly described in any official document I’ve seen) and so they don’t really fall afoul of the norm in this article. They’re not there for self-aggrandizement but to honor the bishop.

    They do the same during the exit procession at the end of mass, which I believe is also not found in the official docs, so hopefully the addition of a few feathers, capes and swords doesn’t make it even more extra-liturgical than it already is 🙂

    The Boy Scouts are a different matter. As are the parishioners whom we honor publicly as “parishioner of the year” or some such each summer.

  2. “…let no regard for private persons or conditions, whether in ceremonies or in external show, be maintained.”

    Seems cut and dry to me. Would we agree that this is one of SC’s directives (admonitions, or, as M.J. refers to it here, a “norm”) to which we should adhere?

  3. Every parish in which I have served sponsors one or more Girl and Boy Scout Troops. Once a year, or more, the scouts invade one of the weekend Masses like a conquering army. Anyone scheduled (and properly trained/disposed) as a lector, usher, server, or greeter must stand aside so the Scouts can assume all of those roles regardless of whether they know what they are doing. Sometimes they call the parish musician two or three days in advance to announce the hymns that the Scouts have “planned.” Then they join the opening procession with the American flag, papal flag, numerous scout flags, and a phalanx of scouts and leaders in uniform who are then seated in special reserved seating in front. I’ll pass over the fact that many of these scouts act as if they have not seen the inside of a church since last year on Scout Sunday.

    A hot mess? For sure. But hey, “it’s all about the youth,” so I don’t dare challenge this practice. I choose my battles carefully, and that’s not the hill that I choose to die on.

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