“Book of the Chair” Pursued by US Bishops

This is interesting, from the June issue of the BCDW newsletter: the bishops’ committee has endorsed the idea of a “Book of the Chair” for use by Mass celebrants.

Regarding the 2011 Roman Missal, the national liturgy office “has received numerous comments on the unwieldiness of the book, particularly for younger altar servers, due to its substantial size and weight.”

Given a choice between a missal with just the texts needed on Sundays and solemnities, or a book with just the texts needed at the chair, the bishops’ committee endorsed the second option. Other conferences have undertaken a similar project.

This is interesting because some years ago it was absolutely verboten by Rome to create new genres of liturgical books not based on the official Latin edition. Happily, it seems that commonsense is prevailing now.


  1. Instead of harming the environment and cutting down more trees just to publish another book that will be obsolete in 10 years because of its translation, can’t parishes buy or make a small lectern for the presidential chair and put the Roman Missal on it?
    It would save a lot of future visits to the chiropractor for altar servers.

  2. I applaud the move. I’d far rather have a server than a lectern any day. My five year old daughter serves at the Eucharist for me at a local nursing home. Our body has a single volume Sacramentary, but once it exits development and becomes the standard text, I’d be free to create such a book for my own use.

    As it stands, my 5 year old is a bit wobbly with our 760 page book… But week by week she gets stabler with it. I’d still rather her have a smaller book though. Come to think of it, she definitely would!

  3. One parish I semi-frequent celebrates Mass versus populum, particularly weekday Masses, in this way. The priest says the entire Mass standing at the altar, save for the readings which are said from a lectern either by a lector or the priest in the absence of a lector. The elimination of a presidential chair at low Masses shortens the Mass without sacrificing intelligibility. I don’t see the need to assume the presidential pose of a bishop at his throne at every Mass.

    It’s time to go the other direction and introduce missae plenae of the ordinary form. Five volumes — one volume apiece for the three Sunday cycles and two apiece for each weekday cycle. The order of Mass in the vernacular would be reproduced in each (please, include the canon missae in Latin in each volume!) Missae plenae would greatly facilitate private Masses and weekday Masses where lectors are not present. Why should a priest who says a devotional Mass juggle a lectionary and missal?

    I dig a pony. Let’s give Pustet a ring anyway.

  4. Commend the move by US bishops. Much bemusement and head scratching at Jordan Zarembo’s suggestions. Shall leave to others further comment.
    Time to rest up before visiting the less well known Catacombs of San Domitilla and its underground basilica; my community administer them and the guides are fluent in the major languages.

  5. Our parish begins children serving at the altar in 4th grade, and while I would say that for some of the smaller servers the book is a bit large, we have never encountered an actual problem from the resulting “unwieldiness.” Our pastor could be said to be cheating in this regard because he uses the CBPC chapel edition, but our vicar’s far bulkier LitPress altar edition just isn’t an issue for our servers. So from my own experience a book of the chair doesn’t sound commonsensical, but instead prodigal (sinking resources into an unneeded book).

  6. It is hard to know if this is common sense prevailing. CTS published a chapel edition of the Roman Missal which they heavily pushed as being appropriate for using as a “book of the chair.” In addition, they also published a more compact and highly portable edition that would serve the same purpose.

    So, is the book of the chair a necessity, or is it a matter of needing to crib some formatting notes from a UK publisher?

    I’m sure Liturgical Press could format a more compact edition of the Missal. (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)

  7. With the increasing use of tablets I wonder if anyone has thought about the option of using one instead of books. I know several protestant ministers who use their tablets almost exclusively during services, and if it is on the lectern or in a handsome case folks in the pew often can’t tell the difference. On another note, I recently came across the ibreviary app for smartphone and tablet. I haven’t had a chance to really play with it but it looks good so far!

  8. I’ve had some younger servers struggle with the Missal. It is heavy: USCCB version comes in at 7.8 lbs.
    Prefer not to use the altar as a book stand for opening rites, including collect, and closing rites. Sorry Jordan. There is something to be said for presiding from the presidential chair.
    We have employed adult servers for funerals and some of them, mostly senior citizens, also struggle holding the new Missal.
    Would be good if they included a vinyl pocket for Universal Prayer and announcements so we are not juggling papers or books at the chair.

  9. Perhaps instead of promoting a new publication, parishes could contribute to a fund to provide copies of the current English translation of the Roman Missal (of any size)–or the Spanish translation or, if needed, the Missale Romanum–to poor parishes around the world which cannot afford one.

  10. I really like the idea of using a tablet/ipad for the chair. We used a “book of the Chair” prior to the new Missal and it worked great. never understood why one was never published for the 2011 edition.
    By the way, lets get our terms right. It is NOT a missal. It is a sacramentary. Why Rome insists on calling it a missal is beyond me. Missals contain both the lectionary and the Prayers, etc. as it was in pre-Vatican II Mass. We use “missalettes” in the pews; the presider uses a Sacramentary; the lector uses a Lectionary. please correct me if I am wrong.
    Any ideas for a sacramentary app?

  11. What if the proposed Book for the Chair came in a format where it could be inserted into a 3-ring binder? (i.e., the pages & cover 3-hole punched.)

    It would allow for the insertion of intercessions, “cue cards” for Gloria & Creed, announcements, special blessings, etc etc.

    1. @John Swencki:
      Bilingual masses pose similar problems to a massive missal. Our celebrants do what Jordan propose – both missals are on the altar the entire time and the priest presides at the altar except for the readings. I would like the option of a ring binder or electronic version so that one could prepare materials that facilitate bilingual liturgies – presiders prayers in parallel columns, for example, so that the celebrate can decide which language to use for what prayers as the spirit moves him.

    2. @John Swencki:
      Our priest basically already does this on his own. Anything he needs at the chair is photocopied and put into a 3-ring “celebration binder”, put out by WLP, I believe. This way, it is more wieldy for him, the server, the Deacon, whoever happens to be available to hold it, and is also available in the appropriate liturgical color of the day/season. He is also able to insert any other texts he may need at the chair, such as the introduction/conclusion to the Universal Prayer. The missal itself (CB chapel edition) is brought to the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist from the credence table, and is returned there after Communion. Seems to work OK. My 9-year-old daughter sometimes serves, and she is able to handle things just fine. Perhaps some of the good Bishops are plagued by particularly whiny servers? (Of course, we also have a rather top-heavy processional cross that RARELY gets used in procession!)

      Also, FWIW, at almost every diocesan celebration I have attended in our Diocesan Cathedral, the Bishop uses a binder at the cathedra that has been pre-prepared with all the necessary texts. I doubt that this would change with the publication of a Book of the Chair!

  12. For years I “endured” an ugly purple covered book replete with paper clips, Post-it’s, and the regular falling out of the prayers and announcement papers all over the altar. It was barely one step ahead of thumbing through a Missalette while at the chair, also, far too common around here (before and after the change).

    Since the Missal that ugly mess has disappeared. I would take a server with the book or even the lecturn any day.

    Can’t tell you the numbers of churches I attend where the Missal and all the periphanalia is already set up, ready to go, on the altar … even with a raft of servers sitting there … maybe a chair book would at least get the priest away from the altar for a second.

    Can we get it in iOS or Android then it could be used on a tablet or phone (for weekday lower solemnities!)

    There is always a reason why things can’t be done properly.

  13. i hear you, don. the entrance & closing rites are done from the chair; the altar is for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Period.
    Whether tablet or book, either one can be used if prepared properly. i forgot who published our book of the chair but it was small, simple and well designed. It could be held in one hand even by a 5th grader! As i mentioned before, it worked very well. It was no larger or thicker than the rite of christian burial by OCP.
    If OCP is reading this, take the hint…it would be profitable in both book or tablet form!

  14. My twin neices made their Confirmation this past February(yes, it was during Lent! that’s another issue). Anyway, we had an assistant bishop from Brooklyn who presided at the liturgy. As he stood up to begin the homily, i noticed he was holding an ipad and was “playing” with it for about 30 seconds. He then looked up and said “Forgive me, i am still getting used to this!” After everyone laughed, he said ‘But i still love it!” Note that this man was around 70 yrs old and born in Cuba!
    Hope this helps you Ed! I think an ipad/tablet is ideal for the presidential prayers….however, we still need a book format for those who perfer it. Come to think of it, the digital version would be ideal for the Easter Vigil!!!

  15. 2 thoughts:
    1. We just do the binder version for everything in English on Sundays, just as Philip describes. We also use the 1998 ICEL collects, so that also makes their inclusion seamless. The Missal is only used for the Prayer over the Offerings and the Eucharistic Prayer.

    2. In terms of papers falling out, you all are missing an easy solution: We have just used double-sided tape to stick in a plastic sleeve in the front and back covers of all of our missals, lectionaries, Gospel Books, etc. They come in 2 standard sizes. They work especially well for the Gospel Book at funerals, weddings, Masses in languages besides English, Ash Wednesday Masses, etc.. (At our Spanish Mass, we use their “Ordinario”–which is sort of like a “Book of the Chair”–for everything.) It adds solemnity to any liturgy.

    1. @Chuck Middendorf:
      Chuck, sorry to tell you, we are not permitted to use the 1998 ICEL collects. We don’t make these decisions indiscriminately as to what “we” think is better. Remember, it’s not about us, our likes and dislikes.

  16. Paul Inwood : @Joseph Villecco: Liturgical Press already publishes a chapel edition of the Missal.

    I’m thinking smaller – I’m very familiar with Liturgical Press’ chapel edition. It is (as most of the chapel editions for the 2011 Missal have been) still a bit of a beast. CTS in the UK managed to make a very portable edition under the guise of a “study edition.” I haven’t seen anything of similar dimensions on the American market.

      1. @John Swencki:

        John, this is very strange. I ordered an ordinary form daily hand-missal from CTS. Paypal was available (instant currency conversion). No problems whatsoever.

        You might want to try AbeBooks. This is an online marketplace for hard-to-find or difficult to procure books. One has to deal with individual sellers, but there’s a rating system. Sellers usually have email addresses right on the website, so it’s easy to verify that a book is still available. Sometimes descriptions of book quality are vague — it’s also helpful to verify book quality.

      2. @Jordan Zarembo:
        Yes, I, too, ordered & received hand missals and other books from CTS. No problem there. But it seems what I could not get were ritual editions (book for chair, triduum) that were not already approved for use in US. Maybe that has now changed.

  17. I’ll take a contrarian view and say that I would be aghast at seeing an electronic device used in place of a physical missal or Lectionary during the Mass. The use of electronic text, which is by its nature mutable and ephemeral, is a poor symbol for the Word of God.

    Tim O’Malley had an excellent blog post a couple weeks ago on new media and liturgical change:

    “The introduction of new media, whether we are aware of it or not, fundamentally changes the liturgy. We can’t throw up screens in our churches, without changing what the liturgy is about (the medium is the message). We can’t use Twitter in homilies, without changing the function of liturgical preaching.”


  18. Being retired, I celebrate Mass at home often. I use the Universais App on my IPad. I also use IBreviary. Both contain the Roman Missal and Breviary. I Breviary also has all the sacramental rites.

    Very helpful when traveling, especially when the volumes of the Breviary changes. I would estimate that about half our Presbyterate uses a tablet or phone when we pray the Office in common.

    1. @Alexander Larkin:
      I don’t have an iPad or eBook or any kind of tablet. From what I hear they are very handy. But I have yet to have the batteries die on any of my printed books. 🙂

    1. @Joseph Villecco:
      I also tried to order from them a presider’s edition of the Triduum liturgies. It, too, was not available for sale in US. Maybe because of some agreement with US publishers? Or the USCCB?

  19. The “chapel-size” version of the Catholic Book Publishing Corporation comes in just a little bit heavier than their same-size former Sacramentary. It seems to work just fine. The chapel-size editions of the other publishers are quite a bit larger and heavier. The CBPC chapel-size weighs less than the full-size CPBC sacramentary I used to hold for the priest when serving at Mass in the late 70’s-early 80’s. And it packs well into a standard Mass kit. But for those desiring to use a larger-size book at the altar itself, perhaps a “book for the chair” would be a good idea.

    Now, on a similar topic — could we please have a one-volume edition of the Lectionary for Mass like we used to? I know that sight-lines are useful (but not necessary) tools for readers, and I’m also told that the current format was mandated by the USCCB. Maybe I’m not altogether justified in my request, but still, I think it would also serve “common sense”.

  20. Convenience and practicality are antithetical to liturgy. Using electronic pads in liturgy are such an example. Imagine the deacon in the entrance procession caring an iPad aloft? Electronic liturgical books are akin to electric candles, plastic flowers and paper purificators. As my first pastor used to say, “Saints preserve us!”

  21. John Swencki : @Joseph Villecco: I also tried to order from them a presider’s edition of the Triduum liturgies. It, too, was not available for sale in US. Maybe because of some agreement with US publishers? Or the USCCB?

    This seems strange. I wrote to the publisher to ask for confirmation. Last time I checked the website (last year or so) there was no block on US orders.

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