A long tradition lies behind the Office of Magistri Caerimoniarum Apostolicarum (Masters of Apostolic Ceremonies). From the 15th century onwards Masters of Papal Ceremonies acquired considerable fame thanks to Diaries kept by a few, namely Johannes Burkard, Paride de Grassis, a custom continued down to this day by successive Prefects and Masters of Papal Ceremonies whose writings are preserved in a special Archive. Various measures taken by the Apostolic Chamber (4th January 1533, 11th June 1550 and 15th September 1560), were followed by an Apostolic brief dated 10th May 1563, with which Pope Pius IV confirmed certain rights of the Magistri nostri Caermoniarum, previously recognised a Romanis Pontificibus ab immemoriali tempore (by the Roman Pontiff from time immemorial).
By virtue of successive regulations approved by the Roman Pontiffs last of all Benedict XV on 25 June 1917, the Magistri Caerimoniarum S.R.E. et Sedis Apostolicae formed a Collegium presided by a Praefectus, appointed with special Apostolic Brief by the Supreme Pontiff, with the grade of Domestic Prelate (today Prelate of Honour of His Holiness) and Apostolic Protonotary ad instar (today Apostolic Protonotary Supernumerary). The other Masters of Ceremonies had the grade Cubicularii intimi ad vitam (today Chaplains of His Holiness). After the election of the Supreme Pontiff they acted as Secret Participant Valets (later Prelates of the Anti-chamber) until the new Masters were appointed. The Prefect and the second Master of Ceremonies, both participants, were assigned to the person of the Supreme Pontiff; the remaining ten, non participants, were three ex-number and seven supernumerary. All were Consultors of the Sacred Congregation of Rites pro re liturgica by right and considered Ritum Ecclesiae Latinae Custodes (custodians of the Rites of the Latin Church) (in Privilegia et iura, praeeminentiae et distinctiones Magistrorum Caerimoniarum S. R. E. et Sedis Apostolicae, of the S. C. Cerimoniale, 6 Nov. 1801).
The Prefecture, or College of Masters of Papal Ceremonies, was restructured on the occasion of the 1967 reform of the Roman Curia and in particular with Regulations for the Office of Papal Ceremonies issued in 1970. The Prefecture assumed at that time the title of Office for Papal Ceremonies. These regulations established that the Masters of Ceremonies should be twelve in number (eight active and four attachés).
With the reform introduced by the Second Vatican Council, the Office for Papal Ceremonies assumed ever greater importance in the field of liturgical pastoral activity. In fact Liturgies presided by the Pope, multiplied in number and renewed in style, began to be seen, due also to the impact of the media, as an exemplary point of reference for the implementation of the Liturgical Reform in accordance with the spirit and norms of the Council.
The Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, dated 28 June 1988, also in conformity with the principles of liturgical renewal fostered by Vatican II, made radical changes with regard to the Office for Papal Ceremonies instituting a new "Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff". This change was not merely nominal, it entailed the creation of a completely new Institution of the Roman Curia with proper legislation and exclusive competencies.
The Pastor Bonus established that the duty of the Office is to prepare all that is necessary for liturgical celebrations or any other sacred celebrations either presided by the Pope, or at which he participates or assists, or which are presided in his name by a Cardinal or Prelate. These preparations include everything necessary to ensure worthy celebration and active participation of the people. Also included in the competencies of the Office, the celebration of a Consistory and the direction of liturgical celebrations of the College of Cardinals while the Papal See is vacant. One most important task of the Office is the planning, publication and distribution of special prayer-booklets for each liturgy, an asset that guarantees worthy and active participation of those present.
The Head of the Office is the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, with the qualification of Superior Prelate of the Roman Curia: appointed by the Supreme Pontiff for a term of office of five years, the Maestro may be confirmed (art. 182). It is the duty of the Maestro to revise and adapt Papal liturgies Liturgies, according to needs and as required, in harmony with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and in keeping with the distinctive character of liturgical celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff. A most important task is the planning and leading of all papal liturgies during visits made by the Supreme Pontiff to parishes or institutions in the diocese of Rome, as well as those celebrated during the Pope's Apostolic Visits all over the world.
Besides assisting the Supreme Pontiff at sacred functions, Papal Masters of Ceremonies assist also Cardinals under special circumstances: during Consistories, taking possession of Titular Churches, solemn celebrations of Mass or other important religious services, Pontifical Missions. From the moment a Cardinal is created at a Consistory, the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations assigns to his person one of the Office's Masters of Ceremonies. Moreover, under the direction of the Maestro, it falls to the other Masters to plan and direct any ordinations of Bishops and Blessings of Abbots that take place in Rome and are carried out by order of the Holy Father, as well as other liturgical celebrations at the discretion of the Maestro.
Sede Vacante: the Papal Masters of Ceremonies, as established by the Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Paul VI Romano Pontifici eligendo dated 1 October 1975, are on duty during the Congregations of Cardinals and they enter the Conclave at which they have specific tasks. By virtue of their office they are notaries: therefore is it their duty, to every juridical effect, to draft official documents of the function which they attend as part of their office, the acts of the Conclave and the actual act of the election of the Supreme Pontiff.
A Chirografo dated 14 January 1991, with which Pope John Paul II adapted to present day requirements structures for spiritual care inside Vatican City, established that the duties proper to the Sacristy of the Papal Household would henceforth belong to the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, who is therefore responsible for the Papal Sacristy as well as the Chapels within the Apostolic Palace.