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The Magistri Cæremoniarum
custodians and promoters of the roman liturgy


The text of the Pontificale Romanum dated 1485, compiled at the request of Pope Innocent VIII, was the work of two men who, at different times, were responsible for Papal Ceremonies: Agostino Patrizi Piccolomini and Giovanni Burchard, respectively Bishop of Pienza and Montalcino and Bishop of Civita Castellana and Orte. These men were two of the famous Magistri Cæremoniarum Apostolicarum of the 15th and 16th centuries.

The institution of the Magister or Antistes or Præfectus Cœremoniarum Pontificiarum goes far back in history. We know there existed in Rome in the year 710 an Ordinator, or a Maestro of the order of Mass, or one who instructed in the ceremonies those to be ordained. From the second half of the 6th century until the 10th century, those responsible for papal liturgy recorded in writing the order (ordo) of  the main rites presided by the Roman Pontiff: the Papal Mass (about 690-700), the Rite of Christian Initiation (around 560-580), the celebration of Holy Week (around 650-700), the Rite of Ordinations (around 750), the rite for the dedication of a church and the deposition of relics (around 700-750).

From the 8th century onwards copies of these ordines were carried to Gaul at the private initiative of pilgrims and visitors, captivated by Rome and its liturgy. As time passed, the Magistri Cæremoniarum assumed ever greater importance with regard to the formation and development of the Roman Curia, reaching the height of authority and importance precisely in the 15th and 16th centuries.

To better grasp the significance of the text of the Pontificale Romanum produced by Agostino Patrizi Piccolomini and Giovanni Burchard, it helps to consider the work in relation to the historical period in which it was born and the environment in which it was conceived. The period of history was the late 15th century shortly before the Council of Trent, the environment was that of the Roman Curia, as it had developed since the 11th century. The Popes in that period, due to various circumstances and difficulties, were forced to neglect direct pastoral care of the city of Rome. This meant that their activity and attention focused increasingly on the papal court and on those members of the clergy who were their direct collaborators. The Pope and his Curia, detached from the Church in Rome, began to speak ever more frequently of the universal Church while the Curia identified itself increasingly with the Roman Church. This process became more accentuated during the period of Avignon when the Pope and the Curia were absent from Rome. The Curia eventually found its juridical structure, retained to this day, with the institution of the Roman Congregations immediately after the Council of Trent.

The 15th century was also the period in which the long process of clarification and formation of Roman liturgical books was completed, mainly thanks to the work of those responsible for the papal liturgy. Until then, the liturgy of the Roman Church had been enriched by various collections of liturgical texts with different titles: Ordines romani, 'Pontificals', 'Ceremonials'. However neither the titles nor the contents of those collections were well defined. The books contained very different texts: the Ordines romani included not only indications regarding rubrics but also a variety of liturgical texts; the various Pontificals contained texts for Bishops, but also texts for priests and even commentaries and text for sermons; the Ceremonials besides rubrics gave also various liturgical texts. The process of the clarification of the contents of liturgical books and their sub-division, found a point of orientation in the three Books of the Pontifical compiled and arranged by Guillaume Durand (1237-1296), a canonist of the Roman Curia, and later Bishop of Mende. This process was only completed at the end of the 16th century and in the 17th century with the publication of the Tridentine liturgical books.

The formation process of our liturgical books was accompanied by growing influence of the papal liturgy on liturgical celebrations in the Particular Churches. Little is known of the liturgies celebrated in cathedral churches before the 15th century. Texts and rubrics for services for Holy Week and the important solemnities of the liturgical year could be found in the liturgical books in use at the time, but general norms or precise instructions for Bishops to follow in the liturgies in their dioceses were lacking. The desire for more liturgical instructions and more complete liturgical books was keenly felt and widespread before the Council of Trent in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.

The Popes, through the activity of the Magistri Cæremoniarum, strove with growing interest to meet the needs of the local Churches. It suffices to recall for example that at the time of the Lateran Council (1123) not only Papal Legates but the Popes themselves in that period, from Gregory VII (+ 1085) to Innocent III (+ 1216), travelled widely in northern Europe, carrying with them Roman liturgical books helping in this way to diffuse those texts. Increasingly the liturgical books compiled in that period were the result of the adaptation of the papal liturgy to the liturgies of the bishops in cathedral churches. The Pontificale Romanum of 1485 is clearly an example of this process. Pope Innocent VIII in fact requested a liturgical book for use in the different dioceses and entrusted the task of drafting the book to the Magistri Cæremoniarum of Papal Liturgy. The two Masters of Ceremonies reproduced the Pontifical of Guillaume Durand and at the same time adapted it to meet the new needs of the dioceses, omitting rites fallen into disuse such as the remanding of penitents on Ash Wednesday and the celebration of Reconciliation on Holy Thursday. The Pontifical arranged by them served therefore as the basis for the Roman Pontifical of the Council of Trent published for the Latin Church in 1595-1596.

We realise then the important role played by the Magistri Cæremoniarum of the Roman Pontiffs in the 15th century. Besides preserving Papal Liturgy by keeping their Diaria and recording the liturgical texts of papal liturgies, they also fostered the process of adapting the papal liturgy to use in the dioceses. The twofold activity of the Magistri Cæremoniarum of those times, on the one hand closely safeguarding the papal liturgy, and on the other encouraging the celebrations in cathedral churches, was well expressed by Magister Paris De Grassis, who around 1520 compiled a liturgical book for celebrations in the Cathedral of Bologna (the volume was published in Rome in 1564), while he boldly opposed, even asking for the edition to be burned, the publication of the Rituum ecclesiasticarum sive sacrarum Cæremoniarum Sacræ Romanæ Ecclesiæ libri tres non ante impressi (the Ceremonial was published in Venice in 1516 by Cristoforo Marcello, also a Master of Ceremonies and the Archbishop of Corfù), considering it inopportune for a description of papal ceremonies to be made known outside the papal court. The Magistri Cæremoniarum of the 15th and 16th centuries, under the guidance of the Supreme Pontiffs, were, in a way, guarantors of the tradition and the evolution of the Roman liturgy. At that time the Sacra Rituum Congregatio which would be charged with safeguarding the liturgy and arranging the drafting of the liturgical books of the Latin Church, did not exist. It was instituted only later in 1588 by Pope Sixtus V. We can say therefore that the reform of the Tridentine liturgy had already started in the 15th century with the activity of the Masters of Papal Ceremonies.

The anastatic publication of the Roman Pontifical, an incunabulum of 1485 preserved in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, is therefore a window on the pre-Tridentine period and the achievements of the great Magistri Cæremoniarum of the time.

* * *

The publication of the Pontifical of Piccolomini and Burchard offers an opportunity not to speak about the activity of the Magistri Cæremoniarum of the 15th and 16th century, but also about the Archive of the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff which contains documentation on the papal liturgy, past and recent.

The documentation of the past consists of about 1000 volumes, some of which are manuscripts. The greater part of the manuscripts are Diaria and liturgical texts written by Magistri Cæremoniarum. The oldest one is dated 1294.

Also preserved in the Archive are texts of Agostino Patrizi Piccolomini and Giovanni Burchard, the Magistri Cæremoniarum who arranged the Pontificale Romanum of 1485.

The Archive contains two volumes by Piccolomini.

Volume 125:

Sacrarum Cerimoniarum sive Rituum Ecclesiasticorum, Sanctæ Romanæ Ecclesiæ. Libri tres.
Augustini Piccolominei Episcopi Pientini. Præfatio. In Librum Cærimoniarum simulque Epistola Ad Innocentium VIII Pont. Maximum
. (manuscript  dated 1488).

Volume 265:

Pontificalis Ritus Servandus in Ordinatione Consecratione in Episcopum et Coronatione Romani Pontificis Dispositus, et emendatus. Ab Augustino Patritio De Piccolominibus Episcopo Pientino olim Sedis Apostolicæ Ceremoniarum Sacrarum Magistro.
(This is an excerpt, from page 37 to page 48, from one of the first printed texts of the Pontifical).

Eleven volumes of Burchard are preserved in the Archive.

Volume 419: Ioannis Brocardi Argentinensis Germani Episcopi Hortani et Civitatis Castellanæ Cappellæ Pontificialæ Cæremoniarum Magistri et aliorum Diariorum. Tomus Quintus. From 1484 to 1492.
Volume 359: Alexandri PP. VI (1492-1494) diaria a Ioanne Burchardo Argentinensi clerico cappellæ et magno cæremoniario eiusdem Papæ.
Volume 360: Giovanni Burcardo diario di Innocenzo VIII. Tomo I.
Volume 361: Giovanni Burcardo diario di Innocenzo VIII. Tomo II.
Volume 362: Diario di Giovanni Burcardo dall’anno 1483 fino al 1491. Tomo I.
Volume 363: Diario di Giovanni Burcardo dall’anno 1492 fino al 1496. Tomo II.
Volume 364: Diario di Giovanni Burcardo dall’anno 1497 fino al 1503. Tomo III.
Volume 365: Diario di Giovanni Burcardo dall’anno 1503 fino al 1506. Tomo IIII.
Volume 366: Diario di Giovanni Burcardo e di Paride de Grassis dall’anno 1484 fino al 1518.
Volume 367: Ioannes Brocardi Argentinensis Episcopi Hortani et Civitatis Castellanæ Cappellæ S.R. Ecclesiæ, et Pontificis Max. Sacrarum Cæremoniarum Magistri et aliorum Diariorum. Tomus VIII. Dall’anno 1503 fino al 1506.
Volume 847: Diarum Johannis Burchardi dei Pontefici Innocenzo VIII, Alessandro VI, Pio III e Giulio II.
(Volume published and commented by Cav. Achille Pennarelli, Florence 1854).

The Archive is the result of the activity and patient collection undertaken by Masters of Ceremonies through the centuries. The overall arrangement, as it is still today, is due to the Prefect Enrico Leonida Dante, who in 1954 renovated the premises and, in the years that followed, divided the volumes in two categories and drew up the Archive inventory. Also worthy of mention is the work of Giovanni Fornici who in 1803 catalogued the volumes preserved in rooms reserved for the Masters of Ceremonies at the Quirinal Palace. The same Fornici mentions a collection of volumes accumulated by Mgr. Dini in his apartment, with the consent of Pope Pius VI. The result was a considerable loss for the Archive because following Dini's death in Venice in 1799, a number of hand-written volumes were removed and sold. The most recent work to restructure the Archive was done in 2003-2004 when it was divided into two floors, one for manuscripts and older volumes and the other for more recent documentation. At present a revision is being made of the older volumes and manuscripts in view of their restoration.

With the Second Vatican Council, the activity of the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and that of the Masters of Papal Celebrations assumed new importance in the liturgical life of the Church. First of all because in the implementation of the liturgical reform of Vatican II the papal liturgy experienced a fitting period of renewal, marked by a return to the biblical sources and the patristic tradition. Secondly, the Office became increasingly important because of the travels of recent Pontiffs to visit local Churches in every corner of the earth and the worldwide coverage of papal liturgies. In this way the liturgies celebrated by the Roman Pontiff, having increased in number and in quality, became once again, in their noble simplicity and beauty, an exemplary point of reference for the whole Church. The increased importance of the papal liturgy, and therefore of the Office of Celebrations and its Master, was accompanied also by new juridical norms. The Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus in 1981 and Regulations of the Office in 1995 confirmed tradition with regard to the Office's autonomy and competence within the Roman Curia. The Master’s authority to publish texts and revise the rites of the papal liturgy was recognised. Significant in this regard were the publications which the Office, with the help of its Consultors, recently produced on the occasion of the major events of 2005: the Ordo Exsequiarum Romani Pontificis; the Ordo Rituum Conclavis and the Ordo Rituum Pro Ministerii Petrini Initio Romæ Episcopi. The publication of these Ordines took up and continued the tradition of the great Masters of Ceremonies of the 15th and 16th centuries and emphasised the specificity of papal celebrations. This specificity is rooted in the Petrine ministry exercised in God's Church by the Roman Pontiff, the Successor of the Apostle Saint Peter. It was for the exercise of the primacy, which has its theological foundation in the presidency of the celebration of the sacred mysteries, that there has existed from the first millennium an Office directly at the service of the Pope’s liturgical celebrations.

The Ordinatores of the first millennium, the great Magistri Cæremoniarum Apostolicarum of the 15th and 16th centuries and the Masters of Liturgical Celebrations of our day, in the work of safeguarding and promoting the papal liturgy, remain nevertheless, humble collaborators of the Supreme Pontiffs. Even the Pontificale Romanum of 1485 was drafted by the Masters of Ceremonies at the request of the Pope. The image imprinted on the Fisherman's Ring, proper to the Roman Pontiffs, is an eloquent sign that, in actual fact, they are the ones who carry on the labour of the Fisherman of Galilee through the history of the Church with their constant commitment and concern for the liturgy. Like his predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI continues Saint Peter's task of confirming the faith of the holy people of God through the proclamation of the Word and the celebration of the Sacraments.



List of “Magistri Cæremoniarum Apostolicarum” of the late 15th century and 16th century– compiled from documentation contained in the archive of the office for the liturgical celebrations of the supreme pontiff.

Agostino Patrizi Piccolomini, Sienese.
He reformed the ceremonial of the Roman Curia. Appointed Bishop of Pienza by Sixtus IV in 1483. Master of Papal Ceremonies under Pope Innocent VIII and Alexander VI.

Giovanni Burcardo of Argentoratum (Strasbourg).
Master of Ceremonies to Innocent VIII, Alexander VI, Pius III and Julius II. Appointed by the latter, 29 November 1503, Bishop of Orte. He was the first Papal Master of Ceremonies to record ceremonies in diari from 1484, the year in which Sixtus IV died, until his own death.

Bernardinus Putteri.
Cleric Salamantinus. Master of Ceremonies in 1504.

Paride de Grassis.
Master of Ceremonies from 1504 when Burchard was still alive. He was Master in the pontificates of Julius II, Leo X, Adrian VI and Clement VII. Although appointed Bishop of Pesaro, he remained Papal Master  of Ceremonies.

Baldassar of Viterbo.
Master of Ceremonies in 1518 in the time of Leo X.

Cristoforo Marcello.
Master of Ceremonies to Leo X and appointed Archbishop of Corfù.

Biagio Baronus Martinelli of Cesena.
Appointed Master of Ceremonies by Leo X, he served as such until 1540. He died in 1544.

Giovanni Francesco Firmano, of Macerata.
Master of Ceremonies under Clement VII (1523-1534). He held the same responsibility until the death of Pius IV (1565).

Cornelio Firmano.
He started his diari with the election of Saint Pius V, and concluded them shortly after the beginning of the pontificate of Gregory XIII, who in 1574 appointed him Bishop of Osimo.

Francesco Mucanzio, nephew of Biagio da Cesena.
His diari start from the year 1573.

Paolo Alaleona.
Appointed Master of Ceremonies under Sixtus V (1585-1590). He was a Canon of Saint John Lateran. He kept his diari until 6 August 1637.

Giovanni Battista Alaleona.
Appointed Master of Ceremonies during the pontificate of Paul V (1605-1621). He wrote a number of diari which were then continued by his nephew Gaspare Servanzio.

Giovanni Paolo (or Pietro) Mucanzio.
Appointed Master of Ceremonies under Gregory XIV (1590-1591). He kept his diari until the time of Paul V. He was Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Rites.


† Piero Marini
Titular Archbishop of Martirano
Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations