During the funeral Mass of the late President Cory Aquino in Manila Cathedral I could hear a commentator – they usually seem to be women – telling people when to sit and when to stand. The vast majority of those present were adults and Catholics, many of them holding some of the highest positions in the land. One prominent Protestant, closely associated with Cory, was there, former President Fidel Ramos, who frequently attends Mass on such occasions and who, as president, was a most gracious host to Pope John Paul II in January 1995 when World Youth Day was held in Manila.
Commentators are normally kind and committed Catholics but, without being aware of it, they show disrespect to people by treating them as if they were pre-schoolers. We have had the new Mass for 40 years now, for goodness sake. I have often enough been upset by officious commentators who, before the priest can say ‘Let us proclaim the mystery of faith’, tell people to stand. (Here in the Philippines we stand after the Consecration. I would much prefer if everyone remained kneeling until the end of the Eucharistic Prayer.) I find that particularly ill-mannered, though ‘commentators’ are never intentionally so.
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) clearly defines the role of the commentator at Mass (105, b): The commentator, who provides the faithful, when appropriate, with brief explanations and commentaries with the purpose of introducing them to the celebration and preparing them to understand it better. The commentator's remarks must be meticulously prepared and clear though brief. In performing this function the commentator stands in an appropriate place facing the faithful, but not at the ambo.
No mention of telling people when to sit and stand nor is the presence of a commentator a requirement.
I’m not in charge of a parish and sometimes find myself celebrating Mass in a church or chapel where I am a visitor and have to live with things that really irritate me. One frequent introduction by commentators – again well-intentioned – is ‘Let us stand to welcome our celebrant Father Sean Coyle’. We don’t assemble to welcome the priest but to worship God by celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
I often hear them say, or worse still, hear the reader say ‘Let us stand to honour the Gospel’. Again, well meant and pious but not a part of the Mass and not the role of either the commentator or reader to say.
Photos taken in St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, 19 July 2008, when Pope Benedict consecrated the new altar and celebrated Mass with the bishops of Australia with seminarians and novices participating.