The office of the Master of Ceremonies itself is very old. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the most ancient ceremonials and rituals of the Catholic Church are the so-called Ordines Romani. Names of Masters of Ceremonies are known since the late Middle Ages (15th century) and the Renaissance (16th century). However, copies of books prescribing the forms of rituals, rites and customs of pontifical ceremonies are known to have been given to Charles Martel in the 8th century. The rules and rituals themselves are known to have been compiled or written by the pontifical masters of ceremonies whose contents date back to the time of Pope Gelasius I (492-496) with modifications and additions made by Pope Gregory the Great (590-604). It is reasonable to assume that the ceremonials themselves pre-date Gelasius I and the origins of the Master of Ceremonies may have developed from the time Emperor Constantine the Great gave the Lateran Palace to the popes (324) or from the time Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire (380), and was influenced no doubt by imperial practices, customs and norms. However, documentary evidence from the late Roman period are scarce or lost. The ceremonies and practices of the Byzantine emperors are also known to have influenced the papal court. The accumulation of elaboration and complication since the Renaissance and Baroque eras were carried well into the 20th century until some of the ceremonies (i.e. the court, the rituals and norms) were simplified or completely eliminated by Pope Paul VI in the 1970s after Vatican II; much of the Renaissance pomp and ceremony has been completely abandoned by the popes of the modern era.
At a large Catholic church or cathedral, the Master of Ceremonies organises and rehearses the proceedings and ritual of each Mass. He may also have responsibility for the physical security of the place of worship during the liturgy. At major festivities such as Christmas and Easter, when the liturgies are long and complex, the Master of Ceremonies plays a vital role in ensuring that everything runs smoothly.
In the late 1970s, the term MC (master of ceremonies) became associated with the role also known as that of the rapper in hip hop music and culture. An MC uses rhyming verses, whether pre-written or freestyled, to introduce and praise the DJ he or she works with, to hype up the crowd, to pay homage to his own stature, or to comment on society. As hip hop progressed, the title MC has been thought to mean a number of acronyms such as Microphone Controller, Microphone Commander, Mic Checka, Music Commentator, and one who Moves the Crowd, notably through Rakim's lyrics on the matter ("Eric B. easy on the cut and no mistakes allowed/ 'Cuz to me, 'MC' means 'move the crowd'"). Some use this word interchangeably with the term rapper, while for others the term denotes a conception and demonstration of the role indicative of skill and of connection to the wider culture, while the latter term does not.
Uncertainty over the acronym's expansion may be considered evidence for the ubiquity of the acronym: the full master of ceremonies is very rarely used in the hip-hop scene. This confusion prompted the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest to include this statement in the liner notes to their 1993 album, ''Midnight Marauders:
The use of the term MC when referring to a rhymer originates from the dance halls of Jamaica. At each event, there would be an announcer or master of ceremonies who would introduce the different musical acts and would say a toast in style of a rhyme, directed at the audience and to the performers. He would also make announcements such as the schedule of other events or advertisements from local sponsors. The term MC continued to be used by the children of women who moved to New York to work as maids in the 1970s. These MCs eventually created a new style of music called hip-hop based on the rhyming they used to do in Jamaica and the breakbeats used in records. MC has also recently been accepted to refer to all who engineer music.