Vol 54 No 1 March/Autumn 2024


Title Author Topic Page
Editor: The Chair Elich, Tom Architecture and Environment 2
Liturgy and the Synod on Synodality Rush, Ormond Liturgy and Governance 3-4
What the Filing Cabinet Revealed About the Sacraments Sheehan, Anne Sacraments 5-7
Ritual Celebrations in the Catholic School Schwantes, Clare Schools 7-9
Hidden Bodies in Liturgy Elich, Tom Liturgy and Governance 10-11
The Pope Speaks - Catechesis - liturgical 12
Erasure of Baptism - Baptism 12
Karl-Edmund Prier - In Memoriam 12
James (Jake) Emperor - In Memoriam 12
Dr Robert Boughen OBE - In Memoriam 12
Our Cover - Sacraments 12
Re-opening Notre Dame, Paris - Architecture and Environment 13
Syro-Malabar Conflict Unresolved - Liturgy - Other Churches/Religions 13
David Haas Music - Music 13
Seville Holy Week Poster - Art 13
'Church Everyday' in Korea - Liturgy - Other Churches/Religions 14
Embedding Audio in Powerpoint - Music 14
Growing Adult Initiation - Christian Initiation 14
Deeds and Words - Sacraments 14
View from Mount Clarence Crooks, Gerry Australia 15-16
Anne Y Koester: Children and Youth in the Catechumenate: Forming Young Disciples for Mission Cronin, James Christian Initiation 16-17


The Chair

Elich, Tom

Chairs come in a bewildering array of designs and materials: some heavily padded, some little more than an austere stool or bench; chairs with arms and without; chairs for the kitchen, dining room, lounge or office; some sleekly modern, others looking like antiques; chairs in timber, plastic, metal, leather and fabric. Choosing a chair for use on a church sanctuary can present a dilemma. I know one big priest who arrived in a new parish to behold in the sanctuary a petit presider’s chair in French-style rococo. A parishioner unkindly remarked that, when he sat on it in vestments, it reminded her of a pot-bellied stove.

A Cathedra

A cathedral gets its name from the bishop’s chair, the cathedra. The bishop is the focus of unity in the local Church of a diocese; he is the chief pastor and teacher. His seat has an important place on the cathedral sanctuary along with the ambo and altar. Like the ambo and altar, the cathedra is a sign of Christ in whose Body and Blood all the baptised have communion.

All must be convinced that the preeminent manifestation of the Church is present in the full, active participation of all God’s holy people in the liturgical celebration, especially in the same Eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar at which the bishop presides, surrounded by his presbyters and ministers (SC 41).

Now, in the parish church, there is also a chair, but it is not a cathedra. The parish represents the visible Church in that local part of the world and the priest exercises a leadership of service among the people, presiding over their liturgical celebration. Parish liturgy should express a lively sense of the ecclesial community. In a way, the priest represents the bishop in a parish community but I am not sure that we should imagine the presider’s chair as a ‘parish cathedra’.

How then should we think of the presider’s chair in the liturgical space?

Looking at parish churches, one often finds an unhelpful seat for the presider, either by reason of its design or its placement. I have seen chairs that are monumental, with a high back and large arms – yes, they do present themselves as a ‘cathedra’ if not as a throne. I have also seen the opposite – a vinyl office swivel chair sitting on the sanctuary!

Frequently the chair is located at the back of the sanctuary, perhaps where a cathedra might be located. In a parish community, this can be very remote from the people who are separated both by its elevation and the altar which stands in front of it. Sometimes, the chair also gives the impression that the person sitting there is above or separate from the proclamation of the word of God that takes place at the ambo.

The Parish Assembly for Liturgy

The celebrant of the liturgy is Christ. All those who are baptised into Christ, who are part of the Body of Christ, celebrate the liturgy. This body is structured, of course, with people exercising various ministries and leadership roles. The priest, by virtue of his ordination, is one of them. His ordination adds to his baptism, but does not override it or annul it. Therefore, I would like to see the presider’s chair, like the ambo and altar, integrated into the space for the assembly of the baptised and their liturgical action. The people’s seats are placed in relation to the ambo in such a way that they can receive the word and take it to heart. The people gather round the altar to give them the sense that all together as the Body of Christ they offer the sacrifice. I propose that we should consider a stronger integration of the chair into this matrix.

Many elements in the liturgy are designed to highlight the special role given by ordination to the priest who presides in the liturgy. He dresses in vestments. He enters in procession after the people have taken their place. His words, gestures and postures are unique to him. He is shown special deference. And he sits in this special chair. It is more difficult to notice the elements which unite him to the community of the baptised which forms the Body of Christ.

Design and Position of the Chair

I suggest that the presider’s chair can play an important role here. In its design and material, it could relate more strongly to the seating for the assembly. It may be made from the same timber as the pews, in a similar design, and carry similar embellishments. Whether the people’s seats are plain timber or upholstered, the presider’s chair could follow the same cues.

Likewise, its positioning is important. It could be located at the edge of the people’s seating, and oriented in the same line. Sometimes, just turning the chair sideways in the sanctuary may make a huge difference. It may be misleading to have it facing square onto the people, suggesting that he is apart, above or even against the assembly. During the Liturgy of the Word, he should be listening to the reader with the people and appear to be doing so.

Normally, the priest speaks from the chair at the beginning of the liturgy and at the end, and from there he leads the profession of faith and intercessions. However, if locating the chair closer to the assembly makes this difficult, he may step away to speak into a microphone placed in a better location. But at least he will be one with the people in listening to the readings, and in times of silence and quiet communal prayer.

The chair itself will not do all the work. The priest in his style of presiding needs to operate from the mindset that the liturgy is not what he is doing, but what he leads the assembly in doing. This changes his voice, its cadences and emphases; it changes his gestures and posture. It means above all that he is focussed on what is taking place. It is true that he may have heard the Sunday readings twice or three times already. But he needs to listen anew with the assembly and not give himself to miscellaneous bits of organisation on the sanctuary.


Tom Elich