Q: The beautiful hospital chapel where I minister has an ornate, carved wood, upholstered presider’s chair. The seating for the assembly is sturdy wooden pews. I am promoting the idea of replacing the present cushioned presider’s chair with a pew. The pew I envision for this purpose has room for two people. In every other way it is identical to the seating of the assembly. In fact it is an assembly pew that presently is in an unused balcony.
My thought is that the placement of the pew would indicate its distinct function. But the character of this presider’s share would point to the fact that the entire assembly “says the Mass,” “celebrates the Mass.” It also seems to me that a cushioned chair, special, more comfortable seating for the priest communicates clericalism, privilege rather than service. As I understand it, we all celebrate the Mass — each according to our various roles. There is not more dignity in the clergies’ role than in that of the non-ordained worshiper.
I envision any deacon sharing the pew with the presider. And on occasions when there are servers or priest concelebrants, they would either sit in the assembly (or in another pew in the sanctuary for this purpose.)
Does tradition and practice of the Church justify my idea regarding the presider’s chair—-and the second idea regarding the seating for deacon, server, priest concelebrants?
A: GIRM 310 describes the presider’s chair. It “must” signify that he presides over the gathering and directs the prayer. He should therefore face the people.
I point out in my book Let Us Pray that the GIRM’s references to the “chair” are more than the furniture, but the space in front of it. The priest stands in front of the chair when he prays “at” the chair.
The same paragraph in the GIRM addresses seats for concelebrants and deacons, as well as other ministers. The seating actually does show the variety of roles needed for Mass.
Clericalism is ever a threat, but GIRM 294 does a nice job of showing the interplay among the various ministers. There is a hierarchy of ministers, but each one plays an important function.
So, a humble pew could serve in the sanctuary, and the church of Our Lady the Ark of the Covenant in Paris has an interesting variation you may want to check out. It has a bench along the back wall, and the presider’s place is indicated more by decoration than elevation.