Saturday, December 2, 2023


Please note the angled celebrant’s chair at St. Joseph Church in Macon, and yes that me sitting on it;

The post Vatican II Liturgy has four focal points:

1. The altar

2. The ambo

3. The Celebrant’s chair

4. The seating for the assembly

In this post, I will focus only on the Celebrant’s chair, because the revised Liturgy emphasizes three locations in the sanctuary for the celebration of the Mass,  the altar, ambo and celebrant’s chair, all three used for liturgical functions. 

In the TLM, the celebrant’s chair (sedalia) was not used at all in a Low Mass but would have been used in a Sung and Solemn Sung Mass, but only to sit as no liturgical action was/is done by the priest at the chair. However, that was/is not the case for the bishop in a sung or solemn sung pontifical Mass. 

Thus the priest’s sedalia in the TLM is to the side of the altar facing sideways. It is not elevated since no liturgical function occurs at the chair, nor angled to the assembly for the same reason and it is on the lowest level of the sanctuary.

The rubrics for the Modern Missal indicate that the Celebrant presides from the chair for the Introductory Rites and the Concluding Rites of the Mass. He sits for the Liturgy of the Word while the reader proclaims the scriptures and stands at the chair while the deacon proclaims the Gospel. The chair has liturgical significance for the celebrant in the revised Mass. 

Unfortunately, going backwards to the early Church, many sidelined the tabernacle in order to place the celebrant’s chair dead center behind the altar. In some cases, the chair was placed directly in front of the altar, both a recovery of a very early tradition that developed differently in subsequent centuries. 

Today, it is best to have the celebrant’s chair to the side of the altar and slightly angled, so there is not a direct frontal confrontation with the congregation. 

This is how the chair was configured at St. Anne when I was there as pastor:

The Mass above is the Modern Missal Mass but ad orientem and recovering some aspects of the TLM that is permissible in the MRM. 

Since I departed, the chair as been reoriented slightly but still used in the proper way for the MRM:

Since the two above photos were taken, the platform elevation under the celebrant’s chair has been removed. 

The problem I have with the new configuration is that there are a significant number of pews on either side of the altar. Thus the presiding chair does not have the same significance as when it is angled in the photos above the ones immediately above this paragraph. 

What do you think? Angled or not angled in a church with significant seating on three sides of the altar?


Fr Martin Fox said...

Since you asked...

I see no good reason for the chair to be angled. The rubrics speak of the celebrant turning to face the people; not the chair doing so. The celebrant is presumed to be standing when he does so; there is no necessity for the chair to be angled. Note, I'm not anathematizing that arrangement; I am simply stating as a starting point, no necessity for the angling of the chair.

Here are what I see as the downside of an angular placement. First: what angle? The chair in such an arrangement tends, in my experience, to drift around a bit, which is messy and distracting. When it is placed at a right angle, I think it tends to return to a right angle.

Second, there is a desire, which I deem unhealthy, to expect eye-contact from the celebrant. How do I know? Because, when I've adjusted the angle of the celebrant's chair from a diagonal arrangement, to a right angle, there were not-very-well articulated complaints about not "seeing" or "you're not looking at us"; when I thought about them, the only way they made any sense was, there's less face- or eye-orientation -- because no matter which way my chair is situated, the congregation can look at me; the complaint is, you are seeing me in profile, or, horrors, from the back! Or else, I'm not looking right at you

This desire is understandable -- because it represents a desire for a certain closeness and connection -- yet I deem it unhealthy; because the point of the Mass is not to make a connection, or be close to, the priest celebrant, but to Jesus. Too many priests have been encouraged to inject their personalities too much into Holy Mass. Note I said, "too much"; there's no way a priest won't inject some; and how can he not? But a little goes a long way; and beyond a certain point, it becomes "Father's Mass." I cringe at that. It is Jesus' Mass.

As to the platform, I would hate to trip or forget that it's there and stumble when moving toward the altar.

rcg said...

To add to Fr Fox’s comments, seeing the celebrant and his servers face on is distracting and takes away from the focus of the prayers or actions of that moment. For example, I take cues from the motions and postures of the celebrant at specific points of the Mass Sometimes he is giving instruction to a server or deacon, etc that are not necessary for me to see. In fact, if I am facing him and he leans over to speak to someone it takes my eyes of the focus of that moment and interrupts my prayer and worship.

Sacerdos Simplex said...

Just a small point but one worth mentioning, I think. While indeed the rubrics direct the celebrant to lead the Introductory rites front the chair, the rubrics leave as an option the freedom to offer the closing prayer, blessing, and dismissal from the altar.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

I think it us unhealthy for a priest to make an attempt to 1) disappear altogether, 2) minimize his human presence, and/or 3) to assume a different personality when he is on the altar.

The person - the whole person - MARTIN Fox, ALLAN McDonald, MICHAEL Kavanaugh was called to orders and ordained by his bishop to be the co-worker with the same in the vineyard of the Lord. A priest need not transform himself into a non-entity, a non-person when on the altar in order to be an effective and holy "alter Christus."

Pius XI: "Thus the priest, as is said with good reason, is indeed ‘another Christ’; for, in some way, he is himself a continuation of Christ." The Priest....He..... the whole person, Body, Soul, and Humanity, is meant to mediate the presence of Christ, not only on the altar, but in his whole life. Catholic priests serve primarily as mediators between God and man, linking the human and divine realms through the person of Christ.

As a mediator in the proper sense, he stands between the divine presence and the human presence in liturgy, not as an impediment, but as a bridge. And he does this through the human connection with the people he serves and, at the same time, the connection to the divine made possible by the grace of his ordination. The mass is about making a connection through the ministry of the priest with the Divine. Seeing the priest's face or making eye contact is in no way impedes or diminishes that conjunction.

rcg said...

I agree with FrMJK, of course (someone write this down), but what I am writing to is that there more than a few priests who do not submerse themselves that deeply, or are distracted themselves by my intense gaze to forget their purpose and begin to interact with me rather than God. When I go to a play or a movie I want to see the character and am only interested in the actor insofar as the ability to make me see the character. So I am happy to attend a Mass where the celebrant is known to bring to life the atmosphere of communion between the people of God and their Creator and not ‘merely’ a popular priest.

Fr Martin Fox said...

Regarding Father K's remarks, I would say the following:

1) It is, other than via miraculous intervention, impossible for the celebrant at liturgy to "disappear altogether," and thus any attempt to do so would work counter to the aim of lowering his profile.

3) As far as assuming a "different personality" at the altar, I suspect I know what Father K means, but I'm not certain; and I want to be fair to him.

If he means, the priest taking on a notably different voice or manner, I agree, that can, again, be counterproductive, because rather than the priest "drawing back," as it were, he actually makes himself more prominent.

That said, I suspect that every cleric presiding at a liturgy will, *to some degree,* take on a somewhat different manner or voice. For example, I use my voice somewhat differently in church, due to the setting, because I don't believe in relying on the mic to do everything for me; I will project my voice somewhat differently. And, mindful that people are listening to me proclaim either Scripture or prayer texts, I make an extra effort at enunciation and pacing, in service of comprehension. Side note: one virtue of chanting texts in the liturgy is that it tends to moderate the celebrant from over-interpreting a text, and letting the words speak for themselves.

Now, this is a good place to point out that, in a real sense, the priest does indeed "assume a different personality" at liturgy: I mean, he acts in persona Christi capitis. This is a mystery, yet it seems to me that this reality is likely to manifest itself in the actual manner of the priest, either by divine initiative, or simply by the priest himself expressing, perhaps unconsciously, his own experience of that mystery.

As to the middle observation, regarding "minimizing" ones personality, I would tend to endorse a cleric trying to do a degree. I suspect Father K and I don't flat-out disagree, so much as we may measure the "degree" of such minimizing differently.