The Sacred That Surrounds Us: The Presider's Chair
October 3, 2021, 12:00 PM
The presider’s chair is the largest chair in the sanctuary and is used by the main celebrant during ass. Sometimes this chair is padded or has a canopy over it. Most times, though, it will simply be a chair larger than the others.
You will find the presider’s chair in every Catholic church. When it is within a Catholic cathedral, this chair is called a cathedra. The chair is a sign of authority. Those in authority, including early bishops and medieval doctors, taught in this posture. When the pope (the successor of Peter) declares an official teaching, he does so ex cathedra, which means “from the chair.” We can read many Church Fathers who speak about the “chair of Peter” as one of authority and unity. Only an ordained priest may sit in the presider’s chair, with an exception of an ordained deacon serving over a word or communion service.
Think of the president when you hear “presider.” If there are multiple priests, deacons, or bishops in the sanctuary, we can always know who the main celebrant is by who is sitting in the presider’s chair. The main celebrant at Mass will lead us, as a community, in the worship of God. St. Ignatius of Antioch, who taught under St. John the Apostle, wrote to the Smyraeans on his way across Asia Minto to his death in Rome. In one of seven letters written in AD 107, he emphasized to “follow the priests as you would follow the apostles” and “reverence the deacons as you would reverence the command of God.” How fitting for us today are St. Ignatius’ words, as most of us do not celebrate weekly Mass with a bishop present, but with a priest and deacon.
“You cannot then deny that you do know that upon Peter first in the city of Rome was bestowed the episcopal cathedra, on which sat Peter, the head of all the apostles (for which reason he was called Cephas), that, in this one cathedra, unity should be preserved by all.” – St. Optatus of Milevis (AD 367)