After reverencing the altar the celebrant goes to the chair. Now perhaps a word or two on the chair is called for. Some one may wonder why the priest has a chair of some prominence. Why does he not simply sit among the faithful and come forward as necessary? Here again, there is a history to know.
In the ancient world, the Chair was a symbol of authority and office. We still have something of this today in the concept of the Judge’s Bench. The chair was also a symbol in the ancient world of teaching authority. It is our usual experience in the modern world that teachers stand when they teach or give lectures. But in the ancient world a teacher sat as they taught. Now they didn’t just sit in some casual way with their legs corssed and sipping coffee. Rather they were seated formally and in a prominent place in the room. You may remember that Scriptures usually record that when Jesus taught, he would sit (Mat 5:1; Luke 4:20; Mark 13:3; John 8:2; and dozens of other examples). It is my experience that many people find this fact surprising since they always imagine Jesus standing to preach but, it is almost never the case that he does that. He, like every ancient Rabbi and teacher sat to teach. So, the Chair has an ancient history of governance and teaching authority.
Now the Bishop’s Chair is especially imbued with this meaning and the priest’s chair only in a sense that is subordinate to the local Ordinary (i.e. chief Bishop). It is interesting to note that a bishop is given the special prerogative to sit in the sanctuary to preach. Most of them I notice do not use this option except at very formal times like ordinations. As a general rule, priests are expected to stand today at the pulpit or ambo when they preach. Despite this the priest’s chair continues to carry these ancient meanings already mentioned.
There is also a more modern notion given to the meaning of the chair in the General Instructions of the Roman Missal: The chair of the priest celebrant must signify his office of presiding over the gathering and of directing the prayer. …Any appearance of a throne, however, is to be avoided. (G.I.R.M # 310). Thus the Chair of the Priest also indicates a role of presiding over the Liturgical Assembly.
Now, in the end though, all three of these roles (governing, teaching and presiding) really refer to Christ. The priest, through his reception of the Sacrament of Holy Orders in configured to Christ and acts in persona Christi In the person of Christ). Thus the prominence of his chair is really a way to honor Christ who is the true High Priest of every liturgy. The priest’s chair is Jesus’ chair. It is ultimately He who governs, teaches and presides over us and He ministers through his priest. Pray for the grace to see beyond “Father Smith” and to see Jesus presiding over and ministering to you. In this sense the chair of the priest should have a very special place in your mind and a prominent place in our sanctuary. Surely the tabernacle and altar should be in the central axis but also prominent should be the Chair of the Priest, the Chair of Christ.
The following video shows the Pope preaching at National’s Stadium in Washington DC. He preaches from the seated position, the more anciet way of teaching.