– Enrico Finotti
The seat in front of the altar?
The answer requires a prior consideration of the centrality and pre-eminence of the altar as a liturgical sign of the presidency of Christ. The altar is, in fact, the symbol of Christ, the high priest, always present in his Church and is the permanent point of reference in every cultic action.
The entire liturgy – every single part of a rite and every kind of ritual – has its visual and spiritual center in the altar: it is never obscured or marginalized, but, dressed up or bare, it is always the prince of liturgical signs. The ambo and the seat are certainly important, but compared to the altar they remain lateral, especially since the altar is awarded a special dedication that the ambo and the seat do not have. Therefore, in the liturgical assembly, all ministers and faithful turn their gaze to the altar, as the sacred sign of Christ and of his Paschal Sacrifice: one greets him at the beginning and at the end of a ritual and is venerated in every kind of celebration; his candles are always lit whenever the people gather for prayer. The altar is truly the symbolic pivot of the entire liturgical complex of the Church.
It is understandable then how to place the seat in a stable manner before the altar implies that the priest turns his back on the altar in large parts (rites of beginning, liturgy of the Word and farewell rites) or even for the entire extension of a rite (eg liturgy of the Hours), while it should always be possible to look at the altar together with all the faithful. In this way, an undue ministerial role is created by transforming the sacred assembly into a closed relationship between the priest and the faithful with the danger of an easy sociological reduction. The gaze at the altar and the cross for the entire celebration is not a trivial matter with the goal in mind to arouse the sacredness and the supernatural sense in the ministers and in the entire liturgical assembly.
It is therefore clear that a fixed seat cannot be located close to the altar table or even in front of it, even if an adequate distance allows a comfortable circumvention of the altar. Any choice in this sense would permanently obscure the centrality, visibility, dignity and absolute primacy of the altar in the liturgy and the ministry itself of the presidency would suffer the damages of a reductive vision that would not sufficiently highlight the action of the invisible Presider of which the altar is the most classic and most effective reference.
However, it must be remembered that the liturgical tradition admits in the pontifical liturgy the use of the faldstool which, placed on the predella of the altar, allows the Bishop to celebrate some rites in that place. It should however be noted that the faldstool, without a backrest, is in its very structure respectful of the altar in front of which it is placed and is immediately removed after use. In the current liturgical order, with the rediscovery of the importance of the chair (and of the seat), recourse to the faldstool is still possible, but it is recommended that the chair (and the seat) can perform its functions as much as possible without having to resort to an alternative seat.
(From Il mio e il vostro sacrificio. Il liturgista risponde, 2018©Chorabooks. Translated by Aurelio Porfiri. Used with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved)