14 December 2009

Standing or sitting? Chair or Ambo?

In my post over the weekend about the scaffolding in the sanctuary, I mentioned that "ordinarily I preach from the chair."

Peter, who blogs at Ubi Petrus, raised the following question:

I've only heard of Bishops preaching from the chair (or, in their case their Cathedra). Is this generally allowed for anyone or is it a special allowance given your health? I'm just curious as I've never seen it done before.
His is a question I thought others might as well.

According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, "the priest, standing at the chair or at the ambo itself or, when appropriate, in another suitable place, gives the homily" (n. 136).

Not only is it licit for a priest to preach from the chair, it would seem that the ordinary place from which to preach is the chair, even though most homilies are given today from the ambo.

Only rarely do I preach away from the chair or ambo, moving about as some priests do, since that would seem to be a series of suitable places and not one place. That, and it just drives me crazy; I hate having to follow someone moving about when I'm trying to listen to them and I know I am not the only one (I also know there are those who prefer a moving target).

The distinction that Peter raises, I think, rests on the posture of the priest who is preaching; is he sitting or standing?

A priest is to stand at the chair when he preaches. A Bishop, on the other hand, according to the Ceremonial of Bishops, "gives the homily seated in the chair (cathedra), unless he prefers some other place in order to be easily seen and heard by all" (n. 142).

We see, then, that priests preach standing while Bishops preach seated, in keeping with the ancient custom of teachers.

And then there is me.

This past April, I wrote to the Most Reverend George J. Lucas, now Archbishop of Omaha, requesting permission to preach while seated in the chair, on occassion, for reasons of health. At the time, my arthritis was acting up quite painfully in my hips and I am under no disillusion that the arthritis will go away any time soon.

His Excellency answered my request, saying, "I give you permission to preach the homily at Mass while seated, when you feel that this is necessary. I will leave that to your judgment." As I understand it, this permission remains in force, unless another Bishop should revoke it.

Prior to making my request to then-Bishop Lucas, I had already preached while seated two or three times because of my arthritis, hence the reason I wrote to him in the first place.

I find it much easier to preach while seated. It feels, to me, at least, more natural and I think my delivery comes across more easily, comfortably and enthusiastically.

I did preach from the ambo Saturday evening, but found I didn't like it at all and returned to the chair on Sunday morning. The ambo just seems to get in the way.

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