22/11/09 – The Processional Seating Arrangement

A diagram of a typical processional seating arrangement

We begin our exploration of seating arrangements this week by looking at an arrangement well known to Wentworthville parishioners, the Processional arrangement.

This seating arrangement is the one we see in our own church, and has existed for many years.  The seats are all placed in rows facing the sanctuary at one end of the space.  This seating arrangement particularly suited the celebration of Mass prior to the Second Vatican Council.  The priest celebrated ad orientum, that is, all were of the same orientation – focused on the altar against the end wall of the church.

The processional seating arrangement’s advantages are that all attention is directed towards the sanctuary and its focal points of the altar, ambo and presidential chair.  Seating capacity within the space is maximised.  It is also a seating arrangement very well suited to personal prayer.  It can provide for clear lines of sight, and impressive processions through the church.

On the other hand, it can be argued that this arrangement suggests that the liturgy is the work of the priest which the assembly observes.  Nowadays, we understand that the liturgy is the work of Christ and his Church; all of us united in faith and gathered to worship.  It can also mean that people are a long distance from the sanctuary; again potentially limiting the sense of being an active participant in the liturgical celebration.  Distance also affects the assembly’s ability to see and hear what is happening.

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