6/12/09 – The Antiphonal Seating Arrangement

A diagram of a typical antiphonal seating arrangement

We continue our exploration of seating arrangements this week by looking at an arrangement found in a number of churches, including our own cathedral – the Antiphonal arrangement.

This seating arrangement found its origin the monastic orders, and can often be found in the chapels of religious orders.  This is because the orders have maintained the tradition of praying the Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine Office.  The manner of praying of the psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours is well supported by a seating arrangement of rows on each side of the space, facing towards the sanctuary in the centre of the space.  The sanctuary then runs the full length of the space, often with the altar in the middle, and the ambo and presidential chair at each end (although this may vary).

This arrangement allows for the gathering of the assembly around the sanctuary, which is clearly evident as the centre of the Eucharistic celebration.  This arrangement also lends itself very effectively to the celebration of other sacraments and forms of prayer.  For example, there is still space in the centre where a coffin can be placed, or for candidates to process forward to the bishop for confirmation.  When there is a smaller assembly gathered, and the altar is not to be used, the assembly can then gather around the ambo where the scriptures will be proclaimed.

The major concern for some people, however, is a sense that people are “facing each other”.  While we may not be used to doing this at church, the point of the seating arrangement is not to be looking at others.  The point, rather, is to be gathered around the altar, and focused on where each part of the celebration is taking place.  Being able to see others, however, can serve to remind us that we gather together as a community for worship, and that in doing so, we make Christ present within us through our very presence and participation.

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