29/11/09 – The Radial Seating Arrangement

A diagram of a typical radial seating arrangement

We continue our exploration of seating arrangements this week by looking at an arrangement that has become more common in the last fifty years, the Radial arrangement.

This seating arrangement has become more popular since the Second Vatican Council.  The main motivation for its development has been a desire to increase the sense of the assembly being gathered around the altar.  As such, the radial arrangement sees rows of pews or chairs arranged around the front and sides of the sanctuary in a fan shape, with the sanctuary remaining along a wall, or perhaps positioned so it extends from a corner of the space.

In some ways, this seating arrangement is somewhat of a compromise.  It provides people with a greater sense of being a part of a gathered community united in worship, but without deviating too much from a typical processional arrangement.  We can see a bit more than the backs of people’s heads, and the attention of the assembly is still very much directed towards the sanctuary.

One key limitation of the radial arrangement, however, comes from its similarity to the processional arrangement.  Its fan shape, or theatre style, can still give some people the sense that they are an audience; spectators observing a liturgy celebrated by the priest.  This perception is not in keeping with our belief that the liturgy of the work of Christ and his Church – the entire Church – priest and lay people gathered together in Jesus’ name.