At the Head of the Table
All that We Have: The New Chairs for the Sanctuary of Jesus Our Savior Church
Published on July 23-24, 2016 in the Parish Bulletin of Jesus Our Savior Catholic Church, Morehead KY
At the beginning of the 10:00 AM Mass on July 17, the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, I blessed the new presidential chair for Jesus Our Savior Catholic Church and the smaller deacon’s chair before they were used for the first time in the liturgy.
Both chairs came from the now closed Saint John Neumann Church in Hode, the first Catholic Church in Martin County, Kentucky. They were used there at Mass by the Rev. Msgr. Ralph W. Beiting (1924-2012) of blessed memory, founder of the Christian Appalachian Project and the eminent Catholic missionary who built the first Catholic churches in ten counties in Eastern Kentucky.
I had intended these chairs to be used at Saint Julie Catholic Church in Owingsville since their original darker stain matched the cherry altar and ambo there. But, once I had Roger Porter strip them, I discovered that they were both of the same white oak material as our altar, ambo, and crucifix here at Jesus Our Savior. Unfortunately, the backs of both chairs had been damaged when they were moved out of the closed Church. So I asked Roger to incorporate a new and simple cruciform design on the back, between the top and lower rails, to point to the liturgical function of both chairs.
Our parishioners Nga and Anna Nguyen had given a gift to the parish to have new chairs for the sanctuary. Their gift was used for the repair and refurbishing of these two historical chairs and the balance has been set aside for future needs for the sanctuary. Brass plaques were installed at the back of each chair to commemorate their gift.
Teresa Roberts has made cushions for both chairs with covers that correspond to the seasons of the liturgical year. She sewed these as well as the covers for the altar pillow, the altar cloths, and the banners from the same materials that were used to make our new set of vestments. I had bought the materials from the Philippines for $1.00 per yard.
In the Catholic Church, the presider’s chair stands as a symbol of “his office of presiding over the gathering and of directing prayer” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 310). Thus, it is meant to be placed in a prominent place in the sanctuary where it can be visible to the entire assembly (Built of Living Stones, 63). The deacon’s chair is placed near that of the presider so that he may be able to assist him readily.
The priest leads the Church in prayer in the person of Christ the Head and does so from his chair, what in Spanish is called the cabecera, the head of the table. This recalls a father’s traditional role of leading the prayer at the family meal and handing the food down the table to the members of the family. The priest then as the Father to his parish takes on that same role: he prays on behalf of those in his care and hands them the heavenly food from the Lamb’s high feast.