What is a Cathedral? What is the Cathedra?
A cathedral church is the bishop’s church. It is the place where he exercises his three-fold ministry as chief shepherd, priest and teacher. It is also the “mother church” of a diocese and the second parish for every Catholic in the diocese.
In a cathedral, placed opposite the ambo, the place where the Word of the Lord is proclaimed, is the cathedra, the oldest insignia of a bishop’s teaching office. The chair is the sign that he, like the apostles and prophets, is invested with the authority to preside over God’s people. As Moses witnessed the transfiguration, this seat of Moses stands as an ancient sign of leadership. From here, the bishop brings insight to the Sacred Scriptures as he preaches, teaches and presides as chief celebrant of the Eucharist.
Even when the bishop is not present in the cathedral, the cathedra remains a sign of his apostolic role. The significance of the bishop’s cathedra is so compelling that if the head of the universal church, the pope, were to visit the cathedral church; he would not sit in the bishop’s cathedra, but in another chair marked with the papal crest.
Speaking and acting ex cathedra (from the chair), the bishop proclaims Christ as the light of humankind … a light that shines on in the darkness of a troubled world.