Are pews a bad idea?
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,349
    This Orthodox writer offers a manifesto against pews, and makes some good points:
    http://www.stgeorgehermitage.org/removethepews.html

    He contends that:
    * pews make the laity into passive observers
    * pews teach us to want Christian life to be without inconvenience
    * pews remove the freedom to engage in devotional acts such as lighting a candle during the liturgy
    * pews make the processions overly regimented
    * pews particularly isolate young children from the liturgy

    Going without pews would be a bigger deal for us Latin Catholics in the US than for Orthodox, come to think of it, since a fair number of their churches already lack pews, so that their faithful would have experienced worshipping without them. Most US Catholics won't have seen a Catholic church withiut pews unless they have visited one of the medieval cathedrals.

    It's surprising to me that some progressive-minded parishes haven't taken up this consideration, cleared out some back pews or side pews, and made space for worshippers to stand through most of the Mass.

    Or is this impractical? Which way would actually allow parishes to fit more people in the same space - a necessary point in these days of fewer priests and fewer Masses?


  • Fr. Rutler wrote about this recently for Crisis. I agree. http://www.crisismagazine.com/2015/the-problem-with-pews
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,414
    "Or is this impractical? Which way would actually allow parishes to fit more people in the same space - a necessary point in these days of fewer priests and fewer Masses?"

    I've already experienced standing through several Masses back in Virginia.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,597
    We have been discussing this on an eastern forum this week.

    I have heard pews originated with Protestants whose worship services are built around sermons. It isn't surprising their buildings are constructed as lecture halls. Western masses are so short these days to begin with. Standing through 3-hour liturgies would cause another Reformation. LOL. I am used to having pews from playing masses every week, but don't think about not having pews at Divine Liturgy. It is something you get used to in either place. Keep in mind Orthodox churches do have pews around the perimeter for the elderly, infirm, and those who get exhausted and need to rest.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Yes. Sections of seating for elderly, infirm, parents with infants etc. are fine.
    But the Mass is a procession of actions and postures.
    Will the orthodox notion ever take hold in the USA. Heck no.
  • So seats only for the ministers?
    Eliminate sitting during Mass altogether or sit on the floor? If on the floor, what does that change?
  • matthewjmatthewj
    Posts: 2,655
    I'll walk to the beat of a different drum and say that I personally like pews.
    Thanked by 3Spriggo G Allan D
  • I have attended the Hellenic Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Houston and was surprised that there are pews. My only experience with no pews was at a Byzantine rite Catholic church. The people seemed very reverent as they moved about here and there doing obeisance to this and that icon, or lighting a candle. Somehow this all seemed subsumed into a group participatory consciousness in the action of the mass. This is a centuries-old and deeply inculcated praxis. I think that it wouldn't work for the Latin rite for the very reason that it is not at all a centuries-old and deeply inculcated praxis. I wouldn't be surprised if people were distracted, their attention becoming unfocused on the sacred action, and mental-spiritual awareness became somewhat dulled. There are tales of the nascent-church realities (and mediaeval ones, too) which inform us that people wandered about, talking loudly, lying down to nap, transacting busisness, animals present, and, in general, an air of sanctity and reverence being in great want. It took the invention of a loud sanctus bell to (briefly) garner their attention at appropriate moments. Probably, we would not descend to such depths, but our people wouldn't know how to adapt and feel reverently at ease. This would be a culturally foreign and very distracting imposition.
  • Seats have been in churches since apostolic times, see Jas 2:3, and previously in synagogues, but I sympathise with the anti-pew view.
    In London, England when I was young, both our church and the next parish where most of my relations lived were too small, and a large proportion of the men always stood through Sunday Mass, until the relaxation of the fasting laws meant that priests could celebrate Mass later in the day. Under these circumstances it did not foster devotion.
    More recent experience in Westminster cathedral, and in the Russian Orthodox cathedral in Ennismore Gardens, were much more positive because people had the choice of standing or finding a seat with no view. I doubt, however, that now at 77 I would last through the Orthodox Easter Vigil.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • In a better scenario, side altars would be side chapels along the nave, or at least well to the side of the high altar (like Ss. Augustine and John the Baptist in Dublin) which would better match the medieval and current Orthodox practice for people who wish to integrate devotion into the liturgical action.
  • I've been to a small Catholic chapel without pews run by, if memory serves, Korean brothers. People took off their shoes and sat on the floor. Not a problem for the elderly.

    For me, sitting on the floor is very uncomfortable and my legs easily fall asleep. Hooray for pews!
  • Ben YankeBen Yanke
    Posts: 3,114
    I don't mind standing or kneeling...but sitting on the floor is rough for me too. I understand the theological significance of removing pews, but I'm not sure what I think about it in practice.
  • My question is, if there's not, erm, assigned seating space for mass, how does the procession work? Is more zig-zagging of priests and altar boys involved? Or did the faithful just know to look over their shoulder as services began? Am I missing something?
  • I imagine that they did not process down the center of the building, StimsonInRehab.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,597
    I don't mind standing or kneeling...but sitting on the floor is rough for me too.


    Children sit on the floor, adults don't unless attending to a child.

    I doubt, however, that now at 77 I would last through the Orthodox Easter Vigil.


    Easterners operate on the principle that less is more, but more is better! LOL. Those vigils go on for hours. It is not uncommon for some to leave and come back later. Others just come later.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,102
    Someone had too much time on his hands.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,358
    Choir stalls. I prefer choir stalls. With the fold down seats and the arm rests and book desks.
  • Pews are a welcome development.
    They bring with them one nasty problem...
    Some people put cushions in them.
    (People responsible for cushions in pews should be required to sit on tacks.)

    Adam has the right idea, though.
    In an ideal world all pews would be in monastic formation
    and people would know their liturgy like monks and behave like them.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,102
    Cushions are OK so long as they remain covered by tushes.
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,358
    I took my toddler son to a Dominican Rite Mass at the priory in Oakland, where they have choir stalls. Much better than pews, as he couldn't crawl under to the next row. I basically created a small corral for him by blocking off one end with movable kneelers.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,597
    Eastern vigils and liturgies are very long. An eastern priest once said, when I remarked on the work load of a Latin priest, "It's not like they do so much, is it?"

    As for pews, if they are there I will use them - unless sitting at the organ, which is my normal "pew." If there are no pews, I will stand. It really makes little difference. I can do either one.
  • Which way would actually allow parishes to fit more people in the same space


    Typically fire code (at least in the USA) would be the limiting factor, not the number of people who can actually be crammed into the building.

    The arguments about the down side of pews make strong points, but I agree that their would be cause significant problems, both physical and psychological.
  • We had this discussion last week at the Catholic Community Forum. It's all much ado about nothing.
  • I believe that pews shot first, Adam.
  • Those pews had arms but they weren't resisting a-rest.

    I've stood for Mass. Not bad. I've stood for the Easter Vigil. It's as bad as you would imagine.
    Thanked by 1StimsonInRehab
  • stulte
    Posts: 261
    If we got rid of all the pews, imagine all the wood we'd have to build low-cost housing for the poor! C'mon people! Think of the poor!
    Thanked by 2Adam Wood eft94530
  • Imagine how much global climate change we could prevent!
    Thanked by 1eft94530
  • G
    Posts: 1,389
    * pews remove the freedom to engage in devotional acts such as lighting a candle during the liturgy
    * pews make the processions overly regimented
    Every liturgist I've ever had to work with would say those are features, not bugs.
    * pews particularly isolate young children from the liturgy
    Don't understand the reasoning on that.
    I've stood for the Easter Vigil. It's as bad as you would imagine.
    After Nicholas Nickelby and Frau Ohne Schatten, standing for the Vigil was a lounge in the pew walk in the park.
    Unlike many to which I'd been before, the Byzantine parish I've been frequenting of late has pews, (and kneelers! that was a shock.)
    And this, (from the linked piece at St George,)
    Pews destroy the traditional feeling of freedom in church.
    With the installation of pews, we are no longer “bothered” with all the moving around which used to take place. You know, grandmothers lighting [candles], children kissing icons, and the worshippers gathering around their priest like a family gathered about their father.
    ... simply does not obtain. It all goes on.
    There is one very well known Roman Catholic "traditional" parish, also with pews, where the same spirit of freedom pervades the space. During Mass confessions are being heard, Stations are being prayed, etc., and none of it distracts.
    At most RC parishes, every latecoming or early departure, (except the customary flight after communion,) every question from a toddler, sometimes every sneeze, feels like this huge disruption and draws focus.
    Not sure why this is... something about the noise levels, where the only two acceptable options seem to be loud and silent? the everybody-must-do-everything-the-same-way-and-together directives?

    At the RC parish mentioned, there is a kind of continuous low hum of various sounds, none of which seem inapropriate, and none of whihc preventing one hearing what he wishes to hear.
    Sorry, waaaay off topic.
    I vote for seats because they are what allow me to kneel. Railings could serve the same purpose.
    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • the everybody-must-do-everything-the-same-way-and-together directives?


    I'd lean more towards this explanation.
  • During Mass confessions are being heard, Stations are being prayed, etc., and none of it distracts.
    Every liturgist I've ever had to work with would say those are bugs, not features. Participatio actuosa anyone?
  • * pews particularly isolate young children from the liturgy
    Don't understand the reasoning on that.

    Maybe like me the first children to come to mind are half-growns. If you keep on trying, though, you'll suddenly come to appreciate the problem we might have attending Mass behind a pew with an eight-foot tall back.
  • Maybe like me the first children to come to mind are half-growns. If you keep on trying, though, you'll suddenly come to appreciate the problem we might have attending Mass behind a pew with an eight-foot tall back.


    How is the situation improved by removing the pews?
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,933
    How is the situation improved by removing the pews?

    I don't have a dog in this fight but logically you could just move the children in front of any tall person that's in front of them without pews.
    Thanked by 1CCooze
  • Reval
    Posts: 150
    Okay - - someone has to say it!

    Was it pews in 19th-century Russia? Is outrage!
  • I'm so glad that someone had the gumption to say it.
    It really did need to be said!
    The air has been cleared.
    We can all breathe easier now.
    Thanked by 3Gavin Reval eft94530
  • BGP
    Posts: 213
    "Every liturgist I've ever had to work with would say those are bugs, not features." - I presume these are the same sort of liturgists who want everyone to participate in exactly the same manner and who seem to think that unless every word is heard and understood and every pinky twitch of the priest seen by everyone the 'people' haven't actuosaly Participatioed.

    I personally would like to not have pews but I think it's unrealistic and reckless to think we can reintroduce it into the Latin rite at this point.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,358
    I like pews for kids. I like lack of pews for kids. I like choir stalls for kids. I like a carpet on the floor in front of the first row of pews for kids.

    I do not like individual seats for kids.

    (And I detest separate rooms and services for kids.)
    Thanked by 1Ben Yanke
  • Adam,
    And I detest separate rooms and services for kids.)


    Is this the result of, or inspite of, having worked for the Episcopalians?
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,358
    I've been in a few Catholic churches that have children's liturgy of the word (they get dismissed after the Gloria, and come back after the homily). I think this is a terrible idea.

    And I've been in a few Protestant churches where all the children have daycare/Sunday school/Godly play during the entire service. I think this an even worse idea. Actually, I think it might be the worst idea any church-people have come up with in the history of bad church ideas.
    Thanked by 1MichaelDickson
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,102
    To think of it another way: getting rid of pews would be a good way to reduce parish income so that it can't afford to pay musicians.
  • TCJ
    Posts: 703
    Pews clearly get in the way of people who want to shake everybody's hand during the sign of peace. This means that pews are anti-peace!
  • @TCJ, and anti-participation!
  • And I've been in a few Protestant churches where all the children have daycare/Sunday school/Godly play during the entire service. I think this an even worse idea. Actually, I think it might be the worst idea any church-people have come up with in the history of bad church ideas.


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKh8CEFa8PE
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,358
    I LOVE Lutheran Satire!
  • stulte
    Posts: 261
    That was funny.
  • Perhaps we should abandon Latin and go back to saying the Mass in Koine Greek?

    I agree that there are problems with pews, but do they outweigh the benefits? Honestly, I think that we have great problems to think about with liturgy and devotional practice than looking at the question of whether or not we should sit at mass.
    Thanked by 1Gavin
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,414
    That's why I'll sit this one out.
    Thanked by 2ryand Gavin
  • As for the problem of how to get through with a procession: that's what vergers are for. When you read through the Ritus servandus of old diocesan Misssals of France (Google Books has Paris, Rheims, Soissons, Auxerre, ...) you continually observe that the first persons in the entrance procession for High Mass are "apparitores, qui populum submoveant" or some similar phrase, ie vergers getting the people (gently I hope) out of the way. I think that might be connected with the verger's staff somehow.
    image
  • We at Walsingham have a verger. He is also a knight of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of Saint Gregory the Great. Vergers aren't, I think, very common in the Catholic Church, at least in the US. They are not uncommon, though, in Anglicandom.
    Thanked by 1Salieri