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Our New Parish - Catholics and Pews

For pastors, one of the unsolvable mysteries is this: Why are the first pews empty during Mass? or rather why do people prefer the last seats? Could it be that our parishioners literally practice the words of Jesus in Luke 14:10 – ‘take the last seat?’

Another interesting feature is that the first-class seats are at the end of the pews. Are not the end spots on a pew for those who arrive after us? Wouldn’t those who choose the middle of a pew boldly testify that they are expecting more people to join them?

Churches did not have seating arrangement at least the first 1,400 years of Christianity. Pews are recent invention and didn’t even originate in Catholicism. It is a tradition adopted from the Protestant Reformation to relieve worshipers of the need to stand during long homilies of the preachers.

Due to the expensive nature of pews, individuals and families were encouraged to construct or purchase pews. Later churches began to “rent” pews for additional income. Until the mid-20th century, ‘Pew rental’ was common in Catholic churches.

Nowadays pews are neither purchased by nor rented for individuals or families. Yet, in almost all churches first few pews are left empty as though they were ‘rented’ by somebody.

Why? I have not yet found the right answer. Can you help me? Please give your comments.

I would like to cite a study just for brainstorming. This study conducted in 2001 by the Catholic University of America on Catholic and Protestant churches concluded that the ‘back-pew stereotype’ might contain some truth — those who sit there may prefer spiritual distance from the pulpit.

It also found correlations between where people sat, when they arrived and how engaged they were in the service. The study also highlighted the following factors:

  • Back pew parishioners may approach their church services as more of a social obligation than a deep spiritual one.
  • Single worshippers tended to arrive late and sit in the back or on the edges.
  • Newer members sitting up front in recent years, with the veteran members occupying the rear seats.

These conclusions have been questioned by some scholars and pastors. The findings may not be applicable to our situation. Yet, this can lead us to further discussion and enable us to find answers.

Four types of proxemics are mentioned by Edward Hall: public distance, social distance, personal distance and intimate distance.  Space does communicate non-verbally.  Intimate distance is characterized by 0 to 2 feet of space between two individuals (i.e. husband and wife) while public distance is measured at 12 or more feet between persons (i.e. strangers).

I wish our parishioners move from public distance to intimate distance and communicate their relationship with God in the tabernacle.

When you sit in the front pews you come closer to the altar and the tabernacle. Although the people of God pray together during the Mass as one assembly, every individual soul is touched by God’s grace. Nearness allows easy access to divine rapture.

A closer look at the altar, the celebrant and all that happen during the Mass enable maximum participation. 

Children learn from us by observing what we DO. Late coming, back pew choosing, pew end picking and less participation of elders will be imitated by the younger ones in future.

Next time when you come to church, consider all the factors mentioned here. Every step we take in spiritual life brings us closer to God. Your coming closer to God is revealed non-verbally and spatially. Come closer!


  • Susan FeasterPosted on 8/12/19

    Why are the front pews empty during mass? Maybe some parishioners fear that if they sit in the front pew they will be called upon during the sermon to answer a question? Possibly they are self-conscious and don't want to feel like they are the center of attention. They may be struggling and very sad and don't want to be "up front" where everyone can see them.

    The sheer fact that people attend mass shows their decision to engage with God and feel his love. One does not have to sit in the front pew to receive the blessings that come from attending mass, most importantly receiving the Eucharist. The word of God can be heard just as well in the back as the front allowing the listener to quietly meditate and receive God's message of love.

    The solution to empty front pews? Use a wireless mic and deliver the sermon from the back of the church, making the back the front. The following Sunday deliver the sermon from the side, make the sides the front, and so on. Just because it's never been done does not mean it can't be done. Jesus preached in many "alternative" spaces other than the temple, preaching just from the pulpit can change as well, and with that change may produce more engaged parishioners.

  • Charles ValentinoPosted on 7/31/19

    Perhaps we do not "come closer" to occupy the first pews because we fear being seen by God. Recall that Adam attempted to hide from God in the Garden of Eden after defying the Almighty Will and taking a bite from the infamous apple. We have all nibbled at the "passion fruit" at one time or another and may be suffering the effects of STRESS - Satan's Total Rebellion Established Soul-Sickness.

    As Scripture indicates, "Be not afraid." Notice Jesus hanging on the cross as we enter any Catholic Church. With arms opened wide he proclaims "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."

    Yes, God asked Adam where he was. He did not ask this out of ignorance. No, God knew full well where Adam was but asked the question because God wanted Adam to understand that he was in fact hiding. Adam, and perhaps each and every person who has ever lived, has foolishly attempted to avoid the only true source of salvation that leads to eternal life.

    Jesus accepts us just the way we are. He does so while encouraging us to be better; actually Jesus encourages us to be SAINTS - Sinful And Imperfect Nevertheless Transformed.

    Have faith in the One who came to save us from ourselves. Believe it when Jesus says "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."



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