My church is simply amazing to behold. In a world full of parish churches that often look like sporting arenas or conference centers, I have the good fortune to spend my worship time in one of the single most beautiful churches I have ever seen. It is a monument to the Victorian style, built in the 1800’s, with all the gingerbread and classical amenities that you could wish for. Beautiful marblesque altar, vaulted ceilings, hand painted walls, an unbelievable rederos behind the altar, and massive gold candlesticks adorn this lovely, wooden building. It has been taken care of for generations, and the time and effort that goes into maintaining such a beauty is self evident.
Except for comfortable seating. Our pews sure do look nice, but when it comes to having to sit in them, I would prefer to sit on a bundle of firewood.
I’m not exaggerating, I really would rather sit on a bundle of firewood. They are just the wrong height, so shallow that my entire tush doesn’t fit, and the angle of the pew hits a nerve in my leg that makes my legs bounce up and down uncontrollably.
Pews are of course a rather new phenomenon, an invention that we took from the protestants, and made our own. If you have ever been to one of the older cathedrals in Europe, then you will remember how dinky and out of place the pews seemed, and you would be right. They were added much later as pews become the norm. For a thousand years and more, we would simply stand in a group, milling about. Kids would weave between family and friends, people who knew each other would naturally congregate together, young children would be lifted up so they could see. Elderly folks might bring a stool.
Needless to say, our orderly plod of pews emptying one by one for communion was unheard of, folks would just walk up and kneel at the communion rail, and the priest would weave back and forth distributing the Eucharist. When you had received, you would move away to let someone else in the crowd take your place. (I think my parish would riot if just one person was out of order, this situation would inspire madness to my entire congregation!)
I’m not necessarily advocating a return to this practice, but in honesty, I would prefer it to having sit in our pews. They are just that bad. I would put up with having to kneel on stone, it would be worth it. When First Communion or Confirmation comes around, I cringe knowing that I will have to sit in them longer than normal. This is such a shame, as these are always my favorite Masses.
I think this is one of the reasons why I love to volunteer in our liturgies. When I am reading or assisting the priest as an extraordinary minister, that is one moment less that I must endure the torture. You might think I’m just being silly, but seriously, many people bring themselves a pad to sit on.
So for all you folks with comfortable pews and padded seats, know that I am seething with jealousy, just praying that one day we too might obtain the elusive “comfy chairs”. Lean back and enjoy the feeling of the cushions on your back and really appreciate them. Remember that there are less fortunate people in the world then yourselves, and be thankful for the gift you have received.
As for me, I guess I’ll just have to offer it up.