Reserved seating

My mom sent this to me and it reminded me of several things. First, we always sat in the same pew (or the general area) growing up. Second, I was reminded that I was yelled at by a member of my former religious community for sitting in his choir stall (we didn’t have assigned stalls and we did reconcile later). Third, I have been “kindly” asked to move from my seat at a parish I visited in the northeast.

I think I am being invited to reflect on the charism of hospitality.



  1. Obsession over seating and pews in church is like speeding out of a church parking lot after Mass. It’s really silly and petty, and I think you could argue that it shows a lack of effort in true (FCA) participation in the liturgy.

    Then again, all of our sins are like that. But these sorts of behaviors IN a church, especially before/during/after a liturgy, are embarrassing!

    1. Jeffrey, forgive me for not knowing, but are there areas in the US — East Coast most likely — where Catholics paid pew tax or pew rent? Episcopalians and Congregationalists did, some into the 20th century. Anglo-Catholics complicated things for Episcopalians with “free-churches,” which forced issues of justice and integration across racial and economic boundaries. Just curious if Roman Catholics had similar experiences, and if that might not be a vestigial memory (i.e., “we always sat in the same pew that my grandparents sat in. . . that my great-grandparents owned”) behind the “MY pew” impulse.

  2. I recall hearing (years ago) that some families paid “pew rent” when a church edifice was first built.
    Thus grew the sense of entitlement when it came to “reserved seating.”

    Just a thought…

    1. My grandfather used to tell us stories of paying rent in the 40s and 50s. In some old photos of my home parish you can see the doors at each end of the pew you had to put coins in (can’t remember the amount now) to unlock the door. He could always point out where the “family” pew was.

  3. My father always wrote on the first envelope of the year (in January), right up until a couple years ago, “Pew Rent,” though they stopped collecting that about a half century ago.

  4. Well, my 87-year old parents have only 2 seats in their spacious modern church where my mother can get wheeled in and have my father sit next to her without creating an obstacle for the flow of communion. (Why does he need to sit next to her? Well, it’s not just nice, but, with her many debilities, he needs to take things from her and give things to her, et cet.) When I attend with them, I get there 10 mins early to reserve the spot. If they don’t get that spot, they have to go home. With my parents, at least, it’s easy to see what they need now that she is in a wheelchair. Before she was, it was harder. All sorts of issues younger and more able people are blessed not to have to consider.

  5. I have never been to a synagogue service, but Donin, To Pray as a Jew says on page 26:

    “Regular worshipers in a synagogue will often make it their practice to take the same seat every time they come to pray. Some do as a matter of course, as a result of habit; others because they knowingly abide by the ruling in the Shulhan Arukh that requires one to “fix a place for one’s prayers” (OH 90:19) The ruling is based on the dictum of a Talmudic sage who credits Abraham with having set the precedent for it .”

    There is more information and a discussion of this at:

    It seems that a fixed place of prayer like a fixed time of prayer can be a sign of our faithfulness.

  6. If you think possessiveness of churches seats is bad, I am told that possessiveness of “bingo” seats is far worse! How dare you sit in my lucky seat!

  7. In our church we have plaques at the end of every pew: “This pew given in Memory of…” So, so people mean quite literally “This is our family’s pew,” It has our name on it.

  8. off topic– the literal translationof the Roman Canon distributed in Ireland in 1966 is far superior to the 2008 text. It could be a good replacement for priests who cannot stomach the new translations.

  9. I once worked at a parish that sold front seats at the Easter Vigil to the highest bidder at the school auction. The seats at Christmas Midnight Mass would probably have been up for auction as well, but the event was held in Lent and the winners would probably have forgotten by December (NOT!).

    1. Was this a Catholic parish? Normally, it would be seats in the hindmost rows that would go for the highest prices in Catholic parishes. The front row is the penalty box.

  10. Since 1860, my Irish immigrant great-grandfather Patrick had been known in his neighborhood as a member of the Metropolitan Police force. After St. Cecilia’s RC Church, Harlem NYC, was dedicated in 1872, he would arrive on a Sunday morning with his wife and their 10 children and his mother. This family group habitually occupied the two pews in the rear of the church, just under the stained glass window of St. Patrick: If they arrived a little late, Patrick would explain to anyone already seated in those pews that his children would sit nowhere but beside the image of their father’s patron saint. And they always did sit in the same pews (no rent paid)!

  11. Don’t worry everybody, the pews will all be empty when the “new translation” comes around. The two or three people who do not immediately have to run to the bathroom to vomit will have their run of the place!

    1. Excellent! I’ll be able to get a front row seat to best hear the glories of the corrected prayers!

  12. I haven’t been told I’m in someone’s pew, but I have been told that the back of church is my place, since I attend with small children.

    1. Some of us of a certain age look forward to watching your children at Mass. I also wish I could wrap my arms around every harried parent worried and embarrassed over a 2 year old throwing a tantrum or an infant who is grizzling. It amazes me how we can worship Jesus who cured the lepers while ignoring the young parents who need a moment’s support!

    2. And what did you answer?

      I have breast-fed a baby during Mass, sitting at the back of the church. Great way to keep the baby quiet, and it doesn’t bother anyone except perhaps for the people who are close enough to hear the slight sucking noise. I figured that that was just a natural part of life, and decided that if it bothered someone, the problem was with them, not with me.

      1. The comment was addressed to my husband, who said, “Thank you for your advice, but I won’t be following it. My kids need to be able to see and hear to participate.”

  13. Go visit King’s Chapel, and the Old North Church, in Boston, to see how pew rental system worked. This is especially true in King’s Chapel, where the seating arrangement is still there, prerserved since the 18th century, and obviously based on status and income.

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