I had not given it much thought until I came across this article: The History of Pews is Just as Terrible and Embarrassing as You’d Imagine. Seating only came in with the extended preaching of the Protestants.
My favorite quote from the article, musing about what the people did without seats: “There’s no record of whether they engaged in stage dives and crowd surfing, so we’re forced to assume they did.”
But jokes aside, imagine what it would be like.
Even now many Orthodox churches function without seating for the congregation. They even speak of the Advantage of Having No Pews as this article from St Basil’s Ukrainian Catholic Mission describes.
Many who visit St. Basil comment on how friendly the mission is to families with young children, particularly parents and grandparents. This, I am convinced, is one of the greatest benefits of our having no pews.
The mention of being family friendly resonates with me. I spend the average sung Mass standing up the back of the church pretty much the whole time—whether singing or keeping a baby quiet, standing is easier than sitting.
A quiet Low Mass, although shorter, works out more difficult to stay inside for. A baby takes the resonant quiet space as an invitation to make a joyful noise. Take a teething ring and a pew and you have a good percussion backing for your vocals.
My earliest memories of attending Mass are of hanging upside down off the railing in front of our pew. The priest was a remote oddity—exploring the gymnastic possibilities of the seating was my main focus.
Though I can’t see any of my local churches taking the bold step of removing seats, the idea is reassuring. We are in an imperfect world, the culmination of many struggles and compromises, as long as we keep struggling in the right direction it should work out well in the end.