The Sacred That Surrounds Us: The Pews & Kneelers
October 31, 2021, 12:00 PM
The pews and kneelers are found in the nave of the church. With the pews facing our Lord, they assist God’s people in focusing directly on his presence in the tabernacle, in Sacred Scripture proclaimed from the ambo, and on the altar of sacrifice. Because we are worshipping God, our gaze is fully upon him, and not on one another.
The action of kneeling to our God has deep roots in the history of worship. Sitting in pews, however, is not found until recent years. The design of the nave did not consist of pews until after the Protestant Reformation. Before the Reformation, the worshipping community stood or knelt down within the nave during the Liturgy. A small number of benches could be found to assist those in need, but by and large, the nave did not have areas providing seating. In the medieval churches, the priest conducted his homily, surrounded by the faithful, at a pulpit in the center area of the nave. Pews in the United States were established gradually. With the emphasis on a long sermon in the Protestant communities, benches and pews were a welcome element to the environment. The Catholic Church in England especially liked this design, and pews were brought over to the United States. These pews, however, were very expensive. Because of the high cost, pews were first purchased by families; then, when the cost went down, pews were rented out to families to help cover the cost.
When we enter into the nave, we are called to be active participants in the Liturgy. We sit to learn, we stand to show something great is happening (such as during the reading of the Gospels and specific prayers), and we kneel for God. Kneeling is a sign of our humility and reverence before God (see Psalm 95:6, Isaiah 45:23, Luke 5:8, and Philippians 2:10).
“O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!” – Psalm 95:6-7