The Sacrificial Pew

Church pews are always hard to come by during the holidays.  I hadn’t heard the term C and E’s until I was in my late teens.  These are individuals choosing to attend a Holy Ceremony only on Christmas and Easter.  Pews are reserved for C and E’s two days out of the year.   I have no problem with this.  Maybe that’s because I don’t go to church  anymore.  Perfectly understanding and supporting our 1st amendment, exercising Freedom of Religion, I believe some Christians took liberties with that constitutional right.  Christians attending mass only on Christmas and Easter conveniently interpreted  it by thinking it stated “Freedom of Timely Religion”, or perhaps, “Freedom of Intermittent Religion”.

Around the age of six or seven, I began noticing this sacrificial pew phenomenon, also known in the liturgical profession as SPP.  Personally, I didn’t really mind getting to church early.  I’d sit in a pew in the back row with Dad, Mom, and several brothers and sisters until being kindly forced minutes later by Dad to sacrifice our pew to some poor old bag who showed up late with her deadbeat nephew.  Looking at the bright side, I thought standing up was actually better than sitting, then standing, sitting then standing, and well, you know the Catholic drill.  Standing during the entire ceremony seemed to simplify mass.

Usually, during the non holiday season, I’d tend to drift off in the pew only to be gracefully awakened by brothers who understood when to stand and when to sleep.  Avoiding sitting next to my father, the bruises my brothers provided were well worth it.  If Dad caught you snoozing, it was Liturgy Lecture time after church, extending the mass an extra 15 minutes in the parking lot, thus cutting into my Sunday football.

By age eight or nine, I begin questioning the sacrificial pew, but I’d bite my tongue because I was not quite religiously educated enough to make a proper argument with my father.  Even if I had been, Dad’s glare was the only argument required for him to succeed.  To his benefit, after church, he would make his best attempt to explain why this is the right thing to do for these poor elderly C and E’s who needed the pew more than I did.  I thought, and again, only thought, these Q-Tips who needed this pew should learn the virtues of “punctuality.”


There were those random years when I’d be teased by the pews when the last two rows were empty.  We’d sit down blissfully, only to have our hopes crushed fifteen minutes into the church service when a bus full of cotton tops would bust open the doors, bingo blotters in tow, demanding to be seated.  The ushers would do their best, but we knew our row would be the first to go. (Our family did, on occasion, take up an entire row.)  It was like a hockey game when the players, right in the middle of action, are allowed to make substitutions by leaping over their bench railing.  Similarly, we’d have to jump over the back of the pews to avoid a walker cracking one of us in the shin.  Dad acted as our hockey coach.  “Greg, you and Tom are the first to go.  Ben, you’re next.”  Fruitlessly, Greg would argue.  “We’re not even the oldest!”  What about Patricia, Dorothy and Maggie?  They’re all older than us!”  Dad craftily explained to Greg why the AARP members, and other females, always come first, even if they show up last.

Attending Catholic classes at the age of ten and eleven, I began to learn about items such as The Ten Commandments.  One of the Commandments shouted, “Thou Shalt Not Steal.”  Aha!  Now I have a piously educated argument with my father.  I tried to convince him that sacrificing pews was just allowing the untimely and unjust to steal from us.  Instead of kindly reinforcing the differences between right and wrong, or sacrificing and stealing, he told me to get in the car and stop questioning His Commandments or he would be forced to kick my ass up between my shoulder blades.

Between the ages of twelve and thirteen, I had matured and finally understood why we all have to make sacrifices.  No, it’s not just to avoid getting your ass kicked up between your shoulder blades, but rather, it can merely mean saving a dying art which was once called chivalry:  courtesy, generosity, and valor.  My father had his own misgivings, but he always reinforced, by example, the importance of courteousness, generosity and valor.  So easily these can be displayed by simply sacrificing a pew.


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