You just sat down, a movement that is part of our liturgy. Sitting in this assembly is not like sitting in a movie theater or in front of the television or computer after a day’s work. It isn’t sitting to relax or be entertained. While sitting can certainly be a restful posture, it is also a receptive posture.
We sit primarily to hear the Word of God proclaimed and then explained. We sit to let silence wash over us as we pray and reflect. Little by little, this posture teaches us how to listen and what to listen for. This sitting makes us a contemplative people, a people who can keep prayer inside us even in the busy-ness of our daily living.
When we sit during the liturgy, it allows us to listen more attentively, or reflect in silence without the distraction of bearing all our weight on our two feet. Sitting is good for those tasks. However, it has major drawbacks in that we can let it become the posture of an audience, and that is something we are not. As the People of God and the Body of Christ, we are called to be active participants in the Mass, not casual observers.
For most of the history of the Church, the first fifteen hundred years, people did not sit. Pews were extremely rare. In most medieval churches, people stood or sat on the floor, with sometimes a narrow bench around the edge of the building for seating. Eastern Orthodox churches never got around to having pews – today in Russia and Greece, worshippers still stand.
Pews were only widely used after the Reformation, and that makes sense when we understand that in Protestant congregations, the sermon – not the Eucharist – was the “main event.” As pews were introduced, they were a mixed blessing. In many churches, they indicated one’s place in society, ranked according to social standing. The rich would have large grand stalls at the front and anyone who sat in the wrong one would find himself in trouble.Most churches now have pews for sitting and kneelers for kneeling, and sitting and kneeling are now part of our liturgy. Even so, standing is our basic posture. In the book of Exodus, God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to eat the Passover meal “with your loins girt, sandals on your feet, and your staff in hand,” ready to leave Egypt for the Promised Land. Like the Israelites, we are on a journey, sharing the banquet at this table. We are on our feet, ready to go out into the world and spread the Good News of the Resurrection