Mass, Standing? and Kneeling?


I’ve been reading some things about how people stand in Divine Liturgy and that the pews were a protestant invention (and that Catholics didn’t sit like they do today before then).
But this got me thinking.
Does that mean before the reformation, Mass was done with everyone standing just as in Divine Liturgy, or did the laity do something else during the Mass (sit on the floor? :p).

Also, I read how in the Eastern tradition kneeling should technically not be done on Sundays as it represents penitence. So when was kneeling introduced into the Tridentine Latin Mass when receiving the Eucharist? Or… was kneeling always part of the EF of the mass for receiving the Eucharist?


Often when you see the interiors of churches in movies that are supposed to take place in the middle ages you’ll find there’s no pews; just a big area where it seems like people would stand and probably kneel. I don’t necessarily know that this is historically acurate but why would they do it? I don’t even think the average person was allowed to receive Holy Communion in those days to begin with.


The scripture says in a number of places that every knee shall bow before God and in the name of our Lord so that tells us its always been a practice of the people of God. It is something we do from our heart, we drop to our knees in reverence and awe as we come before Our Lord and our King and our God.


Whether there were kneelers or pew in the old churches aren’t a reflection on whether persons showed reverence to God by kneeling… If it is a dirt or concrete floor people will kneel to pray if the Holy spirit leads them. Look towards Jesus He didnt have a kneeler when He prayed.


Of course people still kneeled. I believe I’ve read that the first pews came in as families were allowed to buy and reserve them in churches.


Which I believe was a practice in Protestant, not Catholic, churches - “buying and reserving” pews. No kneelers. But the old Congregational churches around here have little doors on the pews with the old family names on them.


See this thread with pictures of one of the earlier Catholic churches in America, kneelers included. :shrug:


I’m not sure if it was a Catholic practise or not but I’ve heard of it. See this thread with pictures of one of the earlier Catholic churches in America, kneelers included. :shrug:


From my understanding, Mass used to be one of a number of things going on in a church (baptisms, Masses, Confessions, etc.). One might have more than one Mass going on in the same relatively confined space! The idea of everyone coming together at a specifically appointed time, remaining in that spot and ‘participating’ in Mass is (historically speaking) a sort of new idea. Instead, people were up, moving around, going to Confession while Mass was going on, talking, etc. (a lot of people from today would be having a conniption!)

Regarding standing: kneeling was a western idea of reverence, whereas standing is more of an Eastern idea of reverence. When Christianity came to the East, it only made sense to stand in reverence to Christ.


Very true. That’s what those side altars are for. Confessions during Mass still occur too.


I just wish that occurred in more parishes. Unfortunately, it takes more than one priest for there to be both a Mass and Confession occurring at the same time (only when I studied abroad was I so fortunate).


From the Council of Nicaea 325 AD Canon 20: “Since there are some who kneel on Sunday and during the season of Pentecost, this holy synod decrees that, so that the same observances may be maintained in every diocese, one should offer one’s prayers to the Lord standing.” You may be right regarding what the absence of kneelers or pews does or does not tell us but the above speaks directly to the posture adopted for prayer during Mass around 325 AD.

We should remember that for liturgical prayer the Church can specify our posture–as it does now and has done since the very early Church. What is considered the first Mass? What was the posture at that institution of the Eucharist? Did anyone slip out early? If your heart is in the wrong place then it doesn’t really matter what posture you adopt in prayer–I say we should worry about where our hearts are first–kneeling will not take a heart that is far from God and make it close to God anymore than standing humbly with head bowed will take a heart that is close to God and somehow make it far from God.

The peace of Christ,


At what point is it your understanding that this was normal? I don’t get the impression that this was the case in the first few centuries from what I have read. What time period are you describing?

Thank you,
the peace of Christ.


Early to mid-Middle Ages. Certainly in the first few centuries, Christian gatherings would have been much smaller, quieter affairs (you don’t want to go around alerting people). Once Christianity received legalization, Churches began to become central locations of areas.


Pews have certainly been introduced…much like incense was introduced. There is no magic in pews - or no pews. Some folks try to make a big deal of pews as if lack of pews were the sine qua non of truth. Kneeling can be either a posture of penitence or adoration. Postures and their meanings can, and do, change over time. No one wants to be part of a sclerotic, ossified church incapable of adapting such minor things as posture, vestments, signs, etc., etc. Catholics kneel in adoration at the Eucharist. Note the Confiteor is said standing. The past and tradition are important - they are not, with respect to such things as posture, etc., anything more than conventions/disciplines, however.


I like that :slight_smile:


:thumbsup: Vey well said. In all sincerity, I suggest you copy this and post it occasionally in similar discussions about topics other than pews too.


Hopefully no one is mistaking the OP that there is only one way of reverence and that is that. I was just stating at least the reasons within tradition for some customs in Orthodoxy, and was just curious on how the current Catholic Mass came to be that way historically since my knowledge would seem to indicate sitting was not the norm initially. In no way was I saying sitting was irreverent!


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit