Were Genders Segregated at Mass pre-VII?


The Churching of Women is still legitimately practiced. I have received it several times in my Byzantine Catholic parish and I have seen it done in a traditional Latin Rite Parish. The prayers, at least the Byzantine prayers, are beautiful and not offensive in any way. The association with ritual impurity is unfortunate, particularly when a society excludes a woman because of it, but the ceremony itself is very worthwhile.


I attended a modern Orthodox service once just for the experience, and men and women did indeed sit separately. But yes, it is true that this is only done in Orthodox services, not in Reform or other denominations.


I don’t recall segregation of sexes being a practice in the Latin church even prior to Vatican II. However, I know some orthodox churches practice this. At a Coptic divine liturgy that I attended, the women were veiled and sat on the right side of the church and men on the left-even spouses did not sit together. I found it to be quite appropriate actually and wish the Latin church had such a practice. As others have noted, I far too often see couples who are more interested in each other than in what is going on around them during holy mass.


This is one of the traditions that I had never heard of until the early 2000s when it was mentioned by a fellow parishioner about 20 years my senior.

She mentioned in passing that when a new priest had come to the parish around the time she had her last child, she asked about being churched and he didn’t know what she was talking about.

Since I didn’t know what she was talking about, I did some searching and discovered this ceremony that, to me, was very reminiscent of the Jewish ritual purification particularly since these women I was now talking with were under the impression that without it they couldn’t return to the church.

It turns out that it was, like “Solemn Communion”, a very common, almost compulsory, ceremony in some areas and unheard of in others.


Nope, not gender segregated in Detroit in the 50s and 60s before VII.


I’ve always thought of it as something to mark the return of the woman to church after childbearing, rather than something that must happen in order for her to return to church. With my last baby, I stayed home from church on Sundays for quite a while because I’d had a c-section and didn’t feel up to the combination of wrangling toddlers and climbing stairs. One evening, though, before I had returned to Divine Liturgy, I went to Vespers, bringing just the baby. The priest asked me if I was back. In other words, he was asking if he would see me on Sunday. I replied that I might be, I’d have to see how I felt for the rest of the week. He said, “Okay, if you decide to come, we’ll church you then.” More of a “Welcome back, let’s all pray for you in Thanksgiving for your good health.”


But that would only be of use if men always and everywhere sat (or stood or walked) on the right side of each and every woman. Which very clearly they didn’t.


It was consistent (the opposite being considered “unthinkable”) in some parts of western southern European countries into the 60’s. It was just the way things were looking at Canon 1983 cited upthread.

Finally someone explained it @babochka.

Brilliant post !! I had never heard of something like this regarding the pews :slight_smile:

Excellent post @ahs, finally I got an explanation for the practice.


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