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December 19, 2005


Mike Melendez

Auctioning the front row in a Catholic Church. I'm surprised. I would expect the back row, or rather three rows in from the back row (to avoid being noticed) to be the coveted spot in a Catholic Church.

tony c

Yeah...I thought Catholics loved the back pews.

I know a priest in PA who ropes off the back pews during the week to force people to sit closer to the front!


Here I was under the impression that the Code of Canon Law forbade charging a fee for attendance at public liturgy. Now, I understand how a certain legalism would not see a pew fee for certain (rather than all) seats as triggering this (and I am aware that there are Catholic churches -- like St Mary's in Newport, RI -- that charge for all seating but not if you stand; even worse), but it hardly comports with the spirit of the law.

chris K

Does that sorta eliminate the essence of the gospel about the "last being first" from happening at Christmas??

Rich Leonardi

You'd think someone on the parish finance committee would have said "This is tacky" during the planning meeting.


It grates more than a little.

"When you go to a dinner party, do not take the first seat, lest one more distinguished than you has been invited..."

So. What's the message. The rich who can afford the tariff sit in front, where they can see better, and where, even more to the point, everyone can see how rich and "generous" they are.

("When you give alms, do not send someone ahead with a trumpet...")

The rest of the congregation, the groundlings, on the occasion of the birth of Jesus Christ as the lowliest among us - not only could Mary and Joseph not pop a Great Big One for a seat, they couldn't even find an inn for a pregnant girl in labor - we are treated to a display which says the very exact opposite. Which says that the important people, the folks up front, are the rich.

May God be praised that we don't do this in my parish. My parish is about 99% flawed in many ways, but if anyone even suggested this behavior there they'd be immediately shouted down. What happened to the Preferential Option for the Poor??

Gads, this thing as so many things wrong with it that it boggles the mind.


I've always thought it unfortunate that one attraction to potential donors is having their name inscribed on a pew, door, wall, altar, window, etc. It makes it seem that we're more interested in public acclaim for our good deeds than the knowledge that God knows our hearts. If you're going to donate, do it for the good it will do, not the acclaim that will come to you.

reluctant penitent

I sit in the back pews. The 'joyful noise' (forced joy, lots of noise) is too loud up front. I'd pay not to have to sit in the front pews.


Does this mean they will be staying until the final blessing??


Good comments all!!!

This is outrageous!

To the "ordinary folk" at St. Paul's who can't afford "front-row seating," I say: Withhold your contributions for a month to "make up" for the lucre gained from this ill-conceived idea! If enough of you do it, I'd bet it won't be repeated this time next year. (And if it is repeated, run the scoundrels out of the church!)

Good God Almighty!!!

John J. Simmins

It would be nice if someone bought the pews and then invited homeless or mentally challenged people to mass to fill them.


There are a few folks at my parish who would freak out if someone sat in their seat (front row), whether they paid $1,000 or not.
I've made the mistake of sitting in "their" pew and received killer looks for it. At least they didn't tell me it was their pew as they've told others.

I myself am a front row sitter and have been since I was a child. My mother and father sat all six of us kids in the front row. We could see better, hear better and paid attention better because of it.

Marion (Mael Muire)

I try to fix my thoughts on what is happening on the altar during Holy Mass, yet I am so easily distracted. I find it amazingly helpful to sit in one of the front pews; there, my attention is less likely to wander. I know people who sit in the front pews seem to have a bad rep, though, and I've had to train myself not to worry about what people might think. It's a little embarassing, even after many years. Oh, well.


We have a four-month-old, so no way we'd sit in the front pew; too hard to make a discreet exit to calm down the baby. That being said, I thought, as someone pointed out earlier, that this sort of thing was explicitly forbidden?

(We had to get passes to Midnight Mass, but they were free; just a means of crowd control, though the admonition printed on them that "This is a religious service, not an entertainment, please refrain from talking and bringing food is not permitted" makes me wonder what on earth has gone on there in years past).

Mitchell Hadley

I found this interesting as well. I've been to Nativity, although not for Mass (they have a perpetual adoration chapel). I'm hesitant to draw conclusions about the parish as a whole because all I (or any of us) know is what we've read in the Star Tribune story (and, to be perfectly honest, the Strib is a less-than-reliable source for information on the Church).

Nonetheless, I agree that it sends the wrong message to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and brings a certain level of scandal to the Church in the eyes of the public. I'd tend to agree with Amy that there must be a better way to raise this money.

The parish itself seems to be a very solid one; their web site can be found at http://www.nativity-mn.org/Parish/OurParish/ourParish.html.

I think we'd all be interested if there's anyone from Nativity reading this piece who could share some comments about the general feeling of the parish toward this. As the article mentions, this isn't a new practice at Nativity; and yet this is the first time I recall hearing something about it.

Amy Pawlak

I echo Amy. Why not give the money as a donation?

And what about the old-fashioned way of getting a pew: arrive early to Mass! Spend time before Mass praying, saying the Rosary, or otherwise engaging in respectful worship!

Our Christmas Eve Mass is at 4:30. We'll be at Church no later than 3:15.

Daniel W

In response to Mitchell's request, here's my take:

I've been a Nativity parishoner for 7 years, and frankly the first I've heard about this practice was, well, last night on the news. And my wife and I are at least somewhat active parishoners (we've been involved in RCIA, we have an Adoration hour, when my work schedule allowed I was a daily Mass-goer at the 5pm Mass, etc.), as well, so we're not totally out of the loop.

While our experience may not be able to be extrapolated upon the parish as a whole, my take is simply that most people are either ignorant of this practice, or if they even know of it, are pretty ambivalent about it. (Who wants to drop 1k or more on a pew, anyway? Especially when you can get the same pew at a later Mass for free. There's a pretty small market for this auction, I would think.) There's a lot of good things going on here, and so my point is that, whatever the inappropriateness of this may be (I admit I'm uncomfortable with it), it's a pretty small pimple on the rump of an otherwise very vibrant parish.


We did have a raffle at my old parish for a choice parking spot - I bought a chance to support whatever was being benefitted but decided I would donate my parking spot to someone who really needed it - an elderly or disabled person.

(I didn't win.)

Daniel W

As an addendum, and a clarification to my earlier post, which in hindsight may be a tad ambiguous:

Assuming my wife & I aren't aberrations from the norm, and most people in this parish are in fact either ignorant or ambivalent about this practice, I think the reason why is simply because, what with all the other activity going on around here, the pew auction is really a pretty small blip on the radar screen.


My parish school's parents association auctions off the front row, left and right of the main aisle, for the Christmas Eve Masses. The net effect: A few hundred extra dollars go to the school, and a couple of families don't have to arrive forty minutes before Mass.

Bob's comments above, about tariffs and groundlings and such, are hysterical, in the "he's having a fit of hysteria" sense. Nobody can see who is in the front row in our church on Christmas Eve; the church is too packed, which is sort of the motive for auctioning off free seats, and more than a few rows back you're lucky to see the altar.

Of the nearly 550 Massess offered in the church each year, not counting weddings and funerals and including six Christmas Masses, two or three reserve the front row -- which, in any event, would only be available to someone willing to arrive an hour or more early. The idea that anyone cares who sits in the front row any more for those two or three Masses than for the other forty-four dozen is... I'll just say inconsistent with my own experience of my parish. As an investment in showing off, winning the bid is a loser.

(Mine is also one of those parishes people drive their cars to after dressing themselves. Cars and clothes are a much better guide to wealth than seating.)

(I might also add that I suspect most of our parishioners could afford the cost of the winning bid, if they really wanted to. The parish as a whole is well-heeled enough -- and the active bidders as a whole cheap enough -- that it's no great social distinction.)

Joe Gloor

I think a better idea would be to send a punch-card to all parisheners and have it punched at attendence of weekly Mass.
Those with the most punches get a seat on Easter and Christmas.


There is definitly a turf mentality in church. The worst offenders are some of those who get there early to stake out each end of a totally empty pew which they then guard like pit bulls. They won't budge to let you past and you have to climb in and out of their laps just to get to an empty seat.


Those who win in the bidding don't have to show up early enough to get a seat but by the time they do show, maybe all the parking places will be gone? Perhaps selling the seats is a backhanded way of affecting the parking and truly making the first to be last.


Why not give the money as a donation?

It is a donation. Ask the IRS what the monetary value of a front-row seat at Mass is.

Moreover, I think questions like this -- viz, that complain about the good but imperfect actions of some unknown but specific people -- are highly impertinent.

And what about the old-fashioned way of getting a pew: arrive early to Mass! Spend time before Mass praying, saying the Rosary, or otherwise engaging in respectful worship!

There is no "the" old-fashioned way of getting a pew. Pew rent is so old-fashioned it sounds new-fangled.

I have not yet been fortunate enough to be in a parish church on Christmas Eve where praying, saying the Rosary, or otherwise engaging in respectful worship before Mass was very practical.

Mike Petrik

My Christmas wish is that Catholics would contribute enough to offertory so that finance committees wouldn't have to consider such tacky and ill-conceived ideas.
Of course this is tacky. But I admit that it is not obvious why this is worse than auctioning off dinner with Father at the annual auction, as though Father's time should go to the highest payer -- yet I have no problem with that.
FWIW, variants of this practice are common in Jewish temples as well as some Protestant churches.


My parish has auctioned the first two pews and thrown in a good parking space (in front of the pastor's garage door -- he's not going anywhere, after all) at the annual fund-raising dinner/dance for the parish school. It has never gone for much more than $200 but it is fun. (And yes, the suggestion has been made to auction off the last pew rather than the first.) Much more lucrative: Dinner for 6 at the rectory, also the opportunity to sing a number with the band at the dance.

Mike Petrik

I agree completely with Tom's post.


This isn't going to work too well at parishes where the offertory people, readers, and extraordinary eucharistic ministers sit in the front pews for convenience' sake. (Actually, the offertory people sit in the back pew before offertory and the front pew afterwards. But you knew what I meant.)


Of course this is tacky. But I admit that it is not obvious why this is worse than auctioning off dinner with Father at the annual auction, as though Father's time should go to the highest payer -- yet I have no problem with that.

TACKY??!? The mind boggles.

Because "Father" is not God? Because sitting in the front row (parading in, on Christmas no less, in front of everyone, to the roped-off section in front reserved for Big Guys like yourself) has a bit more, well, publicity than a quiet private dinner?

Daniel W, no one is attacking the whole parish. But maybe the liturgy committee or the financial committee or the seating committee or - horrors! - even the pastor, need a refresher course on the gospels? Just a thought.

(My parish has any number of horrible practices which could be pillaried in here, and those aren't OK either.)


No one should pay for any seat at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.


Unintended bad symbolism at Mass story:

In my old parish, on Holy Thursday, some women were chosen to have their feet washed, but there was a problem: they wore stockings, which can't be taken off in public like socks can. So the priest decided he would wash their hands, instead. Unfortunately, the washing of hands around Good Friday has its own symbolism.


This post reminds me of how foreign it sounded to "buy bricks" with your name on them as a church fund raiser. I was like, "why promote yourself like that? Is this some sort of pride thing? Why not donate anonymously?" But then I was thinking, "whoa maybe someday somebody will pray for that person...and Lord knows I need a lot of prayin'. Good idea."

Sean H

Bravo Judy. That is the bottom line. This is what makes the idea offensive. All the yabber about status, and fund raising etc. is nonsense.

The mass is where we go to worship God and encounter Christ. If we really believed that we would show up two hours early, having crawled there in the snow. As well-intentioned as the practice may be, it reduces the mass to a spectator event.

Fr Septimus

Someone referenced above the practice of showing up, wa-a-ay early for Mass. This has problems too. It would be fine if folks showing up early were silent and prayerful, and many are, of course; but many are not.

Chris Sullivan

My brothers, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. For if a man with gold rings on his fingers and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Sit here, please," while you say to the poor one, "Stand there," or "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?

Listen, my beloved brothers. Did not God choose those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him? But you dishonored the poor person.

Are not the rich oppressing you? And do they themselves not haul you off to court? Is it not they who blaspheme the noble name that was invoked over you?

However, if you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well.

But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law, but falls short in one particular, has become guilty in respect to all of it.

James 2:1-10

God Bless


At the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in DC there are many bricks/stones with names inscribed, sometimes parents and lists of their children. I never think of the donors as rich bigshots (or wannabes) showing off their largesse, but am usually touched at the idea of parents and other loved ones being honored in such a way. It's nice to read the names and think about how these people have inspired and perhaps helped form in faith their children, students, parishioners, etc. Maybe I am naive.


Right on Judy and Sean!

Imagine attending Mass with a non-Catholic and having to explain to them that you couldn't sit up front because it was reserved for the high rollers. What an embarrassment.

How about the reverend they quoted who said:

"Some find that offensive in the present day," Margevicius said. "But it's just a cultural construct."

He cautioned against passing judgment on Nativity.

"How certain are we of how God believes we should act?" he said. "God comes in unexpected ways and continues to do so."


Patrick O'Hannigan

Sometimes money becomes a wedge issue not over parking spaces but,astonishingly, over sacraments. I'm curious whether other Open Book fans have experienced anything like the "baptism as fundraiser" story, which, if true, would seem to contradict canon law.

Chris Sullivan

But for several years, school fundraisers have successfully argued that the end justifies the means.

"The end justifies the means" pretty much sums up all that is rotten in the Church today.

Margevicius said the biblical story of the Three Wise Men who followed a star to the Bethlehem stable where Jesus was born could be interpreted as the first instance of paying for a front-row seat at Christmas.

Papal household preacher Father Cantalamessa finishes his 3rd advent sermon with the exact opposite interpretation :-

A beautiful Christmas story makes us want to arrive to the Nativity, with a heart that is poor and empty of everything. Among the shepherds who presented themselves on Christmas night to adore the Child, there was one so poor that he didn't have anything to offer and he was very much ashamed. Upon arriving to the cave, the shepherds fought among themselves to offer their gifts. Mary didn't know how to receive all of them, for she had the Child in her arms. So, seeing the poor shepherd with his hands free, she gave him Jesus to hold. Having empty hands was his fortune, and on another level, it will also be our fortune.

God Bless

Mike Petrik

I don't think you are naive at all.
I know many donors who delight in giving gifts in honor of their friends or family. I don't see why this is bad. Indeed, I think such gifts are "two-fers".


thomasina, I agree with you. It's also a nice reminder that we "stand on the shoulders of others".


I am with Thomas, Thomasina and others who don't see this as all that terrible. It's a one-time deal (it seems), it will help generate money for a good cause, and something tells me that the people who are willing to fork over the money for these tickets are the very same people who would also give on their own without some kind of earthly reward.


I'm always amused by parishes who have a "Midnight Mass" that begins at 10:30 pm. How silly!

Mike Petrik

I agree. While I continue to think that a pew rental is a tacky idea that sends the wrong message (at least to some), my discomfort is mitigated by the fact that front row seats are usually not a big deal in Catholic Church circles (certainly not a sign of prestige or anything), and the auction is likely more of a gimmick than anything else. When it comes to Church fundraising, the folks who bid at auctions are the same ones who give to Offertory, St. VdP, capital campaigns and everything else. 90% of every parish's funds comes from less than 20% of the registered families. In my experience those who complain the loudest about fundraising are often (though certainly not always) complaining out of a sense of guilt.

Sue T.

I hope this parish is leaving part of the front row available for the disabled or others who have difficulty walking. Before my mom passed away last May, we always sat in the front row because her mobility was so limited (she used a walker). There would have been no way for her to receive communion otherwise.


Yes, I think our church would have great success auctioning off a spot in the lobby.

Fr Septimus

One thing: sometimes folks are critical of how a parish raises money, and the criticism is legitimate, but keep in mind that often, pastors, and laity who provide leadership in the parish, are often struggling to raise funds. Many pastors will say, privately, they'd rather not generate funds through all the methods (bingo, gambling in general) they use, or not so much, but that's how people give.

Mike Petrik

Parenthetical to this thread but in amplification to Sue, our Church has places in the back for wheel chairs. Indeed, most folks who have difficulty walking prefer to sit in the back since it is a shorter walk to enter and leave. Our ushers simply alert Father or the EME at the end of Communion and escort him to the person(s) in need. Works out fine.


"In my experience those who complain the loudest about fundraising are often (though certainly not always) complaining out of a sense of guilt."

Why make a negative assumption about people who disagree with this particular method of fundraising? Isn't it better to discuss the legitimacy of raising funds in this manner?


When I was a parishoner at our city's local Cathedral I avoided all of the high masses on major holidays (particularly Easter and Christmas). I found out very quickly that the VIPs warranted front row seats even though many of them were not Catholic or practicing Catholics. The Cathedral didn't collect money, but reserved the first 5 or so rows of pews just the same. When I drove my family to the mass (Christmas 1999) there was a traffic police directing traffic around the Cathedral. I knew we would never get in.

There is something about The High Mass on Easter or Christmas that attracts alot of the politicians whether they are Catholic or not.

Samuel J. Howard

"There is something about The High Mass on Easter or Christmas that attracts alot of the politicians whether they are Catholic or not."

Perhaps it's something about PEOPLE being attracted.

"I'm always amused by parishes who have a 'Midnight Mass' that begins at 10:30 pm. How silly!"

I believe, though I'd have to double check to be sure, that it is mass "in the night", so 10:30 would be fine (just like for the Easter Vigil, after dark and before dawn).


something tells me that the people who are willing to fork over the money for these tickets are the very same people who would also give on their own without some kind of earthly reward.

And that "something" would be what or whom, who tells you that people who will fork over money to sit in the front, before everyone, will also be willing to give without earthly reward? Huh???

Many pastors will say, privately, they'd rather not generate funds through all the methods (bingo, gambling in general) they use, or not so much, but that's how people give.

"Many prostitutes down on the line say, privately, that they'd rather not generate funds by the means that they use, but that's how people 'give.'"

I hope this parish is leaving part of the front row available for the disabled or others who have difficulty walking. Before my mom passed away last May, we always sat in the front row because her mobility was so limited (she used a walker). There would have been no way for her to receive communion otherwise.

Dream on, Sue. Hope all the fragile folks in this parish have money.

(Excuse me, I have to break off to let Susie Manybucks get by me so she can get to her paid seat in the front row. Sorry.)

Chris Sullivan please stop quoting Scripture what do you think that has to do with what we behave, please!

Mike Petrik

Fair enough, Judy, though I did agree that the practice was inadvisable. Years of volunteer service of parish finance councils have made me weary of listening to people grumble about why the latest fundraising effort is invariably a bad idea. And it is true that these grumblers are almost always more generous with opinions than money. I didn't mean to make assumptions about any of the posters on this thread, but I realize it may have come across that way. This I do regret.
That said I do think that some of the critics on this thread are being a bit unfair. First, it is presumptuous to assert that these donors would be "paraded" anywhere. Second, many special Masses have assigned seating for dignataries or family and such things. Finally, my guess is that most of the people who attend Christmas Mass will have no idea why some rows are assigned and won't especially care. The notion that this is all about the rich paying for some prestige seems also to be a negative assumption that is unwarranted.


Judy & open book readers, perhaps you can help with a "Catholic etiquette" question. I am undergoing instruction and therefore don't receive the Eucharist. I prefer to sit at the outside of a pew, so that people can proceed easily up to the altar rail (yep, the altar rail!) at the proper time to receive. As they come around again, I get out of the pew and stand up so that people can get back into their seats.

I am not trying to guard my seat "like a pit bull," but if I get "swashed" into the middle of the pew, people will either have to crawl over me or I get stuck in the press of folks going up the middle aisle, both before and after my pew-mates receive.

Before Mass, if people "want in," I do the same-- get up and stand along the pew until they are past, then sit down again.

Am I missing something about Catholic procedures for non-receiving attendees? Should I be doing something different to stay out of the flow when attending Mass?

Mike Petrik

You have strong opinions. Let me ask: have you ever volunteered to help with stewardship? If so, what was your experience?

Mike Petrik

As an usher of longstanding I think you are handling it just right.


Bob, are you really equating a raffle to sell off the front pew at one Mass in order to generate funds with selling one's body? Because they're really not the same thing. At all.

Chris Sullivan

The notion that this is all about the rich paying for some prestige seems also to be a negative assumption that is unwarranted.


But not many homeless people will have the spare $1000 to buy a front row pew. So that means it is about the relatively wealthier.

And if the relatively wealthier were prefectly happy just to give anonymously without any public recognition, letting not their left hands know what their right hands are doing so that their alms giving is in secret, then they would just need to be asked to give and there wouldn't be any need to auction off anything or give any public recognition for their alms.

When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues (in the front pews?) and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:2-6

God Bless

Chris Sullivan


In our parish (yours may be different), what you would do is to join the procession but cross your arms over your front and ask for a blessing instead of Holy Communion.

Perhaps you could ask the priest if this is OK in your parish.

God Bless

Mary Kay

Samue, last I checked, there are 4 readings in the lectionary for Christmas: the Vigil, Midnight, Dawn and during the Day. So Midnight Mass should be at midnight but I just discovered that my parish is starting it before midnight also.

Mike Petrik

Given the injunction to pray in secret I suppose we should wear hoods when attending Mass. Incidentally, many people do buy things at auctions and then give them away -- having run several charity auctions I can attest that such acts are commonplace. If a family makes a large donation and in exchange its members are given the ability to sit together at Christmas Mass instead of worrying about standing or sitting all over I'm just not ready to dismiss them as hypocrites. I recall the year my parents and siblings and families visited us at Christmas. We were fortunate to be able to sit together at Mass, and I think that was the happiest I have ever seen my elderly mother. If I had had the opportunity in advance to make a donation to reserve a pew to ensure that opportunity I would certainly have done so, notwithstanding the apparent risk that Scriptural literalists will see me as a hypocrite. Finally, I certainly agree that it would be a nice act of charity to drive downtown and kidnap some homeless folks to sit up front instead though.

Matthew's Dad

I have difficulty attending midnight mass. Last year when I went, we arrived 45 minutes early for prayer and went to go kneel down in an empty pew, only to be informed by a girl sitting one row behind that these were all "saved". Not wanting a confrontation we found one of the non-saved seats behind her. When nobody came about 15 minutes before the choir was to start she promptly whipped out her cell phone and started talking away. I politely said that it was inappropriate to talk on a cell phone in church. I got a glare and she ignored me. Two more phone calls. Loud talking when her party started arriving. Smelling like alcohol. And talking among each other through the choir presentation and the entire mass including the sermon and consecration. And I should not have looked, but the total from about 20 people to the offering was about $5, total, not apiece. I did not know what to say to them to get them to stop talking. During the consecration I prayed that Jesus would touch their hearts and prayed for forgiveness for my lack of charity towards them. Never did the sign of peace mean so much. I wanted to saysomething both during mass and after mass to them about their behavior? Has anyone ever experienced this at midnight mass? Does anyone have the right words to say to such a group? That focuses them on the sacrifice of the mass yet does not come across as condescending? That makes them want to come to mass the next Sunday and every day after that. I prayed for the right words, but Merry Christmas was all that came out after mass. Fathers, anything?

Chris Sullivan

Mike Petrik,

But what about the large poor family without the $1000 to reserve places ? They get to stand while the rich buy their seats. Is this right ?

No, and it's clearly condemned in scripture.

A system to allow large familes to sit together on special occasions is something different to what we're discussing here. Such could be easily organised without any money changing hands.

In most places such is easily arranged by arriving early enough. But I grant that this is difficult for those whom their poverty is their time or their travel arrangements.

God Bless

Mike Petrik

I'm an usher. I've seen everything. ;-) You are to be commended for your forebearance. Sometimes speaking up is important and helpful, but I'm afraid that the necessary art of diplomacy is in rare supply for most of us, so usually we are better off containing our anger and "offering it up."


I'm sure that Chris means well, but that particular practice is dubious. It seems to have originated in not wanting anyone to feel "left out," and not infrequently leads to getting a blessing from an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, which is a no-no. Besides, we all already get a blessing at Mass (particularly at the end) and so it's really not necessary to get blessed again. You are doing exactly the right thing.

Mike Petrik

Your concern for the large poor family would be more compelling if we were talking about all the pews or even many of them. I understood the article as assigning just a few. This places the poor in the same position as the vast majority of the parishioners, rich and otherwise. I nonetheless do agree that this is a tacky practice if for no other reason than some folks might be tempted to pay for prestige (which is contra-Scriptural) and others might construe it that way, true or not. That said I continue to think the assumptions many on this thread have made about motives are uncharitable.


This outrage is silly. The purpose of auctioning the pew is to allow seating for a crowded Mass, not as some sort of status symbol. It is the height of absurdity to think that sitting in the front row has any particular meaning or value attached to it, beyond an unobstructed view of the sanctuary. This attempt to incite class warfare over an salutary and virtuous fund-raising effort is petty in the extreme.


This debate is a good example of how people carry their ideological and national baggage with them. It's the pride of American egalitarianism which finds offense in some benefit going towards the more fortunate. While we're at it, why not complain about plaques commerating stained glass window donations? Or naming school classrooms after donors? Admit it, your problem may well be with non-anonymous donation in general, and the idea that someone people simply have more resources, and possibilities, than another. What of it? What's wrong with inequality? The person with more leisure can get to Mass earlier and get the pew he wants, is that unfair? He certainly has someone of great value that others don't, time. What's your hang-up over money in particular? Don't you realize there are other equal and greater values in life?

kathleen reilly

and ... since when is there prestige connected with having a front row seat at mass? is there going to a big neon arrow pointing to the guy who donated $1000? even if there is, no one is going to be able to see him anyway. someone who cares that much about front row seats is going to spend his money on something flashier than sitting in the front row for an hour mass.


Do people really think there's a greater spiritual benefit to sitting in the front row than the back row, or standing up? Why do you begrudge someone the opportunity to have a seat by making a large self-sacrifice? Would you complain if the pew went to people who volunteered frequently in the soap kitchen? There is no difference between them and the monetary donor, they both gives things of value, but in different forms. It must be that you think money is just evil, because anything relating between that an a pew is bad, but nothing else. Absurd.


I see the blessing for those not able to receive done in my city all the time. I think it is a great new tradition. Why shouldn't we start new traditions? It must be very comforting for too young children, for non-Catholic but sympathetic spouses of Catholics, for divorced and remarried who at least attend Mass, and for those waiting to be received into the Church. The blessing is a very constructive way for including those unable to receive Communion in the Catholic Church. What do we lose thereby?
I can't imagine Christ refusing it.


I think you've all got the wrong idea, here.

Back in the days when I was in a much more financially comfortable situation than I am currently, we always went to the parish school auction - the prime fundraiser for the school each year. Each year they auctioned off front row seating for Christmas and Easter vigil.

At the time we had four very small children; yet though we are every Sunday and holyday Catholics, on Christmas and Easter the Church would fill up so much with people we'd never seen at Mass before, while we unfortunates with the mewling babes were left standing in the back. (If you've ever tried to take a 6 mo. old baby into a standing-room only Mass, you can relate.)

So on at least one occasion, we bid for and won a reserved pew for our largish young family. It wasn't a matter of "status" so much as a matter of a charitable donation with a nice added benefit. I doubt very much that any of those holiday Catholics who filled the rest of the seats had any sense whatsoever that we were "important" -- which we most certainly were not -- because we ended up sitting in front. No one announced our name, or led us to our seats or made any sort of fuss whatsoever.

The only difference was, that year we got to sit down together, instead of parceled out at various pews all over the sanctuary.

PS: Today I could not afford to make such a donation. But I'm not the least bit embarrassed by having done so once upon a time.

Fr. Totton


Your heart seems to be in the right place indeed, but I would caution you about "starting new traditions" such as the blessing in the communion line. Tradition - you no doubt already know - means that which has been handed on (from the latin tradere) We need to be careful that what we hand on (and what we choose to hand on) is worth doing so. I would make the argument that blessings in the Communion line should not become a "new tradition" on the grounds that it confuses people about what Holy Communion is and what that time is for. Those who are unable to receive Holy Communion (for whatever reason - and that is THEIR business, not mine - unless they wish to confess, nor anybody else's) should NOT get into the Communion line with everybody else for the following reasons:
1. When we receive Holy Communion, we are expressing the reality that we are in Communion with Christ and HIs Body the Church.
2. The Communion line has the sole purpose of providing the opportunity for those Catholics, who are properly disposed, to actually recieve HOly Communion (see #1)
3. When the whole church proceeds to the front IN THE COMMUNION LINE and only 60% of them ACTUALLY receive Holy Communion, then the purpose for this rite in the Mass (see #1) comes to be obscured by the line itself.
4. There may be individuals in Church who are either non-CAtholics, or are Catholics who, for whatever reason, do not wish to receive HOly Communion, but because of the throng of individuals going forward, they too feel compelled (out of embarassment) to proceed forward, and might not be so familiar with this practice (the blessing) and so they recieve HOly Communion unworthily.
5. The lay faithful are not authorized to give blessings (other than, say, a parent blessing his own child). Given that at your average parish, a lone priest is assisted by between 1 and 20 Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion (lay people) this puts the Extraordinary ministers in an awkward position when a non-communicant presents herself for a blessing. Rather than refuse, they might trace a simple cross on the forehead of the requestor. This leads to the argument from hygeine:
6. Which states that it seems unwise for an individual to use the same digits both to touch the foreheads of multiple non-communicants intermittently with touching the Sacred Hosts which are to be consumed by multiple communicants (whether or not they choose to receive Communion on the tongue!)
7. Corallary to the argument from Hygeine is the argument from respect for the Sacred Species. Inevitably, in the distribution of Holy Communion, one is likely to collect particles (however small) of the Sacred host on those digits used to distribute Holy Communion. This is why the priest purifies his fingers after Communion as he is purifying the chalice, this is also why most parishes have an ablution cup near the tabernacle, that the Extraordinary ministers may do likewise. So with the intermittent distribution of Holy Communion and "blessing" one may inadvertently rub the particles of the Sacred Host into the forehead of a non-communicant.

By now you must think I am an ultra-legalist, but consider a few of these objections. Our Lord himself would no doubt not have refused a blessing, but the question I am asking is not what a priest should do on the spot, but whether it is even appropriate to request a blessing at that time. Priests should educate their parishes on this point and politely request that individuals NOT approach seeking a blessing at the time reserved for the Communion of the faithful. Does this sound exclusivist? Perhaps, but Holy Communion IS exclusive of those who do not share our faith in Christ and our membership in His Body the Church. It doesn't mean that they are not welcome to join the Church, and so to join us AUTHENTICALLY in Holy Communion, but at that moment in the Mass, it is not appropriate to request a blessing.


Isn't this simony?


Not unless "sitter in the front pew" is a church office :).


THanks for clarifying Mike. Yes, I too know people who are against any form of fundraising because they don't want to give. Period.

And Beth, I'm exaggerating and half kidding about people guarding the pews like pit bulls. It was sort of my ham-handed attempt to lighten things up. I apologize if I came across as deadly serious about this. I'm not. It is true that I've run into a few people who act like it is a pain to let me in a pew, but so what? They have to put up with my annoying habits to which I am blind. There is give and take in being brothers and sisters in Christ and hopefully room for some teasing and humor.


Hold it. If this is like most Christmas Eve masses that I know of, it is the "kids" Christmas eve mass where often the school kids sing in front. So what you are paying for is not the privilege of going to Mass but getting a good view of your kid singing.

My last parish used to auction off the front row for the Children's Christmas pageant along with a front parking space along with other items at a Gala fundraiser for the school. I don't think they did it more than twice because it really didn't raise too much money; Catholic's value the front rows as much as the front rows. The idea of it during the pageant is that you'd have the best place to use your camcorder to tape your kids.

I think people are getting a little feisty here.

Chris Sullivan

Fr. Totton,

Everyone is authorised to give a blessing to anyone and we do it all the time. It is most definitely not the sole perogative of priests. "Every baptized person is called to be a "blessing," and to bless." CCC1669

One can easily bless without touching the head.

In our diocese (Auckland, New Zealand) children are trained to ask for a blessing before they make their first Holy Communion and everyone is encouraged to come forward for a blessing.

So with the intermittent distribution of Holy Communion and "blessing" one may inadvertently rub the particles of the Sacred Host into the forehead of a non-communicant.

I thought the Church existed to bring Christ to people, not keep them away from him ?

You are right that refusing a blessing is legalistic and it not only sounds but it is exclusivist.

God Bless

Mike Petrik

Chris, Don't you think the remainder of CCC 1669 is relevant? "the more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons).175
It is hard to imagine something more concerned with ecclesial and sacramental life than the distribution of Communion at Mass. Why would you not quote the rest of the section, Chris?

JT Hernandez

Well, I find this conversation interesting, particularly because, at a fund raising auction that my parish held for a homeless shelter, I won the auction for reserved seats at midnight mass this year - $300.

Personal motive: Since I have a pregnant sister-in-law and an 10-month old niece, I was actually predicting that two of my brothers and their wives would back out on our annual tradition of going to midnight mass, so I wanted to take away the excuse of it being too difficult to get a pew.

To be clear about a few things:
- I was planning on going to Midnight mass no matter what, even if the rest of my family didn't go.
- The amount of money I donated in the auction I was just a portion of what I was planning on donating anyway (and, in fact, donated).
- To get seats in a pew at midnight mass at our church usually means getting there at least 2 hours early and I still plan on being there 2 hours early.
- The auction wasn't specifically for the front row, but when I called to tell them how many people I would need to seat, they told me they'd give me the first two pews. I don't mind being in the front, but I think it's clear that being in the front does not provide any special status, does not provide any special graces, and I hope sincerely that no one thinks that I have any vain intentions by sitting in a front pew.
- Actually, I feel that it is likely that I will give up my seat to someone who is standing, whom I will find right before mass. I've done it a few times in past years...

So, all that being said, I don't find anything wrong with this. As far as it being used as a fundraiser... let's just say that I can see how it could possibly lead to abuses. I say all this not to defend myself, but just to say that it isn't inherently a bad thing either.

Chris Sullivan

Why would you not quote the rest of the section, Chris?

Because in our diocese the extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion regularly bless. Therefore, the rest of the section does not seem to apply to this blessing.

We have to ask ourselves : what sort of image does a parish present to humanity when it refuses blessings and auctions off seats in the front row ?

Does this help or hinder humanity to come to the Church ?

God Bless


Well, ya all got me here.

What I'm trying to do in my life is to be in union with Jesus Christ. Totally. In every way.

I'm a miserable failure, but I do keep on plugging.

Jesus didn't have a lot of cash money. So when He and I showed up at this parish door, we just looked at each other and tallied up our joint finances. It came to something way under $1000.

So, we didn't make the cut. We stood in the back, while our "betters" flounced in, and sat in the front pews.

You-all probably didn't notice us back there. I'm not worth noticing, but I think my buddy is. No matter. We just don't have the finances.

Have I worked on "Stewardship"? Yes indeed. We didn't get so far as to sell seats in church on Christmas. Thanks for the inspiration. I guess.


So, all that being said, I don't find anything wrong with this. As far as it being used as a fundraiser...

FANTASTIC witness to the Incarnation, in which God became one of us, one of those who can afford $1000 to sit in the front.. wait... I made some kind of typing mistake there...

That so many here think this is perfectly OK speaks volumes. About the Catholic Church, about its priorities, about what is really going on here. If this is OK, why is protecting sexual predators (to protect the bank account) not OK? Who or what is God here?

All good. We who hear, get the message. Not that one sort of weird parish has gone off the deep end. But that's OK with so many here.

God bless.



The Church has historically authorized "pew rent." See the Plenary Council of Baltimore. Your rant on this issue is therefore against the Church's historic moral teaching. Your comments ignore what everyone else has been saying, and therefore are unworthy of further reply.



Perhaps a parish should stop worrying about its image, and instead focusing on the divine worship of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The whole ethos of these remarks, the horizontalism, the situationalism, is staggering. The Mass is the most sublime form of adortion of the Most High God; the rubrics of the liturgy are not to be determined by polls and pop culture. If people understood Catholic teaching and were orthodox in their belief, these concerns would not arise. The more one knows about the nature of communion and the Mass, the less these social (what will they think of us?) issues have any importance at all.


As for people feeling "included," why the communion line, instead of the confession line? Why the emphasis on everyone going to Communion, while noone goes to confession?


Let all those who say "Bless me father, I have sinned," receive their blessing in spades. Have your parish reinstitute confession before Mass, therefore making it possible for everyone to have every moral Catholic an opportunity to go to communion.


We have to ask ourselves : what sort of image does a parish present to humanity when it refuses blessings and auctions off seats in the front row ?

What's interesting about this is the way it begs the question it purports to ask.


JT Hernandez's reserved pew and the one I won several years ago sound identical insofar as:

1. No one specified that it was the front pew that was being auctioned.

2. I didn't pay anywhere near $1,000 -- more like JT's $200.

3. It was only one single Mass -- not a pew for life.

4. Nary a single homeless person was kept from Holy Communion because my babies had a seat that night.

Good grief, people! You'd think they were auctioning off perpetual pew space to billionaires, instead of two single, over-crowded Masses per year to Average Joe Catholic who wants to support the parish/parochial school.

If it makes you feel any better, Bob, please note that the way things are these days I couldn't afford it if they gave it away for a sawbuck. Seriously.


Fr. Totton,
thank you very much. You mentioned:
So with the intermittent distribution of Holy Communion and "blessing" one may inadvertently rub the particles of the Sacred Host into the forehead of a non-communicant.

I actually had this happen to me, sort of. I receive on the tongue. For whatever reason, one Sunday at Mass, the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion experienced "technical difficulties" when attempting to place the Host on my tongue. It stuck to her finger, and so when she attempted to withdraw her hand, the Host came with her. She put it back again and eventually succeeded in placing it on my tongue. Apparently feeling as if she should reassure me in some way/apologize for the akward situation, she gave me a little pat on the shoulder. When I returned to my pew, I noticed a smallish white speck on my black jacket and was about to brush it off, when I realized that it was in the place where she had patted me. I decided that I ought to look a bit more closely, and sure enough, it was a particle of the Host, which I consumed. I know that she meant well, but I nearly brushed Our Lord onto the floor. The problem of disrespect towards the Host is most definitely not a hypothetical one.



The Church has historically authorized "pew rent." See the Plenary Council of Baltimore. Your rant on this issue is therefore against the Church's historic moral teaching. Your comments ignore what everyone else has been saying, and therefore are unworthy of further reply.

OK, Breier, we-all here standing in the back of the church - because we don't have the moola to buy a seat - we get it. Don't bother with us. I know you won't.


Hey, no problem. The Catholic Church, in the form of the Baltimore Whatever, as well as the participants here, think this kind of thing is perfectly OK. Mandatory maybe even.

Why stop at Christmas then? Why stop at the front pews? Why not auction off the whole church as season tickets? Think! The church could make a ton of money on this, and allow the parishoners to segregate one another as to finances into the bargain! Such a deal!

So clearly I'm off base to have any problem whatever with this!


In the '60s my parish used to do a collection for what we jokingly called the "seat tax." This collection occurred right at the beginning of Mass, starting during the procession. You were expected to toss in a quarter or maybe four bits.

Here's tacky:

The parish also used to publish an annual booklet of how much each parishioner contributed to the church over the course of the year. The booklet was distributed to every household in the parish, so we could all cluck over who didn't give much or how cheap the banker was.


Encouraging people to get up and get in the communion line when they're not going to communion makes church less welcoming for those who can't get up and go because of physical limitations. I've sat next to my friend who's in a wheelchair and experienced it for myself. A very lonesome feeling.

Furthermore, it makes someone who can't go to Communion because she hasn't gone to Confession yet... feel even more sinful and unworthy and like crap.

See, when lots of people are staying in the pews, the sinner, the pre-Catholic, the child too young to receive, and the visitor... all have company. Nobody is conspicuous, and nobody feels alone. It is a normal thing. Your judgement on receiving or not receiving is your own.

In a procession, as far as you know, you are the only one who isn't there to get Communion. Everyone else is fine. You are the only sinner.

Getting a blessing when you can't take Communion because of sin is just going to make you feel worse. You're not going to be able to go to Confession for at least a week, and if you have obligations on Saturday, you could be Communion-less for months. So why go to church at all? You're already in mortal sin land, so you might as well hang for a sheep as a lamb.

As for visitors -- if you're not Catholic, it's highly unlikely that you'll be wanting a blessing from the priest, much less a Catholic layperson. You probably won't be thrilled about crossing your hands across your chest, either.

It's going to embarrass the heck out of visitors who just want to see what's going on. Visitors should not be dragooned into forced participation in rituals which they don't yet believe in.

If I went to some other denomination's church for a wedding or something, and they made me march up front with everybody else to participate in an altar call or something -- well, I would dig in my heels like a mule nowadays -- stay in the pew -- and if they didn't let me, I'd make a scene and leave the premises. I would probably feel like killing whoever invited me. And I'd be permanently creeped out about that creepy church with the compulsive procession.

Finally, if everybody walks up front, that puts the emphasis on the procession instead of Who is being received. Christ's Real Presence is the one really important thing about Mass. You can process anytime you want.

All of which is to say that the crossed arms for a blessing custom is fine and dandy only in that it allows my non-Catholic dad and my non-Catholic handicapped friend to fend off importunate and well-meaning eucharistic ministers. (Another good reason not to sit in the front row, as if you needed one!) As an occasional signal, it's okay. But all the time? Shudder!!!

So let's not be forcing everybody to go up to the front, shall we? Unless you want folks like me to start committing hari-kari from pure shame, or your intention is to drive us away from Mass altogether when we're not squeaky clean of soul. Or unless Communion is being replaced by the sacrament of Procession.


"if everybody walks up front, that puts the emphasis on the procession instead of Who is being received. "

Why..... yes.
Isn't that why YOU go to church?
Really, what's important is US, OUR participation.
As any liturgist can tell you, the assembly is the primary presence of Christ in the liturgy.
Let us celebrate ourselves. Sing it loud, and sing it proud, "I myself am the bread of life, you and I are the bread of life,"

[Snarkasm off]
(And in case anyone's wondering, no straw man there, those are the real words of a real, GIA published, song; that is a real statement by a "trained" and "certifed" parish liturgist.


Off topic, but only slightly, can someone tell me why end sitters come in for so much animosity?
There seems to be a consensus that the front pews should be available to the early birds, (assuming that's what they want.)
Why aren't early birds also entitled to an end seat? In non-reserved cinema seating or stadium seating one expects to have to sidle past those who have already staked out the end seats.


One reason is that the end sitters waste a lot of space and inconvenience others. By sitting on the end you block people from sitting in the middle. People are more reluctant to climb over several sets of knees to get to the empty space in the middle of the pews. This leads to there being "standing room only" Masses when there is actually available seating, if the people on the ends would move to the center and open upon the pew.


I think there is more of a sense of the common good in a church than a movie theater. Further, if people are late to Mass, we want them to still be able to sit down, they won't be able to get a seat in the front row.


Thanks to everyone for the background on "blessings." This doesn't seem to be done in my parish. Maybe it makes sense for Catholics who aren't ready to receive, but need to confess, but I think the pew-sitters should have the option to stay in the pew. For example, my non-Christian husband, who accompanies me Christmas & Easter, would be even more uncomfortable getting a blessing from a priest than he already is attending Mass.

And all the discussion of Extraordinary ministers makes me very happy to attend a parish where only priests (as far as I can tell) distribute Communion. I've got enough to worry about in this conversion thing!

Another question on end-sitters. Have you folks never *asked* someone if you can get into the pew? Again, I'm happy to get up and let people in and I certainly don't want to "waste space."

It's kind of like being on the bus, as I see it. If someone's got their bag on a seat, and there are plenty of open seats, I take another seat. But if that's the only convenient seat, I just say "Excuse me, can I sit here," or something. The worst they can do is glare, and I get a seat. Surely public transportation behavior can't be more civilized than behavior in Church, can it?

Now, if only I could figure out how early to get to Midnight Mass ...

Marion (Mael Muire)

The shepherd boys were gathered 'round the manger, worshipping Him, when the Magi arrived.

Nothing would budge the lowly ones, so in love were they with what was now theirs.

Mary looked up and saw the newcomers, and was able gently to make a little room for the travellers from the East to approach the Child. These were men of education, sophistication who had travelled the known world, but as they crowded in to worship Him that night, they were shoulder by shoulder with filthy shepherds. They had to put up with the smell of the warm, moist breath of oxen and asses, too - and other smells, but they were all grateful for the animals being there; it was so very cold outside that night.

In fact, all of them were grateful for everything, that night.

The star was very beautiful, too.

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