GIRM 293: Suitability For People

A brief look at the GIRM today, short section 293 :

293. The suitable arrangement of a church, and of what goes with it, in such a way as to meet appropriately the needs of our own age requires not only that care be taken as regards whatever pertains more immediately to the celebration of sacred actions but also that the faithful be provided with whatever is conducive to their appropriate comfort and is normally provided in places where people habitually gather.

The first thing that comes to mind for me is accessibility. Do churches provide a hospitable place for the elderly, those with mobility issues, and also with sensory impairments? One issue that may be of higher consideration than seat padding is the ergonomics of pew design. In one parish I served many years ago, people did complain about the pews and there was a call for padding. When I consulted with an expert he said that pads weren’t going to help as many people as a more sensible design for seating. In my very first parish, I remember there wasn’t enough room under the pews for people with larger feet to kneel comfortably. It was a combination of a canted floor in the nave, high kneelers, and low seating. It’s amazing what the accumulation of an inch in each of those factors will deliver in terms of a penitential experience.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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2 Responses to GIRM 293: Suitability For People

  1. Liam says:

    Indeed. Then there were the pews of the 19th century the seats of which were deliberately slanted down a bit… Fine for a 15-minute McMass, but a Missa Solemnis?

    One of my concerns in the designs of new churches and renovations of seating is to ensure there is a way for people with wheelchairs can sit with those who wheel them, AND not have those areas be commandeered for or compromised by the distribution of Holy Communion or the communion procession/recession.

    Then there are worship aids: easy access texts and music for all that the congregation (including, notably, visitors) is expected to join in, and texts/translations for all that the congregation is expected to participate in by listening intently. I provoked quite a stir over at CMAA this week on this point (a congregant with a laundry list of complaints, but that included the failure to include printed music for the ordinary being used, et cet.; similar to folks who have had such a longstanding allergy to pew missals or missalettes….). Many people do *not* engage best aurally, but are visual engagers (even if they actually can’t read music, btw); visitors get no chance to learn aurally by repetition. It’s perhaps one of the results of having left the world of orality 2+ centuries ago; the human brain does alter in this regard. (My brother, a rhetoric specialist, could go to town explaining that one.)

    And, of course, lavatories, where they can be provided. Why now and not through history? Among other things, people take a ton of medications (not only diuretics), unavailable in former times, that have the side effect of making them need quick access to them.

    • David D. says:

      The older pews often tend to be quiter shallow as well. Still, there’s very little sitting done at Mass especially the old Low Mass save for the homily and offertory.

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