Back-pew Catholics aren’t worried about the responsibilities of liturgical ministries. They can arrive as Mass is about to begin, or sometime thereafter. And, they can sneak out before the final recessional or as soon as the last note is sung. Meanwhile the front-pews linger after in small groups around the organ or sacristy, sharing their common bond of inner circle intimacy. The staggered arrival and departure patterns mean that the paths of the front-pews and back-pews seldom cross.
There is anonymity in the back pews. When a front-pew Catholic is hurt, disillusioned, or angry and decides to leave, their absence is glaringly apparent. It is much easier to slip in, or slip out of parish life in the back pews. The back pews can also be a refuge for those who are taking the first, hesitant steps at entering or re-entering a parish community and want to do so without any fanfare. There were many times when we sought the comfort of the back pews.
If you want to avoid sitting in the front, don’t arrive late into a crowded church – especially with teenagers in tow. Being ushered to the empty pew in front once mass has begun is a true walk of shame for them. We used it as a threat on Sunday mornings. Hurry up, or you’ll be sitting in the front!