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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Those Grand Ushers

A traditional mainstay at Sunday Mass is disappearing, and it is a tragedy. It seems that for time immemorial--at least in the United States--the usher has been an ubiquitous presence at Sunday Mass. Usually, these gentlemen were of the retired set. They generally dressed up in a coat and tie and were very distinguished in their reverence and propriety at Mass. The stately old gentlemen made sure that the folks were escorted to their seats and that latecomers were found seats. In many ways they performed the duties of a Sergeant-at-Arms during the Mass.

Each Mass on Sunday morning would have its own set of ushers. It seemed as if there were a hierarchy. Now perhaps this is just my experience, but I seem to recall the "younger" old guys (or even middle aged gentlemen) at the early Masses. As if on the cursus honorum for ushers, they seemed to be relegated to the early Masses (ala' 6:00am or 7:30am). Once one achieved a certain sort of respectability, he might ascend to the last Mass of the morning (generally around 12:30pm). But the cream of the crop would be reserved for the "big Mass" (generally, the mid-morning 10:00am or 11:00am Mass). These guys seemed also to be picked for the Midnight Mass on Christmas and the other "nuclear High Masses" (as my father would call them).

Unfortunately, this breed has become quite rare and the liturgical poachers have done their best to do away with them. Instead we are treated to the "Greeter Ministry" or "Hospitality Ministry." Ok. All our readers know by now that I have no patience for the ridiculous. A "Ministry of Greeters" is simply ridiculous. First of all, I object to the use of the word ministry, as it more properly should be reserved to liturgical functions (and those functions presbyteral in nature). Second, who really wants the local busybody, thrusting her sausage-link fingers towards another with a big "Good morning, welcome to our faith community;" (make no mistake, the local busybodies are those who are attracted to this sort of thing). Third, where is this "ministry" provided for in the GIRM, Sacrosanctum Concilium or Redemptionis Sacramentum? Protestants do these things, Catholics don't. If you want to be touchy-feely do it at a campfire with some real cool praise and worship hymns.

A friend of mine, a law professor, attended Mass at a parish that was recently "wreckovated." The kneelers were removed, the church was rearranged to be "Kum By Ya" in the round, Our Lord was hidden, images were gone and the jacuzzi...er...baptismal font was larger than the altar. They, of course, had the professional greeters but they also had an old cadre of ushers. She commented on the elderly gentlemen who were the ushers. They seemingly didn't know where to go because of the new arrangement and couldn't help but be a bit lost. They voiced their opinions rather loud, throughout the Mass--not realizing that their hearing aids must not have been working properly. This esteemed professor of law commented--very insightfully--that these gentlemen reminded her of the two old men in the balcony from the Muppet Show.

Bring back the ushers!! Even more for the fact that their hearing aids don't work and we hear the common sense that comes from their mouths.

UPDATE: It seems that our readers are very perceptive indeed! Some have cited the Wal-Mart factor with the "ministers of hospitality" or "greeters." Well, it seems that the campus ministry types--who generally are in charge of these things--had Wal-Mart in mind when they recommend these changes. Consider these pieces:

(1) Fr. Richstatter, OFM on "The ministry of Hospitality." (AM's comment: Some seminary psychologist probably told him that a condition of admission was to check his testicles at the door.)

(2) Ms. Kristeen Bruun, on "Hospitality at Church." (AM's comment: "Kristeen A. Bruun, of the Gesu Parish in Milwaukee, Wis., has worked in parish ministry for the past 20 years." Told you so!