I was approached one Sunday evening at the beginning of Mass and was asked to help take up the collection. I figured that’s what I got for sitting in the last row after rushing in during the opening song. It had been one of those Sundays—and I was thankful my parish had an evening Mass. But I was less than thankful that I had been asked to help out, which I immediately felt bad about. After all, it was Mass and this was my parish.
However, I think everyone would agree that the collection is no one’s favorite part of the Mass. Either it is awkward as the basket is being passed around and you realize that you forgot your checkbook again (because who uses checks anymore) or it is distracting from prayer as you can’t help but stare at the usher’s very odd tie. Then, there’s always that moment when the collection basket is brought up—which always seems to be long after the gifts have been presented—and the ushers march back to the sacristy as if the Eucharistic prayers were not even happening. I was less than thrilled that now I got to be that person bringing up the collection basket.
This is not going to be a venting session, I promise. I did learn something very valuable from this small experience, and I am quite grateful for that. What I expected to be a distracting and awkward moment of the Mass actually became a prayerful and edifying experience. Holding the long pole on the basket—and trying my hardest not to clock someone in the head as I moved pew to pew—I felt as if I was collecting the prayers, concerns, and desires of the community. Some people gave very generously, others, whatever they could find, but all of it contributed to the communal desire to help the parish and the community. I imagined that even those who could not give still offered up to the Lord their time, talent, and treasure in other, more hidden, and perhaps underappreciated ways. What was brought up to the altar was not just a basket of money, it was a collection of gifts from the heart of the community.
If you have ever considered being an usher at your parish community, I invite you to consider some of the positives and negatives that go along with the much-needed task.
Let’s start with the negatives.
- You will have an active and somewhat distracted role during the Mass. I list this as a negative because it is all too easy to miss part of the Liturgy of the Word as latecomers need assistance finding seating or part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist as the money needs to be brought to the safe. Sometimes ushers stay by the exits of the church to point guests to the bathroom or be ready to assist people in case of an emergency. If you find that you are already distracted at Mass, being an usher may add to the distraction.
- You have to ask people for money. Now, you’re not actually asking people to give, but you are the person holding the basket out, and for some people, that’s not a comfortable thing to do. I am one of those people.
- It’s a thankless role. Besides the thoughtless “thank you” I mutter when handed a bulletin, I don’t think I’ve ever thanked an usher for what he or she has done. And yet, if there is an emergency or a visitor at Mass, we all expect the usher to know what to do or be the smiling face to welcome in the stranger.
Alright, on to the positives.
- You get to meet a lot of people. If you are new to a parish community, or if you would like to reach out to others in your community, consider being an usher. Now you have a legitimate excuse to approach and talk to someone because everyone needs somewhere to sit. Learning people’s names and making them feel welcome is an invaluable role in evangelization.
- There will always be a seat reserved for you. Some might chuckle at this, but some churches do fill up quickly and standing room only is reserved for the latecomers. But, ushers always have a back pew or chair reserved for them, even if they graciously give it up.
- Ushering is a beautiful way to be the visible reminder of stewardship for the parish community. We are all asked to give of ourselves, whether that be through time, talent, or treasure, but that may be something we forget when we go to Mass. The usher, through welcoming, praying, and serving during the Mass, reminds everyone to support the community however God is asking them to.
Be sure to thank your parish ushers the next time you see them, and don’t pass up an opportunity to assist at Mass, in any way, shape or form, because the Lord likely has something deeper in store for you through that act of service.
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Caroline Harvey is the associate communication director for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Prior to working at the archdiocese, Caroline worked in various ministry positions throughout southeast Wisconsin, focusing on teaching and discipleship. She is pursuing a doctor of ministry degree in liturgical catechesis from the Catholic University of America. She has a master of arts degree in biblical theology and a bachelor of arts in communications media from John Paul the Great Catholic University.
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