Here is the entire entry for “ushers” at Mass under the listing of liturgical functions in paragraph 105:
“Those who take up the collections in the church.”
That’s it. But you and I both know it encompasses so much more than that. No longer having those etherial nuns in our parish convents they easily rise to the top of the most mysterious grouping of persons in a parish. It is like a secret society with their own secret handshakes, dress codes, and private room (sometimes just a closet) in any given church. They hold great power. “Please move in so this family can have a place to sit.” They handle the wealth of the parish asking parishioners and visitors alike to cough it up as they pass the basket. They know all. “The bathroom is down the hall to the right.”
In all seriousness there are two things here. One is the functionary. Often everything that needs to be done at the Mass that is not liturgical is dumped on the ushers; reserving seats, taking the October counts, learning how to save lives with the defibrillator, passing things out, distributing bulletins, cleaning messes, and keeping a pulse on the parish - few are as well informed with the goings on around a parish than an usher.
But secondly bear in mind that their role is under liturgical functions. The collection IS a liturgical function, not a convenient time for the taking up of money. “Gosh that was a great homily dear, throw in an extra $20.” When we end the Liturgy of the Word where we learn more ABOUT God, and before we enter into the Liturgy of the Eucharist where we MEET God, we take up the offering. The Eucharist is the source and summit of our life. All we have flows from the Eucharist and returns back. What we gain in life that week then we return to offer some of it back.
Catholic “tithing” has 6 components:
- It is voluntary: It is not a tax. One must choose to give it or it is not really a gift.
- It should be proportionate: It’s one thing for a billionaire to give $20, it is quite another for a family of 5 where the parents are out of work and in danger of losing their house to give $1. Compared to the billionaire, they have 1,000s of times more.
- It should be systematic: In other words, part of the budget. I don’t just give to the parish because they need to pay the gas bill on which they are behind, but rather I give weekly like giving a kid his allowance.
- Sacrificial is the difficult one. It shouldn’t just be the change one happens to have in one’s pocket. It is set aside right away and should not be insignificant to a person (such as the $20 from a billionaire.)
- It can be divided: Not every penny goes to the parish. It is imperative that the parish be supported because if it doesn’t come from the parishioners, the parish ceases to exits. There is no magical well. But there are other needs in the community and the world: mission appeals, favorite charities, the person you know that needs assistance . . .
- Finally, it should be liturgical: The collection at Mass is a liturgical function, not merely a bill to be paid. This is why the ushers are listed under the section for those who fulfill a liturgical function. Those who do not give do not participate in this part of the Mass.
It also prompts questions concerning on-line giving. As far as being able to meet the parish budget, I am a HUGE fan of on-line giving. It is a constant upon which we can rely. If you go to Florida for the winter, if you were sick in bed Sunday morning with the flu, if you forgot or lost your envelope, we will still be able to pay the gas bill! So what might be a solution? Maybe this would be a good time just to sneak in something to the basket that just happened to be in your pocket. Maybe that extra dollar that you might not otherwise miss. This way you not only help stabilize the financial health of the parish and participate in the offertory giving, but you allow the ushers to fulfill their liturgical function and otherwise keep them out of trouble.
There are so many great stories about ushers. I will share only one. This took place in Cleveland. I am surprised that it worked since the community of ushers tends to be tight knit. But there was a guy who put on a coat and tie, walked into a Catholic church, grabbed a basket, and helped take up the collection and then promptly walked out the back door. Can you imagine the chutzpa? Unfortunately for him, he had the cheekiness to try to do it two weeks in a row. For his efforts he got a ride from Mass in a nice car with lights on the top.