Patrick Archbold is co-founder of Creative Minority Report, a Catholic website that puts a refreshing spin on the intersection of religion, culture, and politics. When not writing, Patrick is director of information technology at a large international logistics company in New York.
If ever they appoint me King of Liturgy, my first act as tyrant will be to kill all the ushers. Well, not the ushers themselves, but the position as it is currently conceived.
Ushers, in my mind, should limit their duties to assisting old people to find a seat on Christmas and Easter and maybe a few other small duties. What I do know is that the current tyranny of the ushers must stop.
I truly believe that the presence of ushers and forced row-by-row communion cajoles many people into receiving communion when they are not properly prepared.
A little anecdote. I was traveling over the New Year holiday and my family and I went to mass for the Solemnity of Mary on the December 31 vigil with my brother and his family. The mass was sparsely attended and there were many empty rows.
As it turned out, because of family activities during the afternoon and my absent mindedness, I accidentally ate something right before mass. Since the mass moved along fairly quickly, an hour had not elapsed since I ate before it was communion time and so I had to refrain from receiving.
Now, even though the mass was sparsely attended with many empty rows, the ushers were out there to ensure order was maintained. Now, my row had a lot of people in it, all of whom have the same last name as me. Since I was closest to the aisle, I decided it would be easier to exit the row rather than have everyone climb over me.
When I exited the row, the usher was standing right there helpfully waving me forward just in case I didn't see all the other people receiving communion or if I was suddenly struck by amnesia. However, since I would not be presenting myself for communion, I wanted to let everybody else exit. The problem was that the usher was in my way and waving me forward.
I tried to step around him, but he actually tried to body block me. Again I tried to move around him and this time he just stood there looking at me as if I was having a stroke. Rather than stand next to him, I circled around the back and re-entered my row from the other side. The usher watched me the whole time, utterly perplexed by my behavior.
Even though I recognize that the usher meant well and as appreciative as I am that he volunteers, I think this type of thing is indicative of a larger problem. This type of thing is by no means limited to the odd parish, but is an everyday occurrence in most parishes. There is considerable pressure via enforced order to receive communion whether or not you are properly prepared or risk standing out and inviting people to speculate as to why you are not receiving.
When I was a child, ushers did not do row by row communion in my parish. People presented themselves when and if they wanted to. If you chose not to present yourself for communion, nobody really had any idea. I have always thought that this system, while chaotic in appearance, is much more appropriate to the circumstances and more respectful of the individual consciences of those in attendance.