Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Vocation the Church Forgets to Pray For

Every week, in parishes across the world, we offer special intentions at the Eucharist and very often we pray for an increase in vocations. To many ears, it sounds as though the concern is only to increase the number of priests and religious throughout the world. This, however, is not true: when we pray for an increase in vocations, we are really praying that each one of us embraces the calling that has been received, whether it to be a priest, a religious, or (for most people) to the vocation of marriage.

Today at Mass, however, I realized that there is a vocation we should pray for daily: the vocation of the Church Usher. I think these are the unsung heroes of many parishes when you consider just a few things they too often have to deal with:

  • They have to encourage people to move down into the pew so that others may enter, a risky move because ceding the end of the pew thwarts the easy-access escape route if the priest decides to give an insufferably long homily
  • They have to shepherd the perfectly-coiffed-yet-egregiously-late family into the church and find them a seat while the Gospel is being read
  • They have to glower at the folks who try to "make change" in the collection basket, retrieving a Five and Four Ones in exchange for a Ten.
I salute the ushers and I wish only to encourage them in their service to the Church. In fact, I wish that we could have special usher-training seminars offered so that they could learn how to deal with issues such as:

  • The location of the church's narthex. The narthex is not the phantom zone but, rather, the entrance of the church where unruly children ought to be taken when they begin to run back and forth on the pew. Ushers should be given free reign to remove the children there - in chains if necessary. 
  • They should know how to explain to obnoxious children that "Kneelers are for kneeling" and are not balance beams, nor are they step-stools to give one a better view of the action. 
  • They might be equipped with little cattle prods - we don't need them with tremendous voltage, of course - that they might use on poor-postured teens as they rest their backsides on the pew when they could very easily kneel during the consecration.
  • Surely they should feel free to remind people that the sign of peace is not a code word for "recess" that enables you to take a breather from the ritual of Mass and start making plans with the kids about (1) when to leave Mass - either after communion or when the priest leaves - or (2) where to have brunch or (3) to critique the hideous dress/hat/suit the neighbor is wearing. 
  • They should affix signs to each pew that read, "Parents, please curb your children." Within the liturgical setting, "Curbing a child" simply means that the bags of cheerios, gum, and the varietal of fruitsnacks that are apparently necessary to feed the child during Mass are picked up and cleaned up at the end (that is, of course, if they stay until they end and don't "dine and dash" from the Communion line)
  • Ushers should feel free to remind parents that little Billy certainly can sit still for an hour: he sits still for many hours when he is playing video games, as is apparent from his pasty white appearance, nascent obesity, and poor social skills. What we are celebrating at the Mass is the living bread; this is far more interesting than the living dead he shoots at on the screen.
  • Ushers should feel free to escort people out of the church. If you were at the Yankees game and started running across the seats, surely you'd be tossed for being a drunk. Why is it that we tolerate behavior at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that we wouldn't tolerate at Nascar?
I totally own that I am being entirely misanthropic. Yet today I left Mass enraged at the gross incompetence demonstrated by some of the parents. My mother would have killed us if we had acted up during Mass. This is not to say we were perfect - far from it - but at least we were generally rather good. Today, I saw behavior that was simply intolerable and I watched with horror as one mother in particular just let it happen. 

While I write this "tongue in cheek" I do wish people were more sensitive to their surroundings at Mass. People come with all sorts of issues and affairs weighing or elevating their hearts and the church ought to be a place where peace and sanctuary might be found. It's very difficult to pray with distractions -- I cannot write without there being complete silence, nor can I pray. While it is totally countercultural to claim a place of silence in our lives, I do think it necessary and something that we owe to one another that we maintain a respectful and reverential atmosphere at Mass. 
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