The History of the Ministry
The ministry of a Welcomer and an Usher can be traced back to the Old Testament. The Second Book of the Kings mentions: " ... the silver contributed to the Temple of Yahweh and collected by the guardians of the threshold." (22: 4). The "guardians of the threshold" reappear in the First Book of Chronicles where: "Shallum son of Kore. son of Ebiasaph, son of Korah and his brothers" are described as being in charge of ministerial service as doorkeepesr of the Tent as their ancestors has been keepers of the entrance of the camp of Yahweh (9: 19) - Shallum reappears in Jeremiah 35: 4. It seems that Shallum was not alone in his minstry for the First Book or Chronicles records that:
"A census was taken of those Levites thirty year old and upwards. On a count of heads, they numbered thirty-eight thousand men; twenty-four thousand were responsible for the service of the House of Yahweh, six thousand were officials and judges, four thousand were gatekeepers and four thousand praised Yahweh on the instruments which David had made for praising him." (23: 3-5).
Four thousand gatekeepers - imagine trying to co-ordinate that rota!.
In the Christian centuries the role of Porter appears - it is mentioned in a fourth century document from the Syrian church. By the time of St. Thomas Aquinas it had become one of the four minor orders carrying out some of the functions originally performed by deacons in the early church. The order of Porter, it had become a step towards the ordination to the priesthood, was suppressed along with the other minor orders by Pope Paul IV in 1972.
This, however, did not signify the end of the ministry. The minor order might have been suppressed but the ministry remained and following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council with its renewed emphasis on an active role within the Church for the laity it assumed a new importance.
The Nature of the Ministry.
When the faithful gather for Mass Christ is present in a number of ways. He is present in the person of the priest standing 'in persona Christi', He is present sacramentaly in the consecrated bread and wine, He is present in the proclaimed Word of God and he is present in His Church as represented by the assembled people. The Ministry of Welcome seeks to ensure that all feel that they have a place in that assembly and through this that can enter wholeheartedly into the celebration of the liturgy, giving thanks to God for the love he has poured out on us.
There is an old saying that “you cannot create a first impression twice”. So it is with any parish, any Catholic community. A visitor’s or a new parishioner’s view of the community around them is significantly shaped by the presence or absence of a welcoming atmosphere when they enter a new church for the first time. Although the Ministry of Welcome to newcomers, and to all, extends to all members of the community a special responsibility falls on those who have come forward for this Ministry – very often the first people that a stranger will meet or speak to when entering the church for the first time – and you cannot create a first impression twice.
Many Catholics bemoan the perceived lack of reverence that they see has crept into the Church following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The Ministry of Welcome asks us to address the question of reverence towards our neighbour an a fellow temple of the Holy Spirit and a co-heir of God’s grace through the hospitality that we show them for when we welcome the least of these, we welcome the Lord Himself.
I am interested in this ministry - what will it involve me doing?
As a Welcomer you will be asked to arrive early, about twenty minutes, before the start of the Sunday Mass to greet people as they arrive, to hand out the weekly newsletter, children’s newsletter, hymn books and other items as required. You will also be asked to count and record how many people attend the Mass when you are on duty. At the end of Mass you will be asked to collect any hymn books as they are handed in and to say 'goodbye' to people as they leave. There is a rota, see link below, so for most weeks you will not be on duty. You can still attend your usual Mass and will not be asked to change your Mass going routine.
As an Usher you duties before (and during for latecomers) Mass will involve helping people, especially the aged, frail and infirm parishioners, to their seats. During the Mass you will be asked to supervise and participate in the taking of the collection and in taking this to the sacristy and in ensuring that the Procession with the Gifts is ready to move at the appropriate moment in the Mass. In addition you will asked to deal with any matters that may arise within the congregation during the Mass.
Lawrence E.Mick (1997) - Guide for Ushers and Greeters. [The Basics of Ministry Series]. Chicago. Liturgy Training Publications.