Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Greeting the People of God
by Father Jan Larson
(From the June 12, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
The Church’s official liturgical books describe some liturgical roles that are called “special ministries.” These include the sacristan, who arranges the liturgical books, the vestments and other things which are necessary for the celebration. Also mentioned are the commentator, who provides brief explanations to help introduce people to various parts of the celebration, and those people who are designated to take up the collection. Many parishes may not have a regular sacristan, and the role of commentator has virtually disappeared, although it was quite common in the late sixties and early seventies when the Vatican II liturgical reforms were quite new to people.
One other ministry that is mentioned is what we have often come to call the “minister of hospitality.” The General Instruction on the Roman Missal describes these ministers as “those who, in some places greet the faithful at the church entrance, seat them, and direct processions.” In times past the people who assisted in seating people were called ushers, and they gathered the collection as well. But the official norms for the celebration of Mass separate these tasks into two distinct ministries. One reason is that more people of the community can serve as ministers of the liturgy if there are numerous officially designated ministries. Another reason is that ministers of hospitality, or greeters as they are sometimes called, require something more than would be required of those who take the collection. Greeters, ministers of hospitality, need to be able to demonstrate hospitality. This means they must be able to greet people in a friendly manner as they come into the church, doing so with welcome and with graciousness. Taking the collection, on the other hand, does not require verbal exchanges with people, and so is, for the most part, a silent ministry.
We hear from Catholics who have joined Protestant churches that one of the principal attractions of these other congregations is the sense of hospitality and welcome that is offered to visitors and newcomers. And this is certainly our experience in other areas of life. Warmth and cordiality are what first of all attract us to and impress us about individuals or groups of people. It is a lasting and powerful first impression, and it is clearly so important to our human experience that the liturgy designates such bringers of welcome and hospitality as official ministers. These ministers would greet people coming to the church, welcoming everyone, and offering a special word of welcome to those visiting. Greeters might also offer people their copy of the parish bulletin either before of after the liturgy. They would be familiar with the facilities and with parish life in general, so as to be of assistance to people with questions. They may also help people find seating, being careful not to embarrass latecomers or to distract others who are trying to pray or listen to the scripture readings. In summary, this is a powerful ministry, for we know from our personal experience that a little warmth and a little welcome go a long way.
(Father Larson is a priest of and liturgical consultant for the Archdiocese of Seattle.)
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