Maybe this is just my experience, but having been to many parishes in my life since certain roles have been opened up to women or laity in general, I see a majority of EMHC as women, a majority of readers, a majority in the choir, and probably 50/50 female altar servers, organist/music leaders, and people bringing up the bread and wine.
And yet, for some reason, going down the aisles with the collection basket seems to be the only lay role that remains in practice the exclusive province of men.
Here’s my two cents based on my experience as a Mass Coordinator.
Ushers, along with getting people seated and doing the collection baskets, are also generally the first to deal with an emergency (if someone faints and needs to be carried away), if someone needs help getting in or out of a pew (since they also dismiss people from their pews to go receive communion), or if someone is being disruptive and needs to be removed. A man then would be preferred for obvious reasons. It was never mandatory that ushers be only men at the parish I was at, but 99% of them were for the scenarios I listed.
Interesting, I guess I was unaware of their expanded role, but now that you mention it my childhood parish (which was large) had a more active usher crew (they even had matching jackets with name tags). In my area now, they don’t seem to do much other than the baskets, myself having done it myself for a while, when I was asked to.
And that may be it too–they seem to be self regulated group where a new person is brought in on the invitation of the others, whereas other roles are advertised as needed in the bulletin. Why not that one?
It’s just a cultural curiosity I got to thinking about.
I always see women passing the baskets at the parishes where there are baskets that are passed and then the usher takes the basket and hands it to the next row.
At parishes where ushers are using the long-handled basket, it tends to be men maneuvering the basket. My guess is that they tend to have longer arms and more upper-body strength to do this gyration down 50 pews or sometimes twice that if they have to do double duty or take up a second collection. I think a lot of women would have trouble reaching the basket down the whole pew because their physical reach is not long enough.
I would also guess that in the past when people did not contribute online and many people were putting change in the basket, it could get quite heavy to reach a long-handled basket full of change 6 feet down the pew, so the job was given to men.
First, they do exist, my parish sometimes has an elderly female.
Second, a quick note: The collection baskets are typically handled by the ushers, the same people who help people find seats when the church is packed. It’s not a different group. Just wanted to make that clear.
In general, I think there are two main reasons why you don’t see many female ushers:
In my experience, this ministry is simply not one many women are interested in doing. At weddings, ushers are ALMOST exclusively men, and I think the mindset generally carries over from Weddings to regular masses.
Additionally, historically, the usher job evolved from the Porters, who were responsible for security during mass. They were also responsible making sure the unbaptized & non-Catholics left once the Mass of the Eucharist began.
In SOME parishes, the historic security part of the job is still part of the ushers’ job. These parishes tend to prefer using current/retired policemen, military, EMTs, etc as their ushers. Others don’t actively look for emergency personnel, but still expect the ushers to be involved during an emergency (disorderly conduct, active shooter, someone attacking the priest, fire, medical, theft of Eucharist, etc).
Then, you have some parishes, (where they have plenty of empty seats) simply viewing this job as collecting the offerings, counting the # of people at mass, and handing out bulletins - nothing about security at all. But historically, the job was more about security.
We have a number of women help with what we call “hospitality.” They greet people and help as needed, and also help during the collection. But they also help find additional people to help with the collection and to bring up the gifts if nobody comes forward that is having the mass said for a family member. Most are also an EMHC, and pass out bulletins. People of both genders are getting harder to recruit.
In my parish I myself have helped with the passing of the collection baskets a few times and there is one other woman that’s definitely a regular at doing it. We also have about a 50/50 gender split with lector’s and altar servers. The ushers do tend to be male, usually the knights of Columbus sign up to do that particular task. And the males that help with the collection baskets, I’ve noticed are mostly knights too. My husband is a knight, and maybe that’s why we’ve been asked to help with the collection a few times.
It’s also untrue because as I said, I see many women assisting with basket-passing when it’s just baskets being handed down the row, which is how a lot of churches do it nowadays because the pews are curved and you couldn’t use the basket on a long stick without hitting somebody in the head.