A place to begin: sensory-friendly Masses

By Mary Kaye Falcony

A Place for All

When this column began in 2020, I wrote an article headlined, “Where Do We Begin?” Since then, I have heard that question asked numerous times from our parish liaisons in regard to establishing a disability ministry in their parish.

How do we know what is needed? How do we make our presence known in our community so that people are aware that we are available to be of assistance? Where might we find the information, education and resources we will need to effectively accompany individuals with diverse needs and their families? What elements are present in a community that welcomes all and creates an environment of belonging?

So, we pose the question once again. Where do we begin? The National Catholic Partnership on Disability suggests that, to begin, “Expertise is not needed. All that is necessary is the will to meet each person, get to know him or her, and form a relationship. To do this, it is important to consider various forms of communication; various ways of moving in spaces; various ways of participating; and various ways to nurture an environment of belonging.”

As I write this column, we are a few days away from celebrating “A Mass for All” in St. Francis Xavier Parish’s St. John Church in Vincennes. Coverage of the Mass appears in this issue of The Message.

It will be a sensory-friendly Mass. The differences you may notice are the dimming of lights, softer music, the use of the Children’s Lectionary for the readings and a shortened homily. In addition, an ASL interpreter may be present; and there may be large-print missals available. Other things you may notice are the use of noise cancelling headphones, fidgets, alternative seating or movement that may provide greater comfort for individuals and families. To celebrate Mass in this way allows individuals with diverse needs and their families to participate more easily.

I don’t believe that many of us who attend Sunday Mass fully understand the many things that must be taken into account for those with special needs. Many individuals must think of how they will navigate the space if using a wheelchair or a walker. Individuals with hearing loss often need the aid of listening devices to participate more fully, and those who are deaf benefit from an ASL interpreter. Parents of children with disabilities must contemplate and anticipate the challenges they may face during the course of the celebration.

David and Mercedes Rizzo are the parents of Danielle. Danielle has autism and is non-verbal. In articles and books, David and Mercedes have shared the ways they share their faith with their daughter and provided insights to others regarding their lived experiences of faith, family and special needs. The two articles listed below provide readers with a parent’s perspective. This perspective is helpful because it fosters greater understanding for others, whcih they may not otherwise have had, and it enlightens as to how others may be of support to individuals with diverse needs and their families. “How to Celebrate Mass with a Child with Special Needs,” and “What Parents of a Child with Special Needs Would Tell a Parish Audience,” can be found at: www.loyolapress.com/authors/david-and-mercedes-rizzo.

If you are interested in learning more about sensory-friendly Masses or about disability ministry, please contact the Office of Catechesis at 812 424 5536, ext. 218, or email mkfalcony@evdio.org.