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Welcoming Those with Special Needs to the Lord’s Table

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By Noelle Collis-DeVito

I sat there at Mass two pews behind a family who had a little boy with special needs. His parents struggled with him as he moved around the pew, played with the books and even occasionally spoke to them. During the homily he began to recite the alphabet, not loudly, but loud enough for those around him to hear. His parents became quite flustered. I longed to say something to comfort and welcome them, but they were a few rows ahead of me, and I didn’t want to make a scene. I resolved that I would encourage them during the Sign of Peace; however, I never got the opportunity, because after about 10 minutes, they left the church looking embarrassed and defeated.

This family is not alone in their struggle. A large percentage of Catholic families with special needs have felt forced to abandon weekly Mass attendance due to stigma and the difficulties associated with unpredictable behavior during the liturgy.

To better welcome these families to the Lord’s Table, the Office for Respect Life Ministries recently hosted a sensory-friendly Mass at St. Helen Parish. This liturgy specifically catered to those with special needs by using lower lights, softer music, low-gluten hosts and pictorial missals. Bishop Binzer presided and offered a more literal and interactive homily that engaged the entire congregation. For the families who attended, the most significant accommodation was the elimination of any stigma they previously encountered. One participant said, “It was so wonderful to feel like we weren’t a burden, distraction or inconvenience.”

In order to assist parishes in creating these opportunities to embrace the entire Body of Christ, the Office for Respect Life Ministries has created a variety of resources as well as a Facebook Support Group, @SpecialNeedsAoC. Several Dayton parishes have already committed to regularly scheduled sensory-friendly Masses, and our goal is to expand the ministry to other deaneries within the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.

UPCOMING SENSORY-FRIENDLY MASSES

St. Francis of Assisi
6245 Wilmington Pike Centerville, OH 45459
Saturday, August 3 (5:00 p.m.) Saturday, September 7 (5:00 p.m.) Saturday, October 5 (5:00 p.m.) Saturday, November 2 (5:00 p.m.) Saturday, December 7 (5:00 p.m.)

St. Albert the Great
3033 Far Hills Ave.
Dayton, OH 45429
Saturday, August 10 (4:30 p.m.) Saturday, October 12 (4:30 p.m.) Saturday, December 14 (4:30 p.m.)

St. Henry Parish
6696 N. Springboro Pike Dayton, OH 45449
Sunday, October 13 at 12:30 p.m. Community-wide Mass
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