Exhort the people to be faithful to the assembly of the Church. Let them not fail to attend, but let them gather faithfully together. Let no one deprive the Church by staying away; if they do, they deprive the Body of Christ of one of its members! (Didascalia, chapter 13)

The Didascalia is an early Church manuscript, probably from the third century, based on the teachings of the twelve apostles. The author is unknown.

Continuing on the topic from last week’s article, how do we as parish leaders reach out to those who have stayed away from Mass because their particular physical, sensory, mental or emotional disability is too great a challenge to handle alone?

The United States Catholic Bishops recently revised their Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities. Here is a sampling of the general principles outlined in that guideline:

  • All human beings are equal in dignity in the sight of God. Moreover, by reason of their baptism, all Catholics also share the same divine calling.”
  • “Catholics with disabilities have a right to participate in the sacraments as fully as other members.”
  • “Parish sacramental celebrations should be accessible to persons with disabilities and open to their full, active, and conscious participation, according to their capacity. Pastoral ministers should not presume to know the needs of persons with disabilities, but should rather — before all else — consult with them. Full accessibility should be the goal for every parish, and these adaptations are to be an ordinary part of the liturgical life of the parish.”
  • Special effort should be made to reach out to and welcome all parishioners, including persons with disabilities who live independently, with their families, in institutions, or in other living arrangements. Pastoral visitation, the parish census, and the diverse forms of parish and diocesan social communication are just a few ways in which the pastoral staff can work toward the inclusion of all parishioners in the parish’s sacramental life.”
  • “Persons with disabilities, like all other parishioners, should be encouraged to participate in all levels of pastoral ministry that are available and for which they are qualified. Catholics with disabilities are not only recipients of the Gospel, but are also called to proclaim it and to be witnesses to its truth.”
  • The creation of a full accessible parish reaches beyond mere physical accommodation to encompass the attitudes of all parishioners toward persons with disabilities. All members of the faith community have a role to play in the invitation, welcome, and inclusion of people with disabilities. Pastoral ministers are encouraged to foster attitudes and a parish culture, and to develop informational materials, aimed at forming a community of believers known for its joyful inclusion of all of God’s people around the table of the Lord.”

Here are some ideas on how to reach out to persons with disabilities in your parish:

1. Run weekly notices in the bulletin, and regular Sunday announcements, encouraging families with members who have special needs, and who do not yet feel connected with the community and the liturgy, to contact the parish office and identify themselves.

2. Develop a parish outreach ministry to persons with special needs. The pastor/pastoral staff would identify community members with the confidence and sensitivity needed to conduct interviews with the people with disabilities. 

3. Extend an invitation to these community members to be a part of this outreach ministry, and offer some kind of training to help them fulfill their new task. The pastor should be sure to maintain regular contact with these ministers.

4. Once these individuals have agreed to participate, the pastor/pastoral staff would meet with them and develop sets of interview questions, adaptable to all the various circumstances they will encounter. 

5. These Outreach Ministers would then be given names of persons with disabilities from the information collected by the parish office, and make appointments with those people 

6. Persons with special needs are most often on the peripheries of a parish community. The goal of these home visits would be to provide a connection for them with the community at large, invite them into the center of parish liturgical life, and, through the interview questions, determine their liturgical needs and how the parish could make adaptations to accommodate those needs. 

7. Any information about needed liturgical adaptations would be given to the parish pastoral council/liturgy committee to determine how to fulfill those needs.

8. The Outreach minister would continue to maintain regular communication with their assigned individuals, and help to provide whatever pastoral care is needed.

May we be a church where all are truly welcome and equal in dignity!