We recently celebrated Vocations Awareness Week here in the United States. A diocesan Vocations director reminded me during a conversation recently that the Priesthood has one of the highest “job satisfaction” ratings of all “professions” (I use quotes because while the Priesthood is a profession, it’s more than that, as a Vocation). Despite high job satisfaction, another reality the faithful are often unaware of is how busy our priests are and the demands placed upon them. All of us are busy, and our priests are no exception.
The U.S. Catholic Bishops have repeatedly challenged parish leadership to not allow excuses, even busyness, to deter disability integration efforts at every parish, though. So, we thought this week we would offer three simple, easily achievable ways priests and especially pastors can improve disability integration at their parishes without becoming overwhelmed:
- Let Parishioners Know Which Eucharistic Prayer/Mass Parts Will Be Used Ahead of Time. Verbally at the start of Mass and/or through visual cues, let parishioners know which Mass Parts and which Eucharistic Prayer will be used in that particular Mass. For deaf parishioners, those with developmental disabilities, and/or parishioners with auditory processing issues, being able to follow along to the prayers and Mass parts visually could allow a whole new level of access and engagement with the Sunday Liturgy. It also only takes about five seconds to let parishioners know how to follow along, as well.
- Have a Special, Monthly Liturgy for Parishioners with Developmental or Intellectual Disabilities. This one seems like it might be time consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. First, team up with priests from your Deanery to rotate who will preside over the disability-friendly Mass. Each priest would only have the new Mass to celebrate once per month or every other month if offering the Mass weekly, or perhaps even only once per year if offering the disability-friendly Mass once per month. Second, a full Sunday Mass might be too long for some individuals with disabilities – having a shorter Mass (e.g. without music) might be appropriate. It also might be appropriate to offer a monthly Communion Service for individuals who need an even shorter liturgy to participate in. Important note: we should never decide for any individual which or what kind of liturgy is better for them – they should decide. Also, we need to remember the USCCB’s reminder of the primacy of place for the regular Mass and the use of a Communion Service only in cases where absolutely needed.
- Develop a Strategic Plan. Again, this one seems like it could be time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be (at least not in the beginning) and here’s why: Delegation. Form a team of individuals with disabilities, professionals, and staff to create a strategic plan for integration in the three areas of parish life (worship, formation, and community). No matter how well read you might be, no one except individuals with disabilities and their loved ones will have the expertise needed for disability integration, so you’ll need to rely on the disability community anyway. Find a parish that is doing disability integration really well and see if they have someone who can consult with your team. I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out that groups and organizations, such as Uniquely Catholic, are also available to work with your team to develop a strategic plan.
Priests, we love you and we thank you for your love and service for the Church. Hopefully this short list helps disability integration seem more achievable for you. We can’t do disability integration without you and doing this will only add to that enrichment you feel from ministering to the Body of Christ.
So we’ll end by showing our appreciation through prayer and inviting everyone to pray the Prayer for Priests from the USCCB:
“Gracious and loving God, we thank your for the gift of our priests.
Through them, we experience your presence in the sacraments.
Help our priests to be strong in their vocation.
Set their souls on fire with love for your people.
Grant them the wisdom, understanding, and strength they need to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Inspire them with the vision of your Kingdom.
Give them the words they need to spread the Gospel.
Allow them to experience joy in their ministry.
Help them to become instruments of your divine grace.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns as our Eternal Priest.