“If we say we’re pro-life, then we have to be pro-life from cradle to the tomb and at every step in between. And that means embracing everything that looks odd or unnatural or not neuro-typical. When we do something like this, we are saying that we are pro-life. When we welcome this child or this adult who is broken and wounded, physically or emotionally or neurologically, we’re saying this is still a child of God, made in the image and likeness of God. And I think sometimes we forget that this is part of it, too. They need to feel like they’re not alone. These families need to feel welcome, need to feel part of the community, part of the parish.”
In Chicago, Old St. Patrick's Church holds a monthly Mass for those with special needs from September to May in the school cafeteria. The tables and casual setting work well for those with disabilities, some of whom are coloring on hand outs while having a snack. The ongoing special needs Mass at Holy Name Church in Fort Worth, Texas is held on Saturdays and is followed by a reception in the Family Life Center where families can meet others who live with a person with special needs in a social setting. Holy Trinity Church in Kuliouou, Hawaii holds a monthly special needs Mass followed by a potluck supper. In many parishes now, including those with disabilities means not just offering the special needs Mass but also religious education classes for those with special needs, including preparation to receive the sacraments. Mary Immaculate parish in Plainfield, Illinois offers not only a special needs Mass and CCD program, but a special needs choir (which joins the typical choir to sing at Mass and various events). Quite a few special needs Masses now have a sign interpreter for the hearing impaired and even a lectionary printed in braille for the blind.
The format of a special needs Mass often means shorter prayers, readings, and sermon, and songs that are easy to sing along to. The inclusive Masses understand and welcome the child having a meltdown or another flapping his hands, someone in a grumpy mood, those who are non-verbal.
In my diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, we now have fourteen parishes that hold regular special needs Masses, in some cases even twice a month. Sometimes my son refuses to shake hands with those around us; he usually won't make eye contact. More than once he's started ripping up the bulletin and kicking the kneeler. With unpredictable behavior, I often feel more comfortable at the special needs Mass where the setting is more accommodating. I'm so grateful to have the option of the inclusive Mass.