We all belong to the Body of Christ

The church also must meet people’s needs for “belonging, relating to others and cultivating their spiritual lives so they experience the fullness and blessing of the Lord” for the “unique and marvelous gift” that they are, Pope Francis told a group of people with disabilities and those who minister with them.  Dec. 3, 2022

“All this time, we had been looking at our child through the wrong lens – the world’s lens.  Instead, we should have been looking at her through God’s lens.  If we had done that, we would realize that her purpose is the exact same one as ours:  to glorify God.  She is just going to fulfill that purpose in a very different way…God created each of us and He has the ability to use all of us for His glory.”

Ginny Hannan, (parent of a child with special needs) Changing the Lens with Your Special Needs Child

Inclusive Catechesis

Parish catechetical programs should meet the needs of children with disabilities and diverse learners.

Meet with parents to have them help you develop the Best Plan for their child which may be one of following:

  • In class with some support: special considerations, adapted materials
  • In class with an aide (could be a relative, student mentor or volunteer)
  • In a smaller group with adapted curriculum
  • One on one Instruction, possibly for sacrament preparation, with adapted curriculum

It is important to note that the U.S. Bishops recommend that persons with disabilities should participate in a typical classroom with their peers as much as possible. 

Parish catechetical and sacramental preparation programs may need to be adapted for some parishioners with disabilities, though, as much as possible, persons with disabilities should be integrated into the ordinary programs. They should not be segregated for specialized catechesis unless their disabilities make it impossible for them to participate in the basic catechetical program. Even in those cases, participation in parish life is encouraged in all ways possible. 

- Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities, Revised Edition, USCCB, 2017, par.5.

Tips for Welcoming People with Disabilities at Mass What to Expect

  • Be patient and maintain a welcoming spirit.
  • Schedule an usher/greeter to welcome and assist groups of guests with disabilities.
  • Expect greeting and seating to take additional time for those arriving from group homes or organizations
  • Requests for gluten-free Hosts
  • Develop a plan with your pastor for providing the assistive listening devices, worship aids, accommodations you offer (especially a Communion special or ASL seating, procedure for those who need a low-gluten Host).
  • Train other accommodations. Eucharistic Ministers and ushers in this plan so they can provide everything and direct people smoothly.
  • Consider a Reserved Seating section up front if your attendance warrants it.
  •  Invite/encourage these guests to sit up front or ask where they prefer to sit.
  • They may prefer to stay in the back or near a bathroom or exit. But others may simply need the invitation to sit up front. Sitting up front will enhance their connection to the Mass and to the rest of the congregation. It may also help with Communion.

What to Expect - During Mass

  • More coming and going; more breaks; Be patient and maintain a welcoming spirit.
  • Some wandering; leaving early. guests are just beginning to learn how to attend Mass and are not yet able to participate.

Sensory differences, attention deficit, and other issues can make it difficult for someone to sit through a whole Mass.

  • Delayed or no response (to a greeting, give more time to respond. A person with a disability to putting money in the collection basket, may take 10 or more seconds to respond to cues. to lining up for Communion, etc.) If they do not respond to a greeting or let go of the money to put in the basket, let it go.
  • With time and repetition, their participation should increase.
  • More noise (calling out, speaking loudly) Be patient and kind.
  • Focus on the blessing of the guest’s presence.
  • If the person is very near you, a reassuring smile to the parent or caregiver may be appreciated.
  • They may have sensory-seeking behaviors (flapping, tapping, stomping, etc.) that persons with disabilities may engage in for self-regulation.
  • Allow parents or caregivers to address any behaviors.

 Special circumstances at Communion:

  • Plan the Communion procedure with your pastor, keeping in mind both those worshippers who line up as usual and those who need to be served in their pew.
  • It is helpful to designate one Eucharistic Minister to “float” throughout the church (with an usher’s guidance) and serve individuals in their pews.
  • If a Eucharistic Minister is uncertain about whether an individual wishes to receive Communion and/or is physically capable of consuming a Host, ask the parent or caregiver. Some individuals may not be able to consume an entire Host.
  • Eucharistic Ministers who float may need additional training.

 What to Expect – After Mass:

  • Slower departures
  • Take the opportunity to meet/greet guests (there may not have been time before Mass to do so) and thank them for attending.
  • Assist people as needed to cars/vans.
  • Any unexpected situation can be handled with kindness, patience and courtesy.
  • Every parish will have different worshippers, needs, challenges and opportunities.
  • Treat any unexpected needs or problems as lessons for future improvement.

Source:  St. John Chrysostom Parish + Office for Persons with Disabilities + Archdiocese of Philadelphia +


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