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Sign Language Mass for the Deaf; A usual routine for Spanish priests

Questions have been asked if Mass celebrated in sign language is theoretically valid. Yes, ASL (American Sign Language) is an approved vernacular in the Catholic Church. Spoken language in the history of the church is principal to the liturgy, but looking at it from the perspective of someone who is Hard-of-hearing, its a different ball-game all together. One quote said, “Deafness is not about hearing but about communication.”

“Only about 4 percent of deaf Catholic adults nationwide attend Mass, said Arvilla Rank, executive director of the Office for the Deaf. That is largely because the experience of attending a spoken Mass falls flat, and for some a signed Mass does not adequately convey inflections and nuances of a speaking priest’s homily. A speaking priest, deaf people say, cannot bridge the gap beyond language and into deaf culture.”

Father Sergio Buiza, the national director of the Spanish Conference of Catholic Bishops Deaf Ministry, is one of the few priests who celebrates Mass in sign language. He said their goal is to “bring the Gospel to the maximum number of people,” including, of course, the deaf and hearing impaired, Europa news reported. The priest celebrates Mass in sign language at a Cathedral in Spain every week.

Fr. Buiza speaking on the challenges they face said, “the biggest issue is that there is just one parish for the deaf per diocese, forcing those with hearing impairments to travel long distances each week.

“There are elderly people that come from a long way. In my diocese we celebrate the Eucharist in the cathedral every Saturday afternoon and they come from different towns by train and bus,” the priest from Bilbao said.

The Catholic church accommodates at least 1,250 persons who are deaf every week at one of the 24 churches where Masses are held in sign language.

Audio induction loop systems are an assistive listening technology for individuals with reduced ranges of hearing. This will help those partially deaf participate actively in Mass but would not be of use to those who are fully deaf.  The Spanish Catholic Bishops Conference have collaborated with the ONCE Foundation to provide magnetic induction loops, or hearing loops, in at least 12 churches across Spain.

The US Bishops have given us several guidelines on the treatment of people with disabilities. The good news is that there are people who make it their business to develop ways to accommodate people with hearing losses, as well as others with disabilities. They need to be heard.

The Spanish Church has over 50 years of working with the deaf, especially as at 1990 when a Deaf Ministry for the deaf was established under the coordination of the Bishops Conference. The Spanish Ministry for the deaf now has some 173 people working for pastoral care of the deaf, most of them are deaf or partially impaired. This includes 140 laypeople and 21 priests.



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