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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward a doctorate in liturgical theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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“Come now,” they said, “Thou who wouldst destroy the temple and build it up in three days, rescue Thyself; come down from that cross, if Thou art the Son of God.”
— Gospel of St. Matthew 27:42

Pastoral Care of Persons with Disabilites
published 30 July 2017 by Fr. David Friel

ASTORAL CARE of persons with disabilities is a topic that has rightly received serious attention in recent years. As society continues to learn more about various disabilities, it is only right that the Church should continue to develop best practices for how to incorporate disabled persons more fully into the sacramental life of the parish.

Last month, the USCCB approved a revised edition of their Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities, first published in 1995. The new text is significantly expanded and modified.

The document includes a number of “General Principles,” which govern the more specific directives found in the rest of the text. These principles are formulated in this way:

1. 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.

2. Catholics with disabilities have a right to participate in the sacraments as fully as other members of the local ecclesial community. “Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them” (Codex Iuris Canonici, c. 835, §4; c. 843, §1).

3. 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 or their advocates before making determinations about the accessibility of a parish’s facilities and the availability of its programs, policies, and ministries. 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 (see Sacramentum caritatis, 58).

4. Since the parish is the center of the Christian experience for most Catholics, pastors and other parish ministers should make every effort to provide for all Catholics with disabilities who reside within a parish’s boundaries. 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 of the many ways in which the pastoral staff can work toward the inclusion of all parishioners in the parish’s sacramental life.

5. Pastors are responsible to provide evangelization, catechetical formation, and sacramental preparation for parishioners with disabilities (see CIC, c. 777, 4º), and dioceses are encouraged to establish appropriate support services to assist pastors in this duty. Persons with disabilities, their advocates and their families, as well as those knowledgeable in serving those with disabilities can make a most valuable contribution to these efforts. 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 (see National Directory for Catechesis, 49). Even in those cases, participation in parish life is encouraged in all ways possible.

6. Having received the sacraments, which “contribute in the greatest way to establish, strengthen, and manifest ecclesiastical communion” (CIC, c. 840), 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. For example, members of the laity are often needed to perform various services or functions in liturgical celebrations, particularly in the celebration of Mass. In choosing those who will be invited to use their gifts in service to the parish community, the parish pastoral staff and lay volunteers, including ushers and liturgical ministers, should be mindful of extending Christ’s welcoming invitation to qualified parishioners with disabilities. Like others, Catholics with disabilities are not only recipients of the Gospel, but are also called to proclaim it and to be witnesses to its truth (see NDC, 49).

7. The creation of a fully 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.

8. Difficult situations may be encountered by those making pastoral decisions. Dioceses are encouraged to establish appropriate policies for handling such instances, which respect the rights of all involved, and which ensure the necessary provision of evaluation and recourse.

See the full text of the new document here.

Two additional votes on liturgical matters were taken at the USCCB meeting in Indianapolis last month. First, a new translation of the “Order of Blessing the Oil of Catechumens and of the Sick and of Consecrating the Chrism” was approved.

Secondly, approval was given to a collection of blessings in Spanish that will serve as a complement to the English texts of the “Book of Blessings” in the United States.

Both of these texts will now be sent to the CDW for recognitio.