Two weeks ago, my son made a break for the altar.
Father had just finished the homily. My little guy was antsy. While I struggled to tuck his Mass book back into its bag, the stinker squeezed past me, stepped into the aisle, and ran full speed toward the front.
Heat climbed from my belly to my cheeks. I tripped from the pew and caught him at the baptismal font where he stood frightened, hands cemented to his ears.
I swooped him onto my hip and flew down the aisle, straight out the side door and into the stairwell.
My son squirmed from my arms. I sat on the top step, shaking.
“Mamaaaaa,” he said, smiling. “Mama go in the CHURCH!”
Go in the church, indeed. How could I, when my blonde-haired, blue-eyed imp had just forced me into stairwell purgatory?
I did eventually return to the sanctuary, sliding into the pew red-faced next to my husband and two other children. But the incident got me thinking: how many families face this sort of occurrence every day, and not just because they’ve got toddlers?
How many of special-needs families are exiled from the pew, their children's challenges precluding them from the Mass?
If you’ve read my blog or follow me on Facebook, you know I am technically a special-needs mom. We’re a twice exceptional, sensory processing family, hanging on to the spectrum by a thread. While it’s been several years since my daughter’s disorder has caused any sort of disruption at Mass, I remember that sense of desperation in the pew, begging God to just get us through the consecration without incident or event.
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6 tips for Mass with a special-needs child
Go to daily Mass, Sunday Mass, and even Adoration. Take the whole family, sit in the church, and be a witness of the beauty of God’s creation. Your child is a gift, a beloved son or daughter of God. You have just as much right to be there as anyone. So go, and sit in the pew.
Meet with your pastor, and bring your child
How well do you know your pastor? How well does he know your child? If the answer to either question is not well, remedy that - and soon. Make an appointment to meet with Father and explain your family situation. Share literature about your child’s condition and talk with him about ways in which you can accommodate any special needs. Your pastor is the shepherd of the entire parish - you and your family included.
Join (or found) a special-needs apostolate
Chances are, you are not the only special-needs family in your parish. Find out if your church has a special-needs ministry or apostolate and get involved. If they don’t, start one. Community, outreach, and awareness are key.
Build a church bag just for church
My good friend Maura has a daughter with profound developmental disabilities. Her daughter loves books, and so Maura has reserved a special title just for Mass. The bag with the book stays in the car: it only comes out when they head into church. Maura’s daughter uses the book throughout Mass, participating as best she can.
Think about what your child loves. Is it something you could adapt for church? Perhaps a soft toy or silicone rosary, a prayer book or a special blanket. Whatever you can bring to encourage peace and participation, carry it. You might be surprised with the results.
Sit up front. Really.
All children - special needs or not - do better when they can see what’s going on. The closer you are to the altar, the easier it is to be present in the sacrifice of the Mass.
Explore the beauty and mystery of the Church
Catholicism rocks for a variety of reasons, and not just because we have the Eucharist. Our parishes are full of beauty and mystery, from the Tabernacle and the altar to the Stations of the Cross and statues of the saints. Visit the church during off hours. Talk about the crucifix and the stained-glass window. Let your child get a closer look at the beauty of our faith so that Mass becomes a welcoming occurrence.
When you feel like Mass isn't worth the effort, and you worry that your family won't be welcome, remember this:
Disabled people are . . . living icons of the crucified Son. They reveal the mysterious beauty of the One who emptied himself for our sake and made himself obedient unto death. They show us, over and above all appearances, that the ultimate foundation of human existence is Jesus Christ. It is said, justifiably so, that disabled people are humanity's privileged witnesses. They can teach everyone about the love that saves us; they can become heralds of a new world, no longer dominated by force, violence and aggression, but by love, solidarity and acceptance, a new world transfigured by the light of Christ, the Son of God who became incarnate, who was crucified and rose for us.
You are the light of Christ. We need you in our midst.
Come to Mass, mama. Bring your children, and shower us with your light.
Copyright 2017 Ginny Kochis