Mass for Persons with Disabilities: ‘Our Church Opens its Arms to Everyone’

By Celeste Behe

As the late afternoon sun illuminated the stained-glass sanctuary windows of St. Thomas More, Allentown, members of the Diocese gathered in the church for a “Mass for Persons with Disabilities.” The Sept. 21 Mass, celebrated by Bishop Alfred Schlert, was a special liturgy that enabled all present “to give glory and praise and thanks … in [their] own way, according to [their] own vocations and circumstances.”

Concelebrants were Father John Pendzick, pastor of St. Thomas More; Father Jojappa Adagatla, assistant pastor; and Monsignor Francis Schoenauer, in residence.

Father Pendzick proclaimed the Gospel, which told of the calling of St. Matthew.

“No one would have expected Jesus to invite Matthew to be one of His apostles,” said Bishop Schlert. “No one would have expected Jesus to accept a dinner invitation to go and eat with Matthew, the tax collector [and] outcast.

“Even His own people didn’t like tax collectors because they represented the Roman government. But Jesus came for everyone. And that's the beauty of our celebration tonight: that our parishes, our Diocese, our Church, opens its arms to everyone. And we are most like Christ when all of us work together for the glory of God the Father.”

The Bishop’s words were ASL interpreted by Heather Snyder, who signs biweekly Masses for the Deaf at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Bethlehem. Snyder also interpreted the various parts of the Mass for Persons with Disabilities, as well as the words to each of the hymns.

Assisting at the Mass were individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including several students from the Mercy School for Special Learning, Allentown. During the “Alleluia,” some could be seen silently giving praise by making circular motions with their hands and then joyously lifting their palms heavenward.

“One does not have to hear the words to understand,” said Snyder, adding that the Mass was “a beautiful time to be together.”

In his homily, Bishop Schlert exhorted the faithful to “give thanks to God because He has made us a perfect Church.”

“Now that sounds odd to say, knowing all of the flaws, of course, that the Church has in its humanness. But the Church is perfect because it was founded by Christ. The Church is perfect because it has all the means necessary to help us reach eternal life. The Church is perfect in that the whole of humanity is present and represented in the Church of Christ.”

Bishop Schlert spoke from an ambo in front of expansive stained-glass windows. The windows’ harmonious mix of shapes and colors seemed to echo the Bishop’s message of beauty in diversity.

“What a beautiful thought that is,” said the Bishop. “Men and women of every race and tongue, men and women of every ability and disability.

“You see, if any person, any group is missing in the Church, the Church is not complete. There’s a place in the Church for everyone. No matter what our sinfulness, no matter what our ability or our disability, Jesus looks upon us. He gives us His grace. He gives us His Sacraments. He allows all of us to flourish.

“We are perfect because the Lord has called everyone into His Church.”

The Mass was the first of its kind to be celebrated in the Diocese since the Covid pandemic and is expected to take place annually.

Photos by John Simitz.


Mass Livestream