Sensory-friendly Mass at St. Clare Parish in Roseville brings together families with special needs children

The diocese's first sensory-friendly Mass was celebrated on Sunday, April 29 at St .Clare Parish in Roseville, hosted by the Ministry to Catholics with DisAbilities (MCDA).

The MCDA has been working to provide opportunities for catechesis and reception of the sacraments for persons with disAbilities. To address the needs of families who need a quiet environment to fully participate, the MCDA built on the work of catechists at St. Clare Parish, where they have been working to provide opportunities for their own parishioners in faith formation and at Sunday Mass.

The MCDA committee, led by Ana Barraza, worked with St. Clare's team to host the Mass, where all could participate in a quieter Mass environment and would not feel any stigma from disturbing other participants. Families from at least seven parishes in the Sacramento region shared the Mass, and several of the young people served as lectors, altar servers and gift bearers.

Father George Snyder, pastor of St. Clare, enthusiastically  accepted the challenge of celebrating the Mass and was grateful to learn about the gifts and needs of this group of Catholics. "This isn't something we were trained for in seminary," he noted before offering the Mass. He was assisted by Deacon Kevin Staszkow from St. Lawrence Parish in North Highlands, who directs the diocese's Office of Family and Faith Formation and is also a  member of the MCDA.

"We are a church of inclusion," Deacon Staszkow said, nothing the importance of the effort. "We need to make the Eucharist and the Gospel available to all of our families."

Ushers from St. Clare welcomed families and asked about their special needs, including if communicants would need gluten-free hosts so they could be directed to a designated eucharistic minister. Only natural lighting was used and no bells or incese were used. Softer music, fewer songs, dimmer lighting and large print Mass aides were used during the Mass and a quiet room was made available if families need to step out with their children.

Father George kept his homily short and simple to follow, and gentle piano music contributed to the quiet nature of the Mass.

Families who frequently worry about bringing their children with disAbilities to Mass felt welcomed and supported by the team. There was universal interest in having more sensory-friendly Masses available around the diocese. A second Mass is planned at St. Clare Parish on Sunday, Aug. 27 at 1:30 p.m. The MCDA will be looking for additional parishes in the diocese to host the Masses in the future to expand access.

Teri Burns, catechist and MCDA committee member, was appreciative of the opportunity to invite families from St. Joseph Parish in Sacramento to participate. "I'm still learning how to meet the needs of these children," Teri said. "I learned lessons about room settings that I can take back to my catechism classroom and about how to include these students more fully in our class Masses and sacramental preparation.