Catholic parents of physically and intellectually disabled children often miss out on so many milestones that parents of typically developing children take for granted. Thankfully, the reception of the sacraments doesn’t need to be one of those missed moments. According to the USCCB document Guidelines For the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities;
2. Catholics with disabilities have a right to participate in the sacraments as fully as other members of the local ecclesial community.3 “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.”4
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.
Unfortunately, many parents and parishes are uncertain how to meet their children’s unique needs in regards to religious formation. Some dioceses and parishes have wonderful adaptive catechesis programs, others places have no idea how to proceed and so children are denied the opportunity to receive their sacraments.
Thankfully, author and illustrator Michele Chronister has created two valuable books, Taking the Lift to Heaven:The Pocket Guide to Adaptive Ministry in Your Catholic Parish and the Handbook for Adaptive Catechesis; Serving Those With Special Needs, that parents and parishes can use to help formulate a plan to meet the needs of any disabled child, or adult, who wishes to receive Holy Communion, Confirmation, and grow in their faith. Chronister is a wife and mother who received her Master’s Degree in theology at the University of Notre Dame, through the ECHO program for Catechetical Leadership. During that time she interned at a parish where she developed the Children of St. Angela Merici curriculum for children and adults with disabilities.
“My philosophy for catechesis [is that] every baptized person has a right to full, rich, accessible catechesis,” she said. “Catechesis should never be dumbed down or watered down, and just because someone is not able to express their beliefs verbally does not mean that they can not have the message of the Gospel and the Catholic faith nestled in their hearts. Along with that, I wanted to make sure that all parents and catechists of individuals with disabilities knew that their loved one, by virtue of their baptism, had a right to the remaining Sacraments of Initiation, and to Confession, when that is possible.”
Read more at Accepting the Gift.