Ten candidates for confirmation came from around the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend Saturday, Sept. 7, to receive the fruits of the Holy Spirit at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Warsaw.
The Mass was the first of its kind in the diocese, and many pastors from the represented parishes were also present.
Each of the confirmed is living with a handicap that would have made participation in a standard confirmation Mass difficult. At a typical confirmation Mass the pews are crowded with family members, ponderous liturgical music with extra sequences resounds, the homily may include a question-and-answer session and dozens of candidates are confirmed. The Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church mitigated these concerns. Still licit and valid, at the low-sensory confirmation Mass worshippers occupied only every other pew, the music was muted and consisted of a soft opening and closing Communion hymn. Parts of the Mass that are normally sung were instead said quietly, including the bishop’s blessing with the Gospel book; and no extra stimuli, such as percussion instruments or flash photography, were present.
For the candidates and their families, it was a godsend.
“We offered this Mass due to a family’s request,” said Allison Sturm, of the Office of Ministry with Persons with Disabilities. Sturm and her colleague, Mary Glowaski, assistant to Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades in pastoral care, have adjusted the way the Ministry with Persons with Disabilities operates, beginning with how they start to plan programs — that is, by listening closely to the people they serve.
Doing so, she explained, has changed everything.
Belonging, a support group for families and advocates of persons with disabilities, sprung from such a conversation and is flourishing. In this case, one child’s need has helped entire schools and parishes.
Questions of handicapped church parking or seating at diocesan events that were perhaps never considered before are now being addressed in a collaborative effort across diocesan offices. For the confirmation Mass, the offices of hispanic ministry, worship, catechesis, communications and Sturm’s office worked together in planning and hosting the Mass and reception.
The website explains: “Children and adults with disabilities and their families need faith communities that provide the necessary accommodations so that they feel welcomed and experience a sense of belonging. In 2017, United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) released the Revised Edition of the “Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities. The information regarding Sacraments are intended to help families, priests, parish staffs, and diocesan personnel work together to make our parish communities places where individuals with disabilities and their families can have full and meaningful participation in the Mass and Sacramental life of the Church.”
Inside the guidelines document, the section on confirmation emphasizes, “All baptized Catholics who possess the use of reason may receive the sacrament of confirmation … Persons who because of intellectual or developmental disabilities may never attain the use of reason can receive the Sacrament of Confirmation and should be encouraged either directly or, if necessary, through their parents, to receive it.”
Each of the candidates were prepared by their individual parish. Several, upon being anointed, shed tears or shouted joyously.
Ann Cozad, the aunt and sponsor of one of the young people who were confirmed, explained how the family had considered preparing her for the sacrament for many years, but until now, wasn’t sure how it would work.
“Today’s Mass was much better. There was space, quiet, concentrated attention — and I loved the bilingual part,” Ann shared, smiling.
Bishop Rhoades spoke to the parents and families of the candidates, saying, “Thank you for making your homes a domestic church, where Christ is honored and loved.”
“You bring them here to receive the love and grace of God in the sacrament of confirmation. You already did years ago, when you brought them to church to receive the sacrament of baptism, to become part of the body of Christ and receive the divine life, but that was not enough! You bring them here today, to now receive the fullness of baptismal grace.”
Bishop Rhoades continued, “God’s grace is for everyone. You have welcomed your child, a beautiful gift of God. And today, the Church again welcomes them to receive the fruits of the Holy Spirit. As the parents welcome them with love, so does your Christian family and the Church welcome them with love.”
During the homily he also highlighted the space, first a shrine and then a parish, where they were celebrating Mass. “Santisima Madre, who appeared on our continent, we ask you to intercede for our confirmandi and their families.” Bishop Rhoades also spoke of another special young person, St. José Sánchez del Rio, whose painting and relic reside at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.
“He gave his life by defending the faith. He was only 12 or 13, a young martyr, and the Holy Spirit filled him with courage to give his life for the faith. What a great model and example.”
To receive Communion, immediate and extended families — such as that of Alyssa Lamas of St. Patrick, Fort Wayne — came up to both physically and spiritually support and guide her to Jesus. The communion hymn, “Pan de Vida,” softly pronounced the words of faith and love. One verse in particular echoed the beautiful reality and celebration of the special Mass: “At this table, the last shall be first.”
Maria del Real of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, the mother of Jiovanni, shared after Mass: “When he was little, he followed me, but now, I follow him. We are still showing and sharing, teaching him what God’s love is.”
Before the final blessing, Bishop Rhoades looked around at the faithful, thanked the many people and offices who collaborated together. He said it was “a real privilege to confirm these young people.”
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