Omaha: Great Article About a Sensory-Friendly Mass

I have been trying to cover the various sensory-friendly Masses slowly starting in different dioceses in the USA and Canada. Diocesan papers will often have stories about them on their website. Recently, Catholic Voice Omaha, the paper for the Archdiocese, had an article that I think can be a model for other dioceses.

First, I will cover the basic information from the article for those in the area. Then, I will point out some really good points the article made that others could imitate.

Basic Information

The article from Catholic Voice Omaha lists some basic information:

On the third Sunday of the month, St. Columbkille offers a sensory-friendly Mass for people with special needs and their families. […]

The first such Mass was held on Oct. 17, 2021. Father Thomas Greisen, pastor of St. Columbkille, invited Father Tom Magnuson to concelebrate. The plan was to celebrate a sensory-friendly Mass one month at a time. If it went well, they’d do it the following month. It has been going strong ever since.

The article does not list the time, but my directory, based on their bulletin, says 2:30pm.

Points That Catholic Voice Omaha Gets Right

I think the archdiocesan paper gets many things right, so I want to point out a few of them.

A Personal Story
A priest distributing Communion (CC0 Unsplash)

The article begins with the story of an individual family whose photo is atop the article. It returns to this family’s story throughout, which I think personalizes the situation.

[Start:] “These are families that probably, upon waking, started planning and making adjustments to the daily schedule and routine just to get to church,” said Connie Grover, a member of St. Columbkille Parish in Papillion.

Connie and her husband, Doug, don’t have the luxury of arriving at Mass just as the opening hymn begins to play, either. Their 20-year-old daughter, Anna, has special needs and is in a wheelchair. To find a seat that will accommodate their family means arriving 10 to 15 minutes before Mass begins.

However, one weekend a month, Mass is easier for the Grover family. […]

[Later:] “It really helps bring the anxiety factor down a notch,” Grover said. […]

“We realize and respect the challenges each other face and share a knowing smile,” Grover said. “There’s kind of a sense of community. Without even knowing everyone’s names, I know these are families having multiple appointments, multiple specialists, multiple meetings with schools, doctors and therapists.”

The article also covers several other families and their stories. The focus seems to be on the family members who do not themselves have sensory issues: interviewing more of those who have sensory issues themselves would have been even better.

Information about These Masses

On top of that, this article lists information about sensory-friendly Masses. I think this information helps average Catholics understand them better.

According to the National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD), sensory-friendly Masses include lower lighting, softer music, Scripture readings from the Children’s Lectionary, and shorter, more literal homilies. Families and individuals can get up and move, bring fidgets or noise-canceling headphones, and “participate in the liturgy just as they are.”

There could have been more, but I think the information it has suffices. It focuses more on telling this through families’ experiences than through formal descriptions. THat is often a better way to explain things.

Specific Information about This Parish

In between the other information, this article brings in specific details about the parish near Omaha.

Cathy Campbell is a member of the St. Columbkille Weekend Experience Committee, which aims to make weekends at the parish a positive experience. She explained that, during one of its meetings, a committee member with a child with special needs talked about the difficulties such families face at Mass – if they can get there at all. It was then that the idea for a sensory-friendly Mass at St. Columbkille was hatched. […]

The committee brought in professionals who work with individuals with special needs, Campbell said. They talked to parents, teachers and caregivers to decide how such a Mass would look. Along the way, they received positive feedback from families who said how much a sensory-friendly Mass would mean to them. […]

Campbell said the committee wrestled with the idea of asking one more thing from their priests, who do so much already. That’s when Father Magnuson, who Campbell calls “a special gift,” said he would be happy to celebrate the Mass each month.

“It’s such a privilege for me,” Father Magnuson said. “I look forward to it every month. I really do. This is where I want to be.”

The specifics continue in the Catholic Voice Omaha article.

Read the Catholic Voice Omaha Article

In conclusion, I have taken a few samples from this article to show why I think it is particularly good and to inform families in the area in case they want to join it. I would recommend you read the whole article even if not in the Omaha area as it provides something of a template for sensory-friendly Masses and covering them. Hopefully, this leads to more individuals being able to go to a Mass that is adapted for their sensory input.

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