Mary Graham, a parishioner of St. Margaret Mary Church and mother of four, was flipping through a faith-based parenting book when she came across a section about a nun who started a Mass for special-needs families.
“I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we need that,’ ” Graham said.
Her 10-year-old son has autism and sometimes struggles to sit through a normal hour-long Mass.
The book, “Faith, Family and Children with Special Needs: How Catholic Parents and Their Kids with Special Needs can Develop a Richer Spiritual Life” by David Rizzo, described arranging a Mass that’s a little quieter, uses only one verse of each song, has a short homily and keeps the lights dimmed.
“The idea is to be friendly and calming,” Graham said. “To be at a Mass with other families like ours, we won’t need to sit in the back or leave to go to the cry room.”
Graham contacted Tara Mattingly, who works in Children’s Formation at St. Margaret Mary Church, and her pastor, Father William D. Hammer. Within two months, a Mass for special-needs families was on the schedule.
On Nov. 21 at 3 p.m., St. Margaret Mary Church hosted its first Special Disciples of Jesus Mass. Seven families attended the 35-minute Mass.
Among those in attendance was the Walz family, St. Michael parishioners who heard about the special Mass through Facebook.
Katie Walz said her 10-year-old son Zach made his first Communion last year but hasn’t attended Mass regularly because it’s difficult for him.
“This was really nice to hear him saying the prayers and participating, because he knows the Mass but it’s just hard to make it through an hour,” she said after the liturgy ended.
During Mass, instructional slides were projected on the wall indicating when to sit, stand and kneel, what song to sing and what prayer to say.
Father Hammer’s homily reflected on the Gospel reading from John and what it means to call Jesus king. He asked questions about what a king does and how Jesus is a king. He also encouraged participation from the congregation.
Families who attended were invited to fill out feedback cards and offer suggestions for future Masses.
Father Hammer and Mattingly said they would like to host regularly scheduled Special Disciples of Jesus Masses and hope to involve community-building activities and fellowship afterward.
The special Mass is open to anyone in the archdiocese and includes people of all ages, Father Hammer said.
“Even if you have adults who you’re caring for and your experience has been the more formalized structure of Mass is more difficult for them to participate in, this will be more comfortable,” he said. “If a person, a child or adult needs to get up and move around, it won’t affect anybody. We’re all in this together. It’s acknowledging that we’re all disciples of Christ and it’s a way to provide support for these families.”