ASL Mass on CatholicTV

History was made last Tuesday when two Deaf priests, Fr. Shawn Carey of the Archdiocese of Boston and Fr. Paul Zirimenya from San Francisco concelebrated Mass in American Sign Language on CatholicTV. Why is this a big deal? For years, the Deaf community has struggled for the right to use ASL, a language that is linguistically equal to spoken languages, but often perceived as inferior by the majority hearing population. In the Catholic Church’s history, this has sometimes meant that Deaf people were denied the Sacraments because they were not able to access the sacraments in their own native language. To publicly broadcast a Mass celebrated in ASL is a sign of how far the Church has come in recognizing ASL as a natural language on par with all other languages witnessed at Pentecost. It is also a public recognition that Deaf priests can and in fact have been serving hearing people for years, through the gift of their language.

The closed-captioned and voiced interpreted Mass (in English) can be accessed online at:


    1. Ryan,

      The words are said — in a language that deaf people can understand. In England and Wales we have a Eucharistic Prayer for Masses with the Deaf approved by Rome in 1992 (it had been submitted for approval in 1977 — go figure!). The text is specially designed for use with British Sign Language (not the same as ASL), but the words of institution are identical to those in a standard Missal.

      Your question is similar to the one that seminarians often ask: in a Mass with the deaf, shouldn’t the priest be making the gestures prescribed in the Missal, not sign language?

      The Note attached to the England & Wales EP includes the following:

      Adapting the liturgy to the needs of the deaf
      “It is of the greatest importance that the celebration of the Mass be so arranged that the ministers and the faithful lay take their own proper part in it and thus gain its fruits more fully. This will be accomplished if the celebration takes into account the nature and circumstances of each assembly and is planned to bring about conscious, active and full participation of the people. Such participation of mind and heart is desired by the Church, is demanded by the nature of the celebration and is the right and duty of Christians by reason of their baptism.”
      (General Instruction on the Roman Missal 2–3)
      The Directory for Masses with Children indicates that it is both possible and necessary to adapt the provisions of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal to the needs of specific groups. The Directory, although not concerned specifically with those who are handicapped in some way, provides many of the principles which will ensure that the liturgy is suitably adapted to the needs of the deaf. It also makes clear that specially composed texts, even versions of the eucharistic prayers themselves, may be required to meet these specific needs.
      (Cf. The Directory for Masses with Children n. 6.)

  1. “ASL is not a spoken language though.”

    Hearing the Word is not simply a matter of acoustics. As is often pointed out throughout the Bible, it’s possible to hear and not understand–that is, to not hear at all. Spoken language can fall on the deaf ears of the hearing enabled; sign language can open the ears of the deaf.

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