Yesterday Pope Francis released a Message for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. In this message he stresses the need for everybody’s inclusion in the Church and the importance of active participation.
In the midst of the different debates and concerns we have for church services over Christmas and a host of other COVID-19 related challenges, we should also take time for an Advent examination of conscience, remembering the words of Christ, “Amen I say to you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40 RNJB).
This is the section of the letter that deals with liturgical concerns:
The “rock” of active participation
To help our society to “build back better”, inclusion of the vulnerable must also entail efforts to promote their active participation.
Before all else, I strongly reaffirm the right of persons with disabilities to receive the sacraments, like all other members of the Church. All liturgical celebrations in the parish should be accessible to them, so that, together with their brothers and sisters, each of them can deepen, celebrate, and live their faith. Special attention should be paid to people with disabilities who have not yet received the sacraments of Christian initiation: they should be welcomed and included in programmes of catechesis in preparation for these sacraments. No one should be excluded from the grace of these sacraments.
“In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples. All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization” (Evangelii Gaudium, 120). People with disabilities, both in society and in the Church, also wish to become active subjects of our pastoral ministry, and not simply its recipients. “Many persons with disabilities feel that they exist without belonging and without participating. Much still prevents them from being fully enfranchised. Our concern should be not only to care for them, but also to ensure their ‘active participation’ in the civil and ecclesial community. That is a demanding and even tiring process, yet one that will gradually contribute to the formation of consciences capable of acknowledging each individual as a unique and unrepeatable person” (Fratelli Tutti, 98). Indeed, the active participation of people with disabilities in the work of catechesis can greatly enrich the life of the whole parish. Precisely because they have been grafted onto Christ in baptism, they share with him, in their own particular way, the priestly, prophetic, and royal mission of evangelizing through, with and in the Church.