Feb 19, 2013

American Sign Language Mass returns to the diocese on third Sundays




Story and photos by David Martin

SPRINGFIELD – Members of the deaf community in the Springfield Diocese now have a new location to experience a Mass interpreted in American Sign Language (ASL) on the third Sunday of each month.

Mother Mary of Hope Church in Springfield was the setting for the interpreted Mass on Feb. 17. Twenty five members of the deaf community from the parish were present to participate. Father Matthew Alcombright, associate pastor for Mary Mother of Hope Parish, interpreted much of the Mass in sign language.

Father Alcombright was appointed director of the Springfield Diocese’s Ministry with the Deaf in July 2012, taking over for the long-time director, Sister of St. Joseph Carol Lareau. Father Alcombright said his predecessor “did wonderful work” in the deaf ministry for 30 years and he hopes to continue and expand on her work.

“It has given me a new realization of communication, of how people truly listen and how we understand, especially in a spiritual sense. You know, we listen to God with our heart, we don’t listen with our ears. The deaf can teach volumes about that, how to better listen to God’s voice,” said Father Alcombright.

Father Alcombright said he was happy with the turnout of 300 people for the event and was also pleased at how welcoming the hearing people were for the interpreted Mass. He said it is also a wonderful thing for the deaf community to see so many hearing people being enthusiastic and encouraging the use of sign language at the Mass.

Kay Woods, the office manager for the Ministry with the Deaf, who is deaf herself, said Father Alcombright’s ability to communicate in ASL encourages others to become involved in the ministry. She said the ASL Mass was inspiring from start to finish and watching Father Alcombright sign throughout the Mass gave her chills to see the liturgy performed in her own language.

“Hopefully, people in western Massachusetts will realize that there is a strong and growing deaf community here at Mary Mother of Hope Church and our ministry will help other deaf Catholics get involved to strengthen their faith,” said Woods.

Woods said she really enjoys working in the deaf ministry office because it allows her spirit to grow stronger as she is there to help and support other deaf people.

Father Alcombright said the deaf ministry at Mary Mother of Hope has been incorporated into parish life there so that it has become one family with two different languages that celebrates together events such as the ASL Mass, which had not been offered on the third Sunday for some years.

“I was nervous, the deaf were nervous and the hearing community, but we all came together and we did our best and I think it was a really wonderful beginning of a new thing here. I am just so enthusiastic and thank the community at Mother Mary of Hope for just allowing this to happen,” said Father Alcombright.

Father Alcombright said during the Lenten season, an interpreted Mass is offered every Sunday at 10 a.m. and services during Holy Week also will have interpreters. He said if there are any deaf in the area who wish for more information they are urged to contact Mother Mary of Hope Church at 413-739-0456.

A small reception took place after the ASL Mass in the parish hall.

A video version of this story will be broadcast on the March 9 edition of the Springfield Diocese's weekly newsmagazine program, "Real to Reel," which airs Satruday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.