Deaf and hearing impaired ‘called to be holy’ at special Mass
Story and photos by Terence Hegarty
SPRINGFIELD – It was his first time. He was nervous. And, if you weren’t paying close attention, you might have thought that Father Matthew J. Alcombright had made a big mistake.
At a special 1:30 p.m. Mass Jan. 19 held at Mary, Mother of Hope Parish here, he told the nearly 70 people from the deaf community to “Let today be a day that we clearly hear His voice.”
But Father Alcombright, director of the Diocese of Springfield’s Office of Ministry with the Deaf, wasn’t speaking literally. In fact, he didn’t even say the words out loud.
He was speaking of clearly understanding the word of the Lord, something the members of the community had an easier time doing since the Mass was celebrated in American Sign Language (ASL).
“Let today be a day we are all called to be holy,” he said as he concluded his homily. Since his ordination to the priesthood in 2012, Father Alcombright has often delivered homilies verbally at Masses that were interpreted for the deaf and hearing impaired. However, even though he is fluent in ASL, this was the first time that he had delivered a homily using that language primarily.
The liturgy was con-celebrated by Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell, Father Michael Bernier, pastor of the parish, and Father Alcombright, who serves as the associate pastor at the parish.
Father Alcombright says that celebrating a signed Mass is in keeping with one of the mandates of Vatican II, to celebrate Mass in the common tongue. “It’s in the spirit of Vatican Two, for the full, active, conscious participation in the liturgy, and that’s what we’re trying to do here for the deaf,” he told iobserve.
“That’s why it’s so important to provide this ministry,” he said.
The Office of Ministry with the Deaf is completely funded by the diocesan Annual Catholic Appeal. The office provides services so that the deaf and hearing impaired can fully participate in the life of the Catholic Church. In addition to signed and interpreted Masses, such services include providing religious education for children and adults, sacramental preparation, and visitation to homes, nursing homes, hospitals, and prisons.
An interpreted Mass for the deaf and hearing impaired is held each weekend at the parish at 10 a.m. on Sundays. Additionally, an ASL (signed) Mass is celebrated on the third Sunday of each month.
The Jan. 19 liturgy was the regularly-scheduled January Mass. However, it attracted many more than the usual number of participants because of the celebration of the feast day of the patron saint of the deaf.
Attendees from the greater Springfield area were joined by those from Boston, Rhode Island and Connecticut for the special celebration, held in advance of the Jan. 24 feast day of St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622).
Kay Woods, who has been involved in the Ministry with the Deaf for more than 30 years, told iobserve through an interpreter how meaningful it is to be able to have the deaf community worship with the broader community.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to do that,” she told iobserve through the interpretive services of Debbie Geoffroy. Geoffroy also interpreted for the hearing at the Mass.
Referring to the deaf and hearing impaired community, Woods said, “I think that our presence here helps the hearing people to see that we are a community and we are open to meeting people and that hearing and deaf people can live and work together.”
Father Alcombright said that both the hearing and the deaf communities being able to gather together in worship is very meaningful.
“This is living out our Catholic faith, our universal faith,” he said. “No matter the language, no matter who we are, no matter if we’re deaf or hearing, we worship the one God. We gather around the table of the Eucharist and we worship here together.”
Participants also gathered at table following the liturgy as a dinner was held in the parish social center.
More information on the deaf ministry is available by contacting the Office of Ministry with the Deaf. The VP line is 413-241-3193, the TTY number is 413-391-7340, and the voice line is 413-739-0456, Ext. 7. The office’s email is [email protected]
For more on this story, tune into an upcoming edition of “Real to Reel,” the Diocese of Springfield’s television newsmagazine that airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.