Missals and the Deaf

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A response to: The Use of Missals and Missalettes During Mass 

I am a pastor of a small parish whose most sizable subgroup (about one third of the congregation) is Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing. It’s in that capacity that I judge Father Gunter’s remark that a hand-held missal «remains a huge support to those who are deaf or hard of hearing» to be well-intended but patently false, at least in American Catholic Deaf parishes, many of which I am familiar firsthand.

The written text is but the codification of the spoken word, and for those who speak English, written English assists in communication. But many American Deaf Catholics cannot (and never will be able to) speak English. They grew up communicating in a language — sign — for which there exists no universally-agreed-upon written form (at least not yet). Further, expecting the Deaf to read along (in an ostensibly foreign language) instead of watching the sacred rituals, asks them to direct their attention away from the more important aspect: what’s happening at the altar during the Eucharistic prayer is inestimably more important than reading along in a missal.

This is why both Deaf Catholics and hearing ones (such as I) who minister among them almost universally prefer praying the liturgy in their only native form of communication — sign language — instead of merely giving them translations in their hands with the hope they can follow along. No one, hearing or Deaf, can simultaneously watch what’s happening at the altar and read from a book.

Father Tom Margevicius

St. Paul, Minnesota 

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