19 How to celebrate a barrier-free liturgy?

Molz Isabelle

  1. Theologische Hochschule Chur, Chur, Switzerland

Inclusion, empowerment, accessibility – just three words used in nearly every discussion about future society. It is an important challenge for society to include persons with special needs and create the possibility for them to participate in social life. Inclusion is also a big challenge for the catholic church even because of its self-image as a community of believers and a place where each person is treated equally. This claim has consequences also for the way how liturgy is celebrated with persons with special needs, especially with mentally retarded persons . The essence of liturgy is the feeling of being part of a huge community. Thus the liturgy is profoundly inclusive, even if the present form of celebration does not always seem so.

Imagine you attend the service and you do not feel addressed by the things happening during the service. This could happen for different reasons, for example, esthetic reasons, the music, the language, the presence of the priest or maybe your own daily disposition. But how does this feel for a mentally retarded  persons who are able to hear what happens but because of their cognitive dis-position are not able to understand what happens. These persons feel excluded if there is no other person explaining the content.

Liturgy is communication founded in the communication between god and the gathering. If the communication is to be successful, all people must have the opportunity to participate and understand the content. Liturgy has also a nonverbal communication – for example smells, signs and symbols, the room, light and temperature. The main question is: How can we create a barrier-free liturgy as a celebration for all people and how could liturgy meet the demand of being inclusive?