QUAERITUR: Pre-Conciliar Masses for the deaf

From a reader:

I have often wondered if there was any specially approved liturgy for profoundly/ severely  deaf people prior to the liturgical reforms of the ’60s? Surely, there must have been some adaptations of the Tridentine Mass to accomadate their needs? For instance, a Tridentine facing the people, or even it being said in sign langauge or something?

 

I have absolutely no idea.   We will need the help of others on this.

My first impulse is to say that there were no special provisions.

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27 Responses to QUAERITUR: Pre-Conciliar Masses for the deaf

  1. As far as the actions at the Altar, the Deaf are just as able to follow the Mass as the Hearing. If a Deaf person had a Missal the person would be just as able to follow the Mass as a Hearing one, especially if the Missal had illustrations of the Mass. When a Deaf person would have a problem is when you reach the Sermon. I myself am profoundly hard of hearing and often have a problem following the Sermons of my pastor so I choose to sit as close to the front as possible and attempt to lip-read as best I can when needed. A priest could not sign and offer the Sacrifice at the same time. Using a competent sign interpreter at the Sermon would seem to me all that is necessary.

  2. haleype says:

    In the old days a close relative or friend of the deaf person could assist him/her in following the Mass via the missal. After Mass, the person could either write out important points of the sermon or use sign language to get its major points across. In any case the important point is that there was help for those who needed it.

  3. Ana says:

    Regardless of the past, special provisions should be considered at this point in time as the deaf culture and language becomes a larger part of daily life. Currently, there are deaf priests being ordained so it would make sense that these priests are being trained in a manner that allows them to offer up the sacrifice of the Mass in a Holy manner. These priests, as with any other priests, should be provided the training and knowledge that will allow them to say the Tridentine Mass too.

    As the sister of a young man who was born completely deaf, I would strongly suggest there is a big difference between a hard of hearing person and someone who has never heard a syllable in their life. We need to move away from methods such as after the fact providing them cliff notes of the sermon. Deaf people deserve more than just the main points, they deserve the fullness of our faith, including homilies given, just as all of us do.

  4. Hieronymus says:

    I don’t know 100% what the answer is, but I am heavily inclined to say that no special provision would be made. This seems to be a question that could only arise from a modern (and dare I say, mistaken) understanding of the Mass.

    Hearing has never been a necessary faculty for participation at Mass, as a layman’s participation is first and foremost an interior act. In fact, some of the most beautiful and spiritually moving Masses at which I have ever assisted were silent low Masses at Fontgombault, Le Barroux, and Clear Creek — all of the monks offer a daily Mass, so in the earliest hours of the morning in a chapel lit only by candles at the side altars as many as 20 masses are going on at once, and virtually the only thing heard throughout is the thumping of the chest — mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa . . . Even without the ears (and maybe even especially without them), one hears the voice of God in the depths of one’s soul.

  5. Ana says:

    For someone who is in a constant state of silence, I do not believe this rises from a modern or mistaken understanding of the Mass. When silence is something a person does not naturally have, the silence of the Mass is refreshing and spiritually moving. For those who are naturally in a state of silence, the desire of an awareness of what is going on should not be condemned or dismissed as too modern. This is one of those instances where maybe we should consider that the modern world is trying to reach out to those often misunderstood and neglected in our society. Deaf and dumb, may have originally been understood to mean deaf and mute, but over time it became a very derogatory phrase.

    Also, since we have deaf men being ordained as priests, their right to say Mass in the EF form should be preserved just as any other priest.

  6. Prof. Basto says:

    This is an interesting problem in terms of pastoral care.

    Granted, the most important thing at Mass is interior participation, and in the case of the TLM, several parts of the Mass are prayed in an inaudible tone by the priest, so the deaf faithful wouldn’t hear those parts even if he weren’t deaf.

    As for the readings and the other parts of the Mass that are audible, reading a hand Missal would be the most appropriate solution to follow those parts of the rite.

    Now, the big problem lies with the Sermon. We cannot simply brush aside the importance of the sermon and say “oh, the sermon isn’t an essential part of the Mass”.

    Ok, it isn’t, and a sermon isn’t always required, but then again, there are sermons, at least on Sundays and feasts, and Sermons exist for a reason. They are helpful to the faithful, they are part of permanent Catholic instruction, they are part of the preaching of the Catholic docrine. They are the manner by which sound docrine can reach the pews.

    And so all of us who hear are enriched by good sermons. The big problem for the deaf is then revealled: because they cannot hear, they – and their interior spiritual life – would be excluded from the benefits of that preaching, if nothing was done to help them.

    If the deaf person has a family member that can later reproduce the essence of the sermon in sign language, that’s great. But otherwise, the parish priest, who has a responsability for the spiritual health of the members of Christ’s flock who are part of his parish’s congregation should get involved and try to help in some way. Perhaps, if the priest prepares written notes for his sermon, he could then hand over those notes for the deaf person to read, or something along those lines.

  7. RichardT says:

    I’d have thought that in practice the TLM would be easier for a deaf person, because the structure is followed much more rigidly than it commonly is in the NO. It should therefore be easier (once you’ve got the hang of it) to know where you are in the Mass and, if required, follow along with a Missal.

    Since most people don’t have enough Latin to understand more than a few key points anyway, in a TLM the deaf person is in much the same position as most of the congregation.

    For the sermon, if the priest doesn’t read it from a pre-written text, would it be reasonable for the deaf person to bring a book of sermons (or some other religious book) and read from that at the time? Agreed it wouldn’t let them discuss the sermon with the rest of the congregation afterwards, but it would still give them teaching. I have got through several of the Pope’s books this way, whilst travelling in countries where I don’t speak the language well enough.

  8. Ana, You said,
    “Also, since we have deaf men being ordained as priests, their right to say Mass in the EF form should be preserved just as any other priest.”
    I agree with you. However, whichever Rite, a priest CANNOT sign the prayers at the Altar and follow the Rubrics at the same time. How would he sign “Behold the Lamb of God” and elevate the Host at the same time? It would seem to me that he would have to mentally pray the prayers and follow the Rubrics.

  9. Also, I forgot, after the consecration he must keep his thumb and index finger pressed together forming a circle until the ablution. How in the world would he be able sign having to do this? The Rubrics must be followed at any Rite period. Maybe it is Pray the black, do the red in this case.

  10. Agnes says:

    Prof. Basto wrote: “… But otherwise, the parish priest, who has a responsability for the spiritual health of the members of Christ’s flock who are part of his parish’s congregation should get involved and try to help in some way. Perhaps, if the priest prepares written notes for his sermon, he could then hand over those notes for the deaf person to read, or something along those lines.”

    I think that’s the right track. If not the priest himself, some kind of spiritual partner who can relate the homily. Notes, ok, but with a human element – how dull to have to read EVERYTHING. The body and the soul are intergal, and there needs to be a sense of communion with the flock and one’s shepherd.

  11. jasoncpetty says:

    I don’t know; there have been exceptions for physical defects such as in the case of St. Isaac Jogues, whose hands had been mutilated. Don’t see why rubrics couldn’t be altered here. So a deaf priest could arguably sign Ecce Agnus Dei… with the proper permission.

    But what about the Mass itself? Would a deaf priest be able simply to mouth the words, forming his lips properly with an exhalation of breath? I think that would be valid.

    It would seem that the hand signs would be a mere accompaniment for the visible aid of any hearing-impaired congregants. If anyone argued that the hand signs alone would be necessary for a deaf or hearing-impaired priest to confect the Eucharist, then would a priest be able to celebrate Mass simply by writing the entire Mass on slips of paper from start to finish?

  12. bnaasko says:

    Please forgive my ignorance. I was under the impression that the words of institution had to be spoken, is consecration still possible if they are signed instead? Can the words at baptism be signed as well? or do they need to be spoken by the minister of the sacrament?

  13. Aaron says:

    We’re always told that the people in the pews before Vatican II had no idea what was going on, so deaf folks would have been no worse off than anyone else.

    But seriously, like others have said: except for the sermon, the TLM would seem tailor-made for the hard of hearing. A large portion is silent anyway, and the rest is in a language most people don’t know. (Whenever we have a second Collect, I can tell many people don’t realize the priest hasn’t gone on to the Epistle.) The priest’s movements at the altar are precise enough that anyone with a missal can follow along without hearing (or understanding) his words.

    I don’t see why a parish couldn’t choose to have someone stand near the front and sign the sermon for those who need it, though. That seems like a natural extension of putting the sermon in the vernacular of the people in attendance. Some parishes also print the sermon in the bulletin or their website, so that could be another way to make it available to everyone.

  14. Jacob says:

    For those interested in going back through past entries, I recommend checking out Dr. Peters’ In the Light of the Law for his posts regarding American Sign Language as a valid ‘vernacular’ language for the NO and for his general comments as someone associated with deaf children.

    I lost all my own hearing when I was in my twenties. I’ve been to the local TLM and have the Baronius Press missal. While I agree with the point that as far as Latin and the inaudible recitation of prayers, the deaf person is at no greater disadvantage than the hearing person, this comment above caught my attention as all too true:

    For someone who is in a constant state of silence, I do not believe this rises from a modern or mistaken understanding of the Mass. When silence is something a person does not naturally have, the silence of the Mass is refreshing and spiritually moving. For those who are naturally in a state of silence, the desire of an awareness of what is going on should not be condemned or dismissed as too modern.
    Comment by Ana — 21 January 2010 @ 11:55 am

    For myself as a deaf Catholic, the silence of an EF Mass is the same silence I enjoy when going to an OF Mass or watching TV or driving down the street.

  15. Ana says:

    As for the basic attitude being express that there is no difference between a deaf person in the EF Mass and any person who does not understand Latin outside of the sermon, I have to, again, strongly disagree as the hearing person has key phases they can learn and know where you are at during Mass. Although you may be unaware of it, you are following along to a lot more than just visual clues. Otherwise, the deaf person is simply reading the missal. Of course, these points become moot for inaudible prayers, but not for the rest of the Mass such as the introit and Agnus Dei which are audibly spoken.

    The key issues here are pastoral and need to be addressed in a manner that incorporate deaf people without demonstrating the attitude that it doesn’t matter, no one understands the spoken language anyway especially given the fact even the laity should be taught Latin and how to understand it — not just priests although priests have an obligation to have a deeper, working understanding of the language.

  16. Jacob says:

    Only about 4 percent of deaf Catholic adults nationwide attend Mass, said Arvilla Rank, executive director of the Office for the Deaf.

    NYT article, but still…

  17. Hieronymus says:

    Ana,
    The point being made is not that there is no difference between a deaf person and the average person at a Mass in the classical Roman Rite. There is. Clearly, the average person can hear, and the deaf person cannot. The same could be said no matter what you are talking about, including a conversation in sign-language. It is not the same as a conversation between people who can speak and hear.

    What we are trying to point out is that in the EF, and in the traditional way of understanding what the Mass is and how we participate in it, hearing is not an essential part for the laity. As one other poster noted, this Mass is actually perfect for the hearing-impaired, as the rubrics are so carefully scripted that if one were to see a photo of the Mass without any other context, a person familiar with the traditional Mass could probably tell you where in the Mass the photo was taken. If given a series of images, or a video with no sound, this becomes incredibly easy.

    The sermon is a different story. It is obviously not essential to hear the sermon, but if some provision is possible, such could be made as long as it didn’t mean distracting the entire church (I am picturing someone standing in front of the church signing the sermon — call me insensitive, but that is distracting for everyone other than the deaf person). We had someone at my traditional parish who couldn’t hear, and the priest simply gave him a copy of the sermon. He never had a problem with that. If that isn’t possible, I like the previous poster’s recommendation to bring a book of sermons and read it while the priest is preaching. I admit that I have sometimes wanted to do the same depending on who is doing the preaching.

  18. RichardT says:

    Hieronymus – can I confess that in Germany I have gone to a German Mass with a Ratzinger book to read during the sermon rather than go to an English Mass on an American army base where I would have understood, but cringed through, the sermon?

  19. Ana says:

    Take a look at the stats Jacob posted above before starting on the “traditional” mindset. We deserve the EF Mass for all of us — hearing and deaf – to enjoy. However, a major point that I am trying to make that is being missed is that is is MAJORLY different to be attend Mass as a hearing person and a deaf person even when the hearing person doesn’t understand Latin. As for people being insensitive, I’m us to it, but deaf people deserve as much respect and consideration regarding their attendance at Mass as any other person.

    As for this being the perfect Mass for the deaf, this comment is obviously from an insensitive and thoughtless position that does not take into account the deaf person — oh, you can’t hear so it doesn’t matter that you won’t hear the readings which are sometimes in English or the sermon. I would have to disagree and will until a profoundly deaf person tells me otherwise. As hearing people, I can assure you, you have no idea what a deaf person experiences at Mass.

    Right now, it seems more like this is more about the “traditional” mindset than what Pope Benedict intends, because I don’t believe that he wants the EF to be a secluded group so rigidly stuck in a certain thought process that we cannot learn and grow in what is offered. Returning reverence to the Mass doesn’t mean there will not be changes in the EF — remember even the EF had changes made to it over the years. So, it is just a matter of ensuring that the changes are made in a reverent manner that ensure the Mass remains unchanged. Now, before anyone jumps down my throat, I am not talking about renovations to the Mass. Making the Mass accessible to a handicap such as deafness is a different story.

  20. Antioch_2013 says:

    We asked our seminary’s teleturgics professor about this a few years ago. The answer is that the parish would hire a professional signer who would stand in a visible place in the church and sign what was being said, including the sermon. I think that this is a perfect solution for us today as well and is the most sensible option for everyone (since those who are deaf could get the fullness of the sermon and not cliff notes!). Of course nowadays in the NO the priest would be pretty free to sign for himself, while in the EF he wouldn’t.

  21. Hieronymus says:

    Jacob’s stats do more to prove my point than to rebut it. Since the advent of the new order of mass, the people have been led to believe that they must understand everything that is going on, to hear and respond and sing, etc. etc. etc. For a deaf person, this vision of the Mass is very exclusive; if I can’t hear and respond, and can’t understand what is going on, there is no point in going. “I don’t get anything out of it.”

    In the traditional mindset that you seem to want to attack (though I can’t understand what you are trying to criticize about it) there is no exclusivity. We understand that our participation is primarily interior — the priest is offering a sacrifice and we internally unite ourselves to that action. Participation is open to everyone — blind, deaf, dumb, intelligent, ignorant, healthy, sick, rich, poor, literate, or illiterate; be you in a good seat where you can see, or a bad seat where you can’t, or if you have bad knees or good knees, or if the priest gives his homily in latin or french or italian or mandarin — absolutely anyone can participate in the Mass no matter what be his strength or defect (and we all have both).

    The Mass, as it stands, is already 100% accessible to everyone who wishes to participate. No secluded groups.

  22. Hieronymus says:

    I just want to add that I am not in any way disrespecting people with any type of disability. I will very likely have my share of problems at a fairly early age.

    But review what seems to be firing you up the most:

    “However, a major point that I am trying to make that is being missed is that is is MAJORLY different to be attend Mass as a hearing person and a deaf person even when the hearing person doesn’t understand Latin.”

    That much has already been conceded, and is absolutely impossible to change. No amount of special provision will make you be able to hear the mass the way a person does who can actually hear. It is the same for those with vision problems, etc. Your experience of the Mass is, by absolute necessity, different. What I am trying to communicate is that this difference does not mean that your participation is LESS than that of someone who can hear. Different, yes. Less, no.
    You are already able to participate with the same degree of merit, etc. as someone who can hear. Again, what I am saying is INCLUSIVE, not exclusive.

  23. Jacob says:

    Jacob’s stats do more to prove my point than to rebut it. Since the advent of the new order of mass, the people have been led to believe that they must understand everything that is going on, to hear and respond and sing, etc. etc. etc. For a deaf person, this vision of the Mass is very exclusive; if I can’t hear and respond, and can’t understand what is going on, there is no point in going. “I don’t get anything out of it.”
    Comment by Hieronymus — 21 January 2010 @ 5:24 pm

    Well, the stat only shows Mass attendance of any type in the year it was compiled. My goal in offering it was merely to show that the deaf are marginalized in the Church today for whatever reason and are not going to Mass. I would think that a comparable stat from before 1970 would be needed before drawing any conclusions on the effects of going from the EF to the OF.

    Leaving aside the Mass, whatever form it takes, I would submit that there is a definite pastoral need for specific efforts for working with the deaf and getting them into the pews.

    In the traditional mindset that you seem to want to attack (though I can’t understand what you are trying to criticize about it) there is no exclusivity.
    Comment by Hieronymus — 21 January 2010 @ 5:24 pm

    I don’t want to answer for Ana, but I can say for myself that there is a certain frustration when it comes to the EF.

    Hieronymus’ objective points (such as ‘different, but not less’) are all valid and I myself would not suggest changing the EF in any way beyond finding ways to distribute the sermon, but as Father Z’s Old Mass/New Mass posts and associated comments from people describing the wonderful choirs, the appreciation for holy silence in a world full of noise and the beauty of the sacred language of the Church illustrate so well, the deaf are missing something spiritually tangible.

  24. ssoldie says:

    Hey, ‘jacob’ your eyes work well and your writings tell me your speech is very good, God bless you, I always think of St. Margaret when somebody mentions a disability. Such a wonderful Saint, God gave us.

  25. Jacob —

    I can hear, but “holy silence” doesn’t do anything for me like the lyrical descriptions some people come up with. You’re not missing anything. Some people have a gift for appreciating silence, that’s all. I don’t; you don’t. Your mode of not appreciating it, of course, is more thorough than mine.

  26. Ana says:

    The issue for deaf people who have been deaf since birth is more than just the sermon. Jacob is a wonderful example of someone who went deaf later in life, but for those who have never heard a sound and were unable to learn the English language (or whatever their native language is) in the manner that hearing people learn the language, there are more important issues at play. A deaf person often has significant trouble understanding the written language and will have more problems understanding liturgical written language than the hearing person. To say one does not have to hear to appreciate the silent, low Mass is an obvious statement that does not take into account the obstacles a deaf person must overcome. A good example would be the phrase, “I have to go to the store.” A deaf person, who was deaf from birth, reading this will often wonder why a person must posses the store and go to the store. This is why interpretation of the spoken parts of the Mass is important to deaf people. Sign Language is literally another language not just a verbatim translation of the written or spoken word.

    So, when you place a deaf person in the EF without translation of the spoken parts of the Mass, hand them a missal to follow along with and a book of sermons to read during the sermon, the deaf person is being cheated of the beauty of the EF. There is no reason reasonable accommodations, beyond printing out a sermon for them to read, should be neglected. Just because something was done a certain one in past times does not make it right or spiritually appropriate for the people. With Sign Language and deaf people, especially those born deaf, one is dealing with more than a different language. To compare your own experiences of following along silently with a Missal in your own language to a deaf person following along in a foreign language other than Latin and then say you are being inclusive not exclusive completely misses out on the issues at stake with a deaf person.

    Regarding my issue with the “traditional” mindset I have a deep frustration for anything that says we cannot find room to reach out to those with special needs while maintaining the continuity of our spirituality. As Christians, we have a special duty to those with special needs and to dismiss these concerns shows a lacking in our Christian spirituality. The attitude that a necessary interpreter being present would be disruptive is an attitude that is present across the board not just in the context of the EF so it is an extremely inconsiderate viewpoint that needs to be addressed in many situations. The concerns of deaf people are often dismissed just as they have been in this situation — hand them pen and paper or communicate in writing with them, it doesn’t matter.

    Not only is my younger brother deaf, I am a sign language interpreter and I have seen over the years families that even refuse to learn sign language to communicate with deaf family members. So, the attitudes expressed here are evidence an extension of society that still marginalized the deaf person.

    Silence is beauty to those in a world of noise, but it is just the normal routine and following along with a Missal at the EF is no different than reading a book at any other time for a deaf person.