In the Catholic Church, the spoken language is central to the liturgy: we recite the Nicene Creed as one, we praise the Lord with the Gloria that we sing, and we bow our heads to hear the blessing we receive at the end of Mass.
But there’s a different reality for hearing impaired and deaf Catholics around the world.
Father Sergio Buiza, the national director of the Spanish Conference of Catholic Bishops Deaf Ministry, said their goal is to “bring the Gospel to the maximum number of people,” including, of course, the deaf and hearing impaired, Europa news reported.
Fr. Buiza is just one of several priests who celebrates Mass in sign language at one of many Catholic churches in Spain. He celebrates a sign language Mass at the Santiago Cathedral in Bilboa, Spain each week.
There are around a million people in Spain affected by different levels of hearing loss. Some 1,250 of them attend Mass in sign language every week at one of the two dozen churches where they are held.
In the parishes where this pastoral care is provided, all types of services are offered: from Mass to catechesis, Bible study groups, wedding celebrations, and confessions.
However, Fr. Buiza explained, the biggest issue is that there is just one parish for the deaf per diocese, forcing those with hearing impairments to travel long distances each week.
“There are elderly people that come from a long way. In my diocese we celebrate the Eucharist in the cathedral every Saturday afternoon and they come from different towns by train and bus,” the priest from Bilbao said.
In 2015, the Spanish Catholic Bishops Conference announced a new initiative in collaboration with the ONCE Foundation to help the hearing impaired by installing magnetic induction loops, or hearing loops, in at least 12 churches across Spain.
Hearing loops are sound systems that transform the audio in a magnetic field that is picked up by hearing aids and Cochlear Implant processors. This will allow at least those with such devices to participate more fully in the Mass, but would not be of use to those who are fully deaf.
The Church in Spain has been working with the deaf for more than 50 years and has been doing so in a more coordinated fashion since the 1990s, when Deaf Ministry became part of the Bishops Conference.
In Spain, some 173 people - both priests and laity - are dedicated to the pastoral care of the deaf, many of whom are deaf or hearing impaired themselves.