It has been nearly 35 years since the United States Catholic Bishops issued their guidelines for the reception of the sacraments by persons with physical or developmental disabilities. But for some reason, many families still are not aware of them. Too many Catholics with disabilities have not received sacraments beyond that of Baptism and sometimes First Eucharist. The Sacrament of Confirmation is a more remote possibility, perhaps because it is frequently perceived as a sacrament of completion rather than what it actually is: a sacrament of initiation.
Here is what the bishops say about the sacraments and persons with disabilities:
“It is essential that all forms of the liturgy be completely accessible to persons with disabilities, since these forms are the essence of the spiritual tie that binds the Christian community together. To exclude members of the parish from these celebrations of the life of the Church, even by passive omission, is to deny the reality of that community. Accessibility involves far more than physical alterations to parish buildings. Realistic provision must be made for persons with disabilities to participate fully in the Eucharist and other liturgical celebrations such as the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Confirmation, and Anointing of the Sick (Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities, November 1978; revised 1989).”
Nearly 30 years ago, the late John Cardinal O’Connor, a tireless advocate for and friend to persons of all ages with disabilities, began a custom both his successors have continued: that of conferring the Sacrament of Confirmation upon youth with disabilities during his Sunday Pontifical Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He was setting an example for all pastors and parishioners to welcome, prepare, and provide the sacraments to these young people in their parishes. However, whether by design or by accident, he also established one of the most beloved and impressive rites on the Cathedral’s calendar.
This coming April 14, Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan will confer the Sacrament of Confirmation to youth with disabilities at the 10:15 Mass in St. Patrick’s. If you know of a Catholic young person with physical or cognitive disabilities, who has not yet been confirmed, please tell his or her parents, family members or caregivers to e-mail Mrs. Linda Sgammato, director of special religious education for the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office. Better yet, give her a call at 212-371-1011, ext. 2852. Mrs. Sgammato will be delighted to provide more details on having this young Catholic confirmed. She will be happy to meet the candidate and his/her family in their homes, too.
Says Mrs. Sgammato: “A home visit is an opportunity to meet the candidates and families in a relaxed, informal atmosphere, to hear their stories, to share their excitement, to present the red Confirmation gown and, of course, to learn how each candidate is prepared – by a catechist in a parish program adapted to his or her needs or by faith-filled parents, family members or caregivers. It’s my honor and joy to meet them and help make possible their great day of Confirmation at the Cathedral.”