This last weekend I was able to take two of my kids to a sensory Mass. If you’re not familiar with the concept, a sensory Mass is a Mass at which the various sensory needs of people are explicitly welcome. That might include fidget devices, standing or walking, and making sounds. Many people spend all Mass fighting their sensory needs in order to maintain what we are culturally familiar with as “proper Mass behavior.” A sensory Mass allows people with these needs to meet them freely, so that rather than focusing their attention and effort on themselves and their needs, they can focus on the Mass and encounter Christ more deeply.
Before Mass began, Father stepped up to the ambo, welcomed everyone warmly, and made it explicitly clear that no one in the congregation should hesitate for a second about making sure their sensory needs were met during Mass, up to and including walking up to the altar.
That’s when I broke.
You see, as a parent trying to be a “good” Catholic parent, I would be mortified if my child ran up to the altar. A little noise here and there, ok. Fidgety, not too much please, but I get it. Walking to the altar, oh heck no. There’s a line there. And I realized in that moment the cost I pay to go to Mass. It’s the price of stress and worry that my family will *whispers* “misbehave.” That we will lose our status as acceptable. I worry the same for myself, that if I can’t focus or pray deeply enough that I have somehow done it wrong and I will not be welcome.
I broke right then because I saw everything I was paying to come to the table of the Lord, and I was hearing Father say the words of Isaiah 55:1 “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” In that moment I really felt the freedom of that passage. The price of being accepted at Mass wasn’t my or my family’s quiet, or stillness, or even attention. We were welcome as we are, neurodiverse and messy and imperfect. There was no price of admission, just the warm embrace of God.
I know I’m not alone worrying that my family is all “right” when we’re at Mass. Right clothes, right attitude, right behavior, and on down the line. I call BS. Christ is there when we bring our authentic selves before him, messy as that may be. No honest mess keeps us from connecting with Christ the way armor and masks do.
The truth is, whether your parish priest says it or not, whether you have a sensory Mass or not, you and yours are welcome into the presence of the Lord.
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