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THE WHITE MASS

"Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house" (Lk 19:1-10)

Have you ever attended the White Mass? Do you know what the White Mass is or its purpose? Rachel M. Chung, the Disabilities Coordinator for the Office of Deaf and Disabilities Ministry for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, shares these words when describing the White Mass. Mrs. Chung said, "For 12 years, the White Mass has celebrated the gifts and contributions of people living with disabilities and persons who are Deaf. We have used the color white during this Mass to symbolize our Baptism. We are united as one Church family through our Baptism, and indeed, we are all called to bring the message of Christ to all we meet. For many years the White Mass was celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington, D.C."

Wilton Cardinal Gregory

Therefore, the White Mass celebrates the gifts and contributions of individuals with all disabilities, which makes Luke's Gospel reading Zacchaeus applicable. One can only imagine Zacchaeus's excitement while attending this celebratory Mass instead of climbing a tree to see Jesus. Since he was short in stature, he would have felt accepted in this environment. However, rather than receiving an invitation to attend this Mass in our contemporary time, Zacchaeus faced ostracization during his lived experience. No one wanted Zacchaeus to see Jesus. What did the crowd do to avert Zacchaeus from seeing Jesus? Did they push Zacchaeus down or to the back of the group because he was an underhanded tax collector? Or because his disability did not warrant him to see Jesus because of his sin? Notice how Zacchaeus received no assistance when climbing the tree. I thank God that the narration gives witness to a person with a disability desiring Jesus and that Jesus longed for him. "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house."

Here, this gospel reading caused me to wonder. How frequently do we reach out to those with a disability? How intentional are our ministries when including all of God's children in service? When talking with Mrs. Chung, she commented that this "... year's White Mass would expand into celebrating our baptismal promise and call to holiness and service. We honor and value the giftedness and the full, active participation of persons from the Deaf Community and persons living with a disability. We welcome all who minister through charity and service. Each person, no matter their gifts, is called to honor and advocate for the dignity of the human person, embrace a consistent life ethic, and share in the joy of all Creation."

Wilton Cardinal Gregory

I find this last quote interesting as the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., is consciously expanding the White Mass by "celebrating our baptismal promise and call to holiness and service." I think Cardinal Wilton Gregory wishes that our ministries be inclusive. However, a few things must coincide in our churches today for this to be a reality. We need more accessibility to our church buildings and bathrooms. What do your church steps and bathrooms look like? Can everyone maneuver skillfully and safely around your church facility? Are individuals able to serve as lectors or extraordinary Ministers, or are there actual steps preventing access to the altar? We need faith leaders to invite people with disabilities and our elders back to the church. Make room for the outcast or the forgotten members of our community. Jesus made room for Zacchaeus. Are we making room for the ostracized? Are we inviting those shunned as Jesus did?

"The Journal of Disability and Religion revealed only 10 percent of U.S. churches offered any tangible support to disabled people. In short, not only are churches unequipped to welcome disabled people, but it is not even clear whether they have a desire to do so. Many of us continue to wish that this were not the case."

'When I stress that a ramp isn't just for me or other wheelchair users, that it can assist folks who use other mobility aids, strollers, or even transport sound equipment, he brushes me off with a quick pat on the shoulder — like I'm a good dog. None of this matters to him because he claims it's not a good use of the church's money, all while chomping down on the stale donuts and coffee that the church purchases every Sunday." AMY KENNY


Author: Evang./Prof. Michael Howard, MACS


The White Mass

October 30, 2022 @ 11:00 am

St. Marys Church of Landover Hills

7301 Annapolis Road, Landover, MD 20784

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