By Maureen Pratt, Catholic News Service 

ADVENT CANDLE BURNS ON FIRST SUNDAY OF SEASON AT CHURCH IN VIRGINIA

Holiday celebrations are wonderful for gathering loved ones from far and near. Christmas Masses usually are packed, and other activities, from tree trimming to Advent services, are usually abundantly attended, too.

But for all the lights and warmth that illuminate the holiday season, sometimes we inadvertently forget that there are some in our communities who might not be as mobile or otherwise able to fully participate in all that this time of year has to offer. Yet, for these fellow Catholics, the Christmas season is no less important or treasured.

How can we be more accommodating to those whose disabilities or other challenges might prevent them from joining us as we lift a collective “Gloria in excelsis Deo”?

Consider the following suggestions for making Advent and Christmas a more accessible experience:

Transportation: Winter weather poses particular challenges for those whose mobility is impaired. Besides the obvious trouble of navigating slick sidewalks, there is the added problem some have of simply getting from home to church.

Those who rely on public transportation might opt to forgo midnight Mass rather than endure the long wait at a bus or subway stop. The liturgy committee might ask a group of parishioners to provide transportation, or, alternatively, work with a local cab company to provide the service.

Parking: Because crowds descend on our churches at Christmas, if at all possible reserve extra parking spaces for people with disabilities in your lot or nearby. An alternative plan may include a designated curbside drop-off point at or near the front of the church.

Seating: Wall-to-wall crowds can be daunting for those with physical or mental disabilities. If you know that there are people in your parish who might need a bit more elbow room to comfortably attend holiday masses, consider reserving such space in advance and ask that the ushers direct them to those seats.

Special events: At this time of year, stress can weigh heavily, especially for caregivers of people with chronic illnesses or disabilities, including autism, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease. These earthly angels might not have the time to break away from their responsibilities for a full Christmas celebration, but they may be able to attend an Advent prayer service or abbreviated Christmas liturgy.

It can be wonderful, too, to provide guidance and support for caregivers to bring a bit of Christmas to those they care for, if it is not possible for them to attend a complete Mass. For example, perhaps a small group from the choir could sing carols at the homes of shut-ins, or people from the parish outreach could bring the Eucharist and prayer support.

Be open to all: Recently, some older Catholics I’ve talked with have said they felt pushed out of activities such as reading the Mass readings or singing because they are older. While this is anecdotal, and a far more complex issue than “old versus young,” it is important to keep in mind that not all who attend Christmas Masses or other services are under 30.

Blending older parishioners with younger in active roles as much as possible is more representational of our world, and speaks beyond numerical age to an appreciation of people at all stages of their lives.

Much as it is with Christmas music, the older hymns are as uniquely resonant as the newer and, when combined, create a beautiful, rich tapestry of faith and fellowship.

Maureen Pratt’s website is http://www.maureenpratt.com.