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Seeing the faith through new eyes

Touching is seeing for blind and vision-impaired at St. Gabriel Parish

oe Palano, a St. Gabriel parishioner who is blind from birth, holds the chalice as fellow parishioner Rachelle Arsenault explains how the priest elevates it during Mass. The explanation of Mass for the blind and visually impaired was organized by Dolores McDiarmid, a local Catholic with a master's degree in pastoral ministries who has worked with the blind and visually impaired for more than 25 years.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO | Dolores McDiarmid

oe Palano, a St. Gabriel parishioner who is blind from birth, holds the chalice as fellow parishioner Rachelle Arsenault explains how the priest elevates it during Mass. The explanation of Mass for the blind and visually impaired was organized by Dolores McDiarmid, a local Catholic with a master's degree in pastoral ministries who has worked with the blind and visually impaired for more than 25 years.

MIAMI — It is something those of us who see take for granted: The priest sometimes sits during Mass.

But people who are blind from birth would not know that.

Neither would they know what a tabernacle actually looks like; or who rings the bells during the consecration; or that the priest’s host is normally bigger than the one the people receive.

Those were all revelations for about a dozen blind and visually-impaired people who took a tactile tour of St. Gabriel Church in Pompano Beach in February. The tour was organized by Dolores McDiarmid, a mobility instructor for the blind and visually-impaired who also holds a degree in pastoral ministries from St. Thomas University.

“The Catholic Church is so visual,” she said. “We have beautiful religious art and all the different things that are used in our worship. When you are not able to see that you’re missing out.”

Nigel Ricards touches the tabernacle during the explanation of Mass for the blind and visually impaired that took place at St. Gabriel in February. The event was organized by Dolores McDiarmid, a local Catholic with a master's degree in pastoral ministries who has worked with the blind and visually impaired for more than 25 years.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO | Dolores McDiarmid

Nigel Ricards touches the tabernacle during the explanation of Mass for the blind and visually impaired that took place at St. Gabriel in February. The event was organized by Dolores McDiarmid, a local Catholic with a master's degree in pastoral ministries who has worked with the blind and visually impaired for more than 25 years.

McDiarmid arranged for the group — not all of them Catholics — to listen to a presentation by St. Gabriel’s pastor, Father Anthony Mulderry, who shared the story of his own vocation as well as the history of how Mass has been celebrated since the early days of the Church.

Participants then got to touch each of the items used in worship, including chalices, cruets, the altar, the tabernacle, and even the bells rung by the altar servers during the consecration. As participants touched the items, St. Gabriel parishioners Hervé and Rachelle Arsenault explained how each is used during Mass.

“It was the first time I actually was able to touch the chalice and the altar and the tabernacle, and actually feel the items that are used in the liturgy,” said Christopher Palano, who along with his twin brother, Joseph, is a lifelong Catholic and member of St. Gabriel’s. Both have been blind from birth.

Palano said he knew what the tabernacle was — the place where consecrated hosts are kept — but had no clear idea of what it might look like or how big it might be until he felt it with his hands.

“Eighty percent of one’s perceptions are gained through sight,” he noted, recalling how one time he asked a friend if Humphrey Bogart smoked.

“How would I really know that without seeing it?” Palano said. “It’s hard for (sighted) people to imagine.”

“One person stated that she did not know that the priest sat down during the Mass. She thought he stood the entire time,” McDiarmid said. “Many people learned the significance of the bells. One person thought it was one tiny bell being rung. Another person thought someone was pulling a rope to ring the bells.”

One non-Catholic woman even told her “that when she touched the tabernacle she could feel the sacredness. She learned why Catholics make the sign of the cross, why they genuflect, and learned about the size of the priest’s host compared to the size of the host that the congregation receives.”

“I actually learned a bit of Church history,” said Palano.
Nigel Ricards puts his hands on the chalice during the explanation of Mass for the blind and visually impaired that took place at St. Gabriel in February. The event was organized by Dolores McDiarmid, a local Catholic with a master's degree in pastoral ministries who has worked with the blind and visually impaired for more than 25 years.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO | Dolores McDiarmid

Nigel Ricards puts his hands on the chalice during the explanation of Mass for the blind and visually impaired that took place at St. Gabriel in February. The event was organized by Dolores McDiarmid, a local Catholic with a master's degree in pastoral ministries who has worked with the blind and visually impaired for more than 25 years.



McDiarmid said she is willing to help other parishes arrange similar tours for people who are blind and visually-impaired.

Palano noted that it might not be a bad idea for even those who see well to take such tours.

“This has been a criticism of Catholics, that they just go by rote,” he said. “Education is good for those people who want to know why we do what we do and what it means. It’s always good.”

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Dolores McDiarmid also serves as baptismal godparent and religious education instructor for a sight-impaired teenager from St. Gregory Parish in Plantation. Read the story of how this special girl’s faith has touched those around her by clicking here.

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