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. 
Pastoral Statement of the US Bishops on Persons with Disabilities, 23; Revised Guidelines of the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities, Introduction; Welcome and Justice for Persons with Disabilities, 1.

Liturgy Resources

Sensory Friendly – Inclusive Family Masses – What Are They?

Everyone is welcome in the liturgies of the Archdiocese of Newark. However, some individuals with disabilities and their families don’t feel comfortable attending their local parish mass. This can be for different reasons. Some people have increased sensitivity to sounds and smells; some people need to move around more than other people; and some people make more vocalizations than others.

So, people either stay away because attending mass is too uncomfortable and/or some people stay away because of experiences of feeling unwelcome and marginalized. This typically includes individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities such as autism, sensory processing disorder, Down Syndrome, and cerebral palsy.

Inclusive Family Masses – Sensory Friendly Masses (SFM) offer some modifications to help individuals who have struggled because of such experiences to feel comfortable and welcome attending mass. For some these masses offer the opportunity to become familiar with the flow of mass and then feel comfortable attending their regular parish mass. For many, even if they do develop this comfort, it is great to gather periodically with people who have similar experiences of life, disability, and the Church.

[1] Many of these suggestions for sensory friendly masses are adapted from resources posted by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston Office for Ministry with Persons with Disabilities, Archdiocese of Philadelphia Office for Persons with Disabilities, and Archdiocese of Cincinnati Office for Persons with Disabilities.

Parishes hosting Sensory Friendly – Inclusive Family Masses (SFM) are going “the extra mile” to ensure that individuals with disabilities, their families and caregivers feel welcome, valued, appreciated, and supported. Such masses may include:
  • dimmed lights
  • softer music or no music
  • readings that are shorter and in simpler language
  • simpler homily
  • a shorter mass
  • lower sound system volume
  • a quiet area
  • no incense
  • Additional noises and movements possibly as people participate in the mass. This is totally fine, because the reason we gather for Eucharist to celebrate God in our lives and to draw strength from this, together. We are always stronger and more complete together.
  • People from the larger community are also encouraged to attend.  

For questions about directions and particular locations, please call the number listed for each parish on the schedule in below tab.

. See Below for Sensory Friendly – Inclusive Family Mass Schedule
How Can a Parish Prepare for Sensory Friendly – Inclusive Family Masses?

Regardless of which adapted mass model you choose, the suggestions below will help you prepare. There are similarities between both models, but some differences are outlined below.

  • Prepare parish for the new mass at least a month in advance.
    • Share simple explanation on why the mass is important with information from this website.
    • You could share information about different experiences of disability in the bulletin monthly.
    • While naming specific disabilities provides general information about different experiences and indications, the Church’s interest is in the human experiences and how it as the Body of Christ can feel a sense of solidarity with brothers and sisters living with disabilities.
  • Encourage parishioners to attend to demonstrate solidarity and welcome.
  • Members of the hospitality ministry:
    • Should be comfortable explaining the differences in the masses and welcoming individuals with disabilities, their friends and family members.  
    • Ask people using wheelchairs if they would prefer to roll themselves to communion or have it brought to them.
    • Ask people using other supportive mobility devices their preference.
  • Invite liturgical ministers from the regular parish masses to serve in SFM.
  • Consider having refreshments after mass in a safe and accessible space.
  • Inform local disability service organizations and group residences for individuals with disabilities about the masses. Ask if they have questions or suggestions.
  • Some parishes adapt a regularly scheduled mass to be “sensory friendly” instead of adding another mass to their schedule.

Sensory Friendly Masses

Sensory Friendly Masses1 For parishes focusing on adaptations for sensory issues, it is easier to adapt an existing mass. Suggestions are:

  • Subdued lighting, slightly dimmed.
  • Subdued music, softer and fewer instruments.
  • Signs noting wheelchair accessible restrooms.
  • Hospitality ministers are critical:
    • Assist with doors, etc as needed.
    • Ask wheelchair users their preference for communion: roll forward or have it brought to them.
    • Ask if low-gluten host is required. Be ready with plan for people who need this. For example, a particular station for distribution.
  • Homily should be shorter; keep language simple and relatable for a wide audience.
  • Expect there may be more talking, noise, and movements during mass.
  • Provide American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter if possible. Consult Fr. Bismark Chau at

[1] Many of these suggestions for sensory friendly masses are adapted from resources posted by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston Office for Ministry with Persons with Disabilities, Archdiocese of Philadelphia Office for Persons with Disabilities, and Archdiocese of Cincinnati Office for Persons with Disabilities.

Inclusive Family Masses

In addition to preparation and outreach noted above, the following are typical adaptations for Inclusive Family Masses. You can also incorporate aspects of the sensory friendly masses mentioned above.

  • The Children’s Lectionary is used, usually one reading before the Gospel.
    • NOTE: Though the Children’s Lectionary is used, because the language is more accessible, do not think your homily for adults with disabilities should be as if talking to children, only that language should be kept direct and concrete.
  • Profession of Faith, could also use the Renewal of Baptismal Promises.
  • Music may be omitted.
  • If Music, keep it simple and volume on the quiet side.
    • However, also know that many people with autism respond very well to music. So, start simple and you can adjust as you get to know your people more.
    • Initially at one parish, music was led a cappella, as there were not any music ministers. Slowly, the music ministry developed.
    • At another parish, the music is very lively and thoroughly enjoyed by all.
  • Remember, what is most important is that people feel welcome. And feel free to make your own contributions based on your community.
  • Your hospitality, welcome, concern, and support is what people will notice most.
The Church continues to affirm the dignity of every human being, and to grow in knowledge and understanding of the gifts and needs of her members who live with disabilities. Likewise, the Church recognizes that every parish community includes members with disabilities, and earnestly desires their active participation. All members of the Body of Christ are uniquely called by God by virtue of their Baptism. In light of this call, the Church seeks to support all in their growth in holiness, and to encourage all in their vocations. Participating in, and being nourished by, the grace of the sacraments is essential to this growth in holiness. Catholic adults and children with disabilities, and their families, earnestly desire full and meaningful participation in the sacramental life of the Church. 
Revised Guidelines of the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities, Introduction

Identifying Jesus in the Host

Ben, an 8-year-old boy with autism, learns to identify Jesus in the host through a teaching method called discrete trials. His teacher, Shannon, talks about Ben’s capacity to learn. His mother, Mary Beth, talks about the importance of expectations. 


Anne Masters, PhD, FAAIDD

Follow the Pastoral Ministry with Persons with Disabilities