Dioceses and parishes are being encouraged to look into the possibility of offering a “low sensory Mass” for people who are on the autism spectrum or who have other sensory processing disorders.
Mental health expert Michael Hempseed said that a lot of people who have these disabilities find it difficult to attend a regular Mass.
“This Christmas (2020) at Kaiapoi, Christchurch, we ran a low sensory Mass. This involves dim lights, no music, no incense, or anything like this. It is designed for people who are on the autistic spectrum, people who have had brain injuries, strokes, or who have sensory processing disorder. The feedback was very positive from the one we ran,” he said.
Mr Hempseed suggested the low sensory Mass to parish priest Fr John Adams after he (Mr Hempseed) found out from parents of children with autism how hard it was for them to attend Mass.
“Fr John Adams, our parish priest, agreed that Christmas would be a good time, because Christmas Mass is especially overwhelming,” Mr Hempseed said.
The Mass was held at 4 o’clock in the afternoon of December 23. An estimated 17 people attended, some travelling 40 minutes to get to the church.
“You don’t want too many people there, because that defeats the purpose of it. You want it quite small,” he said, adding there was a “really good mixture” of participants, in terms of age and disability.
“There was even someone who had quite bad arthritis. He said that he couldn’t breathe at a normal Mass. At a regular Mass, there would be quite a lot of people, and it would be quite hot. That made me realise that there are a lot of people [who] miss out on Mass, especially the big Masses like Christmas and Easter,” he said.
Mr Hempseed said that an elderly woman with a walking frame told him it was hard to move around, particularly for Communion, at ordinary Sunday Masses.
“We’re very keen to have more of this [low sensory Masses] throughout Christchurch. We are also very keen to encourage other parishes or dioceses to try [to] consider running this on a regular basis,” he said.
He pointed out that the local franchise of a big supermarket chain, as well as some businesses around their area, are already offering a “low sensory” hour for people with autism or disabilities.
“Our local swimming pool has a low sensory hour. I thought, if all these businesses can do this, this is something we can look at,” he said.
Mr Hempseed said that, sometimes, people with low sensory processing do not realise they have this problem, and they do not how to speak up.
He said there is a need to try to find out who these people are, and how they can be accommodated.
“Christ is all about finding people [who] are maybe being neglected by society. Christ is all about finding those people who are on the outskirts,” he said. “I thought just to have Christmas Mass, where we deliberately try to invite these people, and made especially for them, is trying to live the Gospel.”