Helping hands: translating the Mass for those who can’t hear

A diocesan paper in Arkansas looks at the particular challenges of deaf Catholics — and how the church is trying to help them:

When Catholics who are deaf make a joyful noise to the Lord, they do it with a flourish of fingers.

Every day they face isolation in a hearing world, even when it comes to expressing their religion.

In Arkansas, deaf Catholics are a minority within a minority, and they are acutely aware of the lack of resources for their small community. Their hope is to be able to worship and live a full faith life just like any other Catholic in the state.

But for a deaf Catholic in Arkansas, they are lucky if they can go to Mass and understand what is happening.

“When the organ’s really loud, you can feel that, but that’s about it,” said Betty Babin of Little Rock who was born deaf and is now also blind.

While hearing Catholics take their cues from what they hear during Mass, Catholics who cannot hear are left in the dark.

“You’d just do a lot of praying. Without an interpreter, you’re just kind of watching to see where you are at and you watch the other people and do what they do. Now, I can’t go without an interpreter. You have to understand what’s going on,” said Betty’s son, Art Babin who was also born deaf.

At the 10:15 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Mary Church in North Little Rock, deaf Catholics have the opportunity to have an interpreted Mass through Nancy Quinn, a Catholic who has been interpreting Mass since the 1970s after a couple asked if she would consider interpreting at Mass.

“I had no idea what that meant. I did not have the credentials. They were kind enough and patient enough with me that I just gave it a try,” she said. “Then I started learning about interpreting as a profession. I went and got credentialed. I think it was the Lord pushing me along.”

It’s a common experience for deaf Catholics to attend Mass without an interpreter, but a frustrating one.

“If anyone needs an interpreter, churches can hire one,” Quinn said.

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