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.

Read more.


  1. The most generous estimates of Deaf Americans who regularly attend ANY Christian Church or denomination (let alone Catholic) come in under 4%. There is a huge evangelization need here.

  2. My daughter has a condition called bi-lateral microtia, which makes her hard of hearing (HH). We are very blessed to have an interpreter for her for Religious education. At our 10AM mass on Sunday, we also have an interpreter for the small group of people at our parish who need it. There are about 5 or 6 people who have mass interpreted for them by another interpreter.

  3. MidwestGirl says:

    Our parish has one of our four weekend Masses interpreted for the hearing impaired each week. Hiring an interpreter each week is somewhat expensive, but we’ve been designated as the “interpreted Mass” for our region so it’s worth it.

  4. Suburbanbanshee says:

    This is one of those things where it would really be useful for the bishop’s chancery, or the local deanery, to coordinate stuff. They should know how many deaf Catholics are out there and where they go to Mass, and coordinate finding interpreters. For a single parish, it might be hard for Father to find out there’s a problem and find an interpreter to solve it. If the whole archdiocese is involved, they might be able to track down interpreters more easily, or sponsor classes, or something of that nature.

    It sounds (from the poster above) that some areas are doing this, by having a local “interpreted Mass.”

  5. So do I need to learn “And with your spirit” in sign language and sign it as I speak it? :-P

    I have not seen it at any mass, but if there are deaf people that attend, then it’s a good thing.

  6. Some places have an Office for Deaf Catholics, with a large program for such.

  7. My parish in the archdiocese of Arlington (VA) also has an interpreter for the deaf. It is wonderful that no one is left out. Without our interpreter, where would these Catholics go? But that interpreter sure has a hard time keeping up with our priest’s homilies!

  8. A class mate of mine ( Fr. Thom Costa in the diocese of Rockville Centre) know signing.

Leave a Comment