Guidelines for Priests – Preparing Liturgies where Deaf People are present

  • The following are guidelines for priests working in a situation where Deaf People are present and an interpreter is signing to enable Deaf People to take part in the celebration of the Liturgy.  Many priests have told me these guidelines have helped them to be more aware of the needs of our Deaf Brothers and Sisters in our congregation.  I also believe that these guidelines could be taken generally as they will help us as priests to bring more dignity and reverence into our celebrations.  The first words I would use to help priests working with Deaf People is to “SLOW DOWN”  If you remember to slow down that will be a good starting point.  Most of us speak too quickly making it difficult even for hearing people.  When we speak too fast we make it impossible for Deaf People to grasp and even more impossible for the interpreter to translate into sign language.  Slowing down adds greater meaning to the words we use and brings more dignity and reverence to the celebration.
  • When Deaf People are present at a hearing liturgy, try to remember that you are speaking through a third party (the interpreter).  A lot will depend on the pace of the speaker.  Speak slowly and clearly.  (There’s that word again – SLOW)  I am always afraid to say a ‘normal pace’ because for most of us even normal is too fast.
  • Many priests will slow down at the beginning of the mass, you need to be conscious not only at the beginning but throughout the entire celebration.  It is a big criticism of Deaf People that priests take the Eucharistic Prayers too fast making it impossible for an interpreter to follow.  The Eucharistic Prayer is as important as the Liturgy of the Word and the Homily.  Slow Down!
  • When preparing your homily, try to keep to one theme, some priests move through several themes in the course of one homily, making it difficult for the interpreter and even more difficult for Deaf People to comprehend.
  • During your preparation, it is always good to look at the language you use to get your message across.  Some theological words and concepts are difficult to interpret.  If you think it will present a difficulty, change it, try to say the same thing using a language that is more accessible and easier to understand.
  • Use language that is clear and simple.  Don’t use ‘highbrow’ language that will be difficult to translate.  Sign-language is a visual language.  Translating English into Irish Sign Language can be a complex task.
  • Try not to use metaphors as they are always difficult for the interpreter to translate and many Deaf People will not comprehend the meaning of the metaphors used.  If you intend to use a metaphor then try to speak to the interpreter beforehand, he/she may be able to put your words in a language more suitable for Deaf People which will enable them to comprehend what you are saying.
  • It always helps if the priest has written a copy of the homily so that the interpreter will be able to familiarize him/herself with the content.  If you do not have a full copy, pointers will also assist the interpreter.  Failing this, you can speak with the interpreter before the celebration begins.  Share some of your ideas and thoughts for your homily with the interpreter.  This will assist him/her with the translation and preparation.
  • Make sure that the microphone is not in the way of your mouth when speaking.  This is a common problem in many churches.  Many microphones in churches are a hindrance to Deaf People and prevent them from taking part in the liturgy as they cover the mouth of the person reading or preaching.  Often the ambo is too high, can it be lowered?  Can the person in the front row or the back see the reader clearly?
  • Many Deaf People are excellent lip-readers but need to see clearly the person speaking.  A Deaf Person will also read facial expression as well as lip-patterns.  Reading sign language for long periods of time be very tiring for a Deaf Person.  Profoundly Deaf People will follow the interpreter but many will try to follow the speaker’s lip pattern also.  Being aware of your movement in this way can also help the Deaf Person.
  • When you are speaking, hearing people can listen.  Try to remember that Deaf People have to ‘read’ the sign language being used by the interpreter to understand what you are saying.
  • If you see Deaf People falling asleep during your homily, it is because you have been too long – keep it short.
  • Finally – SLOW DOWN!