Cutting through the silence, volunteer brings signing to Mass

NORTH MYRTLE BEACH—Deaf and hearing-impaired Catholics are used to attending Mass in utter silence — no music, no homily, no words of the consecration.

But a few sign-language interpreters such as Dorothy Bambach of North Myrtle Beach offer these men and women a way to participate more fully.

She signs at the 10 a.m. Mass at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in North Myrtle Beach on the fourth Sunday of each month, and at the 11 a.m. Mass at St. Michael Church in Garden City on the second Sunday.

“It is very special and a privilege to be able to sign the words of the Mass, especially the Gospel and the consecration. It’s also an honor to help deaf Catholics feel welcomed in the church, said Baumbach, who retired after 34 years from the Scranton School for the Deaf in Pennsylvania.

Bambach said many deaf Catholics along the Grand Strand moved to the area from parishes up north that regularly offered sign language. Regular sign language is not available at most parishes around the Diocese of Charleston, although Precious Blood of Christ Church on Pawleys Island occasionally has an interpreter if one is available. Some churches offer assistive headsets that can be worn to help enhance sound. Most deaf and severely hearing-impaired Catholics have to ask about available resources, and usually just do their best to glean as much from Mass as possible.

The deaf community is small and tight-knit and meets together after the two signed Masses. One of those members is Frances Cannon of Pawleys Island, who became deaf when she was 6 and grew up in the days before the Second Vatican Council.

She learned how to read the missal and follow along as best she could during Mass, but when it came to the homily, she would pray the rosary.

After she learned sign language at age 33, she joined the Catholic Deaf Center in Landover Hills, Md., where she was able to attend a Mass with sign language and eventually became a  professed member of the Order of the Franciscan Seculars.

In an email to The Miscellany, Cannon said sign language helped her gain a deeper understanding and love for her faith.

She wishes there was more sign language interpretation available at parish and diocesan events so people who need it might take part in workshops and retreats.

“I regret to say that I can see that the deaf are limited in getting more of the true meaning of Jesus’ teachings and Gospel,” she said.

“There is so much more we could grasp and learn with the interpreter. It is always so good to be together as family. However, I know the Holy Spirit gives us understanding even if we can’t hear the words.”

When sign language is available, it can open up the mystery and beauty of the Mass in a whole new way, Cannon said.

“It is wonderful to be able to participate in the Mass fully with the congregation, to respond to the prayers, to ‘hear’ the priest or deacon give his homily, to get the fuller family feeling with better communication and understanding of God’s word,” she said.