TWO weeks ago my 15-yearold very severely retarded son Jeremy made his First Communion with special permission from our Bishop. FolloWing the practice of the Faith and Light Movement, with which we have been associated for some time, we determined that this Mass would be one which would be memorable for ourson, on his own level.
The Mass was arranged for 12 noon on a Sunday — a separate Mass from those of the parish, but to which anyone from the parish who cared to come along was invited. Also invited were all our friends, and those people who at any time had helped us ill our work for the mentally handicapped. More than 100 people attended. •
Jeiemy was born with ng signs of any abnormality. But when at the age of 16 months he could still not sit up and was only increasing in weight by oz per week, concern grew. Aged 34 years and after some 27 tests at Great Orman& Street Hospital, we were told
that he had a mental age of an 18-month-old baby and that it was unlikely that he would ever be able to talk. Indeed, Jeremy didn't start walking until he was four, Since he was five, Jeremy has attended several different training centres and is currently at Hildenborough Training School in Kent, where he will remain until he is 16. But what then? The possibility of there being a vacancy at an adult training centre for someone as severely retarded as Jeremy is virtually non-existent.
Before the First Communion Mass we explained that this celebration was to he very much a shared one, to make up for any deficiencies in the child's own attitude to the great event.
Accordingly we asked two schoolboy friends of ours to make drawings of the Faith and Light badge, and its motto "Smile, God loves You" to decorate the altar. Their younger brother wanted to add his contribution, and supplied us with a drawing of the Crucifixion. This led us to ring up our friends and ask if their children would prepare a painting or drawing for Jeremy's Mass. The artists were asked to share in the Mass by bringing up their pictures during the Offertory procession (children who had no pictures carried up a flower).
The pictures, which ranged from two Crucifixions, a Last Supper. angels. men, birds. beasts, fish and heavy transport to the Bay City Rollers, were placed round the altar during the Mass.
One handicapped lad reluctantly handed over the banner he was carrying. and couldn't reclaim if fast enough when the Mass was ended! In the Offertory procession Jeremy himself carried up a lighted yellow candle which remained on the altar during the whole of the Mass.
In the homily the priest -explained that no one could know what was going on in the mind of our son, or how much he un-, derstOod of what was going to happen. What we did know was that he loved people, his family, his friends and others, and the only place he could have got this love was from God.
So we knew that God was in Jeremy, and the yellow candle he would bring Up at the Offertory was a golden symbol of God's presence in him and among us — a sign of our union with Jeremy in Christ.
The Mass, which three priests concelebrated, had as its theme the Light of God, and the readings were chosen on this theme from the very simplest of translations.
The most poignant was from St Paul's Epistle: "Sometimes we find it hard to say our prayers! But remember we have a special friend — the Holy Spirit! And He will help us. Sometimes we don't know what to say to God, but the Holy Spirit will help us to pray without using words, and God will understand."
The Bidding Prayers were said by three handicapped and three non-handicapped friends. A very moving prayer was that of a severely physically handicapped young woman who asked God to remind us that "All roads lead to God. That it is a privilege to have a disability. a handicap." and begged for the grace that "Jeremy and his parents may always be at peace. '
Jeremy himself had been given a small Mass bell by us as his First Communion present, as we felt it was more appropriate for him than the usual First Communion gifts,
This he enjoyed ringing throughout the Mass and when listening to the recording of the Mass later, I was surprised to find on how many occasions he had rung his bell loudly at the, most appropriate moments like for instance, When one of the Bidding Prayers asked for prayers for those "who long to receive Our Lord and are.not able to." A loud ring of the hell
and an even louder "Weh • , ." from Jeremy?
The Mass was punctuated throughout by various hymns most of which were very joyful and contained a considerable number of "Alleluias."
The Communion itself went very satisfactorily — there always being the possibility of some mishap: but Our Lord was with us and all went well. It would have been lovely if Jeremy had uttered one of his "At-loo-yas" during the Mass, but it was not to be a in a way, the appropriateness of the bellringing made up for this, The Mass ended to the strains of the Faith and Light hymn: My friends, let's sing all our joy.
God is alive, Alleluia.
Sing of Jesus, Our God of Light, Alleluia, Alleluia.
When the final note had died down the congregation broke into loud applause, in which Jeremy whole-heartedly joined. At last our son was a full member of the Church! Alleluia!