June 29, 2012

SPRED liturgy helps participants grow closer to God

Deacon Thomas Ward poses for pictures with Leia Stone, a St. Simon the Apostle parishioner and SPRED participant, after the archdiocesan Special Religious Development Mass on June 10 at St. Lawrence Church in Indianapolis. Deacon Daniel Collier also assisted with the liturgy. (Photo by Mary Ann Garber)

Deacon Thomas Ward poses for pictures with Leia Stone, a St. Simon the Apostle parishioner and SPRED participant, after the archdiocesan Special Religious Development Mass on June 10 at St. Lawrence Church in Indianapolis. Deacon Daniel Collier also assisted with the liturgy. (Photo by Mary Ann Garber) Click for a larger version.

By Mary Ann Garber

When Jessica Reed thinks about God, she feels happy and is reminded of her wonderful friends in the archdiocesan Special Religious Development Program (SPRED), who have helped her learn about her Catholic faith and grow closer to Jesus as a young adult with a disability.

The SPRED participant and member of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis likes to pray and wants people to know about her love for the Lord.

During the 14th annual archdiocesan SPRED liturgy on June 10 at St. Lawrence Church in Indianapolis, she was excited to receive the sacrament of confirmation, help present the offertory gifts, and receive Communion on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Sixteen-year-old Leia Stone, also a SPRED participant from St. Simon Parish, isn’t able to talk or consume food orally, but her beautiful smile communicated her joy when she was confirmed then received the Eucharist by intinction for the first time.

(Related: See a photo gallery from the Mass by Mary Ann Garber)

Leia’s mother, Melanie Stone, lovingly held her face as Msgr. Joseph Schaedel anointed her with holy chrism oil in the sacrament of confirmation.

Later in the liturgy, her mother helped her again as Deacon Thomas Ward placed a small piece of the Body of Christ with the Blood of Christ on her tongue.

Watching their daughter receive the sacraments was an emotional experience for Trent and Melanie Stone.

“It’s been awesome,” Trent Stone said after the liturgy. “SPRED helped us so we could let her have this day. We probably wouldn’t have been able to do this without that help.”

Melanie Stone couldn’t quit smiling after the liturgy.

“What a wonderful, holy, special time for her and for us to see her be able to receive Jesus in that way,” she said. “This was something that we didn’t think she would ever be able to do. It was very special.”

They are grateful to Deacon Ward, who formerly ministered at St. Simon Parish, for introducing them to the archdiocesan SPRED program and sharing this special day with the Stone family.

“A few years ago, Deacon Tom told us about the SPRED program and got Leia involved in it at our parish,” Melanie Stone said. “It’s just wonderful for him to be able to be a part of this for her because he initiated it for her.”

As Deacon Ward posed for pictures with Leia after the Mass, he described the SPRED ministry as “a miracle, an absolute miracle,” because it enables people with disabilities to participate in the sacraments.

“I am so happy for Leia and for her family,” he said. “It’s spectacular to see the [Stone] family all here today with her grandparents and her uncle and her aunt.

“Leia consumes very little orally so we arranged in advance for her to receive a fractional piece of the Host that had been intinctured in the Blood of Christ,” Deacon Ward said. “I had the exorbitant blessing of being able to help her consume the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for the first time on the feast of Corpus Christi. What a monumental thing to do, and how lucky I am.

“Parishes that have the wherewithal to support a SPRED program are demonstrating their spirituality,” he said. “It is an awesome obligation and an honor, but it takes a lot of support from the people who are involved in it, and it’s not something that is easy to do. It requires a lot of training for the [volunteer] catechists and the leaders, and also a profound commitment. What I have observed is that the catechists bond so tightly with their SPRED friends. It’s amazing to see that bonding.”

Msgr. Schaedel, the principal celebrant and pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, has supported the SPRED ministry for many years as has Father Thomas Schliessmann, who concelebrated the Mass and is pastor of St. Lawrence Parish.

During his homily, Msgr. Schaedel held up a cell phone to illustrate his message that God wants to talk with us in prayer and stay close to us through the Eucharist.

“I can call people that are far away that I can’t see,” he said. “… Jesus, when he left Earth, gave us a way that he could stay in touch with us—holy Communion. … It’s a miracle that Jesus keeps in touch with us through the holy Eucharist, and that’s the feast we celebrate today.

“Every time that we celebrate the Eucharist at the altar,” Msgr. Schaedel explained, “somehow, some way, invisibly, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus comes and he is present to us. When we receive him in holy Communion, we can all talk to him privately at one time. … He hears us and we hear him if we listen quietly. That’s the great gift—the Body and Blood of Jesus—given to us in the holy Eucharist so we can stay in touch.”

Kara Favata, assistant director of special religious education for the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education, said after the liturgy that it’s an honor to help with the Church’s ministry to people with disabilities.

“They are very devout,” she said, “and it’s a blessing … to be able to be a part of their lives. They show us the meaning of Communion.” †

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