By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
LONG GROVE — People attending Mass at St. Ann Church on Jan. 31 received the blessing of throats from Msgr. Drake Shafer and his “assistant ministers,” participants in Special Faith Saturday.
The blessing commemorated the feast of St. Blase, a fourth-century saint who was a bishop and martyr. His actual feast day is Feb. 3, but it can be celebrated on the weekend before or after, whichever is closest, said Msgr. Shafer, St. Ann’s pastor.
Because Special Faith Saturday fell on the weekend prior to the feast day, Msgr. Shafer thought it would be meaningful to have individuals with intellectual disabilities — all of whom have been confirmed — assist with the blessing.
During the Mass, Msgr. Shafer explained to the congregation, “These are my assistant ministers. You don’t often get to be blessed by an angel.”
Each participant held two candles to the throats of the people standing in line and repeated “God bless you,” clearly and reverently, said Msgr. Shafer and Nancy Shannon, Special Faith Saturday’s director.
“All of them have some linguistic challenges,” Msgr. Shafer noted. But each could say “God bless you” and be understood. “To hear them say that was a grace-filled moment. I think that’s what touched people,” he added.
Shannon said Msgr. Shafer approached her about having Special Faith Saturday participants assist with the blessing. She thought it was a neat idea. “I think it had a profound effect on both the special needs people and the parishioners. There just seemed to be a connection.”
Many people approached Shannon after Mass and told her they were glad to have been able to participate in the blessing,” Shannon said. “I think the students themselves felt honored to be asked and to be able to help with that. I think it really showed in the way they were very serious about it. It was an opportunity for them to get involved in the Mass.”