Honors Theses


Ethan Smith, Ph.D. and Tim Gabrielli, Ph.D.


Religious Studies

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Honors Thesis


The Catholic Church is at a moment of receiving those with disabilities through catechetics, liturgical accommodations, and structured ecclesial guidelines; the Church realizes that the reception of Catholics with disabilities is necessary. Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has utilized the two poles of Neo-Pelagianism and Gnosticism to speak about this liturgical fragmentation, or “spiritual worldliness”. Working from this insight from the Holy Father, this paper applies these terms to the current reception of Catholics with disabilities in the Mass. In this paper, Neo-Pelagianism is characterized as the temptation to receive those with disabilities in the Mass solely through human means apart from the gift of divine grace. Docetism, which replaces Pope Francis’ Gnosticism for the sake of this paper, is characterized by an ignorant trust in the liturgy that dismisses the embodiment of those with disabilities and neglects accommodations they may need. The presence of these temptations within disability ministry is objectively explored through analysis according to a ritual studies approach and according to the Roman Missal in three separate Masses that were celebrated explicitly for those with disabilities. Although there are isolated signs of Docetism, the analysis shows that Neo- Pelagianism, as a temptation, is prevalent in disability ministry. The presence of Neo-Pelagianism is seen throughout the liturgy as abnormal amount of lay involvement, excessive and unscripted commentary, outright changes of liturgical rubrics or practice, and greetings that are not aimed towards God. The presence of Docetism, which was more isolated, is seen primarily through long and complex homilies. The paper will then end with a reflection on Mary’s virginity as the antithesis to Docetism and neo-Pelagianism temptations in the Church.

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Undergraduate research