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A depth of expression

Peter McDonough describes the differing uses of liturgical signs, British Sign Language and Signed Supported English in church and the need for the Deaf community to worship in their first language

A depth of expression

BRITISH SIGN LANGUAGE (BSL) IS THE NATURAL first language Deaf people use; in other words, it is indigenous, especially if they start to use it in the first few years of their lives.

Liturgical signs are the signs we use in Sunday services and in any other liturgical celebrations such as baptisms, weddings and funerals. There are words such as ‘begotten’, ‘grace’, ‘sacrament’ that would not be in the normal Deaf person’s vocabulary. Deaf people are not familiar with those words and signs. Some liturgical signs are linked to theology. For instance, the two words used in Nicene Creed and Apostles’ Creed ‘conceived’ and ‘incarnate’ have the same hand-shapes and movements but in different locations; the first is placed higher up as coming into the head and the second is placed in front of the body.
The correct placement is crucial to accompany the theological difference between those two words: St Augustine explained that Mary first conceived in her mind what she would later conceive in her womb (incarnated). There is an amazing depth of theology that can be expressed in our sign language. So, when speaking about liturgical signs, it is similar to doctors using the technical terminology in their specialised field of work, or horticulturists using Latin words to name each plant.

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