Healing Masses

Where the Priest Should Begin Mass

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ROME, JULY 7, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.



Q: Would you please address the Church's norms for "healing Masses"? Briefly, I wonder whether the distinction between emotional wounds and spiritual wounds can be blurred or lost during such liturgies. -- P.C., Norwalk, Connecticut

A: The closest thing to norms regarding "healing Masses" would be the 2000 instruction on "Prayers for Healing," issued by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. In this brief yet dense instruction the congregation first explains the reasons for the document:

"Prayer for the restoration of health is therefore part of the Church's experience in every age, including our own. What in some ways is new is the proliferation of prayer meetings, at times combined with liturgical celebrations, for the purpose of obtaining healing from God. In many cases, the occurrence of healings has been proclaimed, giving rise to the expectation of the same phenomenon in other such gatherings. In the same context, appeal is sometimes made to a claimed charism of healing.

"These prayer meetings for obtaining healing present the question of their proper discernment from a liturgical perspective; this is the particular responsibility of the Church's authorities, who are to watch over and give appropriate norms for the proper functioning of liturgical celebrations.

"It has seemed opportune, therefore, to publish an Instruction, in accordance with canon 34 of the Code of Canon Law, above all as a help to local Ordinaries so that the faithful may be better guided in this area, though promoting what is good and correcting what is to be avoided."

In order that the norms should be theologically well-grounded, the document first presents an overview of the doctrine on prayer for healing according to Catholic tradition. It does so in five sections, to wit: 1) Sickness and healing: their meaning and value in the economy of salvation; 2) The desire for healing and prayer to obtain it; 3) The 'charism of healing' in the New Testament; 4) Prayers to obtain healing from God in the Church's tradition, 5) The 'charism of healing' in the present-day context.

Only once the foundation has been laid does the instruction endeavor to give precise norms. These norms embrace all forms of prayer for healing. The norms are:

"Art. 1 -- It is licit for every member of the faithful to pray to God for healing. When this is organized in a church or other sacred place, it is appropriate that such prayers be led by an ordained minister.

"Art. 2 -- Prayers for healing are considered to be liturgical if they are part of the liturgical books approved by the Church's competent authority; otherwise, they are non-liturgical.

"Art. 3 -- § 1. Liturgical prayers for healing are celebrated according to the rite prescribed in the Ordo benedictionis infirmorum of the Rituale Romanum and with the proper sacred vestments indicated therein.

"§ 2. In conformity with what is stated in the Praenotanda, V., De aptationibus quae Conferentiae Episcoporum competunt of the same Rituale Romanum, Conferences of Bishops may introduce those adaptations to the Rite of Blessings of the Sick which are held to be pastorally useful or possibly necessary, after prior review by the Apostolic See.

"Art. 4 -- § 1. The Diocesan Bishop has the right to issue norms for his particular Church regarding liturgical services of healing, following can. 838 § 4.

"§ 2. Those who prepare liturgical services of healing must follow these norms in the celebration of such services.

"§ 3. Permission to hold such services must be explicitly given, even if they are organized by Bishops or Cardinals, or include such as participants. Given a just and proportionate reason, the Diocesan Bishop has the right to forbid even the participation of an individual Bishop.

"Art. 5 -- § 1. Non-liturgical prayers for healing are distinct from liturgical celebrations, as gatherings for prayer or for reading of the word of God; these also fall under the vigilance of the local Ordinary in accordance with can. 839 § 2.

"§ 2. Confusion between such free non-liturgical prayer meetings and liturgical celebrations properly so-called is to be carefully avoided.

"§ 3. Anything resembling hysteria, artificiality, theatricality or sensationalism, above all on the part of those who are in charge of such gatherings, must not take place.

"Art. 6 -- The use of means of communication (in particular, television) in connection with prayers for healing, falls under the vigilance of the Diocesan Bishop in conformity with can. 823 and the norms established by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Instruction of March 30, 1992.

"Art. 7 -- § 1. Without prejudice to what is established above in art. 3 or to the celebrations for the sick provided in the Church's liturgical books, prayers for healing -- whether liturgical or non-liturgical -- must not be introduced into the celebration of the Holy Mass, the sacraments, or the Liturgy of the Hours.

"§ 2. In the celebrations referred to § 1, one may include special prayer intentions for the healing of the sick in the general intercessions or prayers of the faithful, when this is permitted.

"Art. 8 -- § 1. The ministry of exorcism must be exercised in strict dependence on the Diocesan Bishop, and in keeping with the norm of can. 1172, the Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of September 29, 1985, and the Rituale Romanum.

"§ 2. The prayers of exorcism contained in the Rituale Romanum must remain separate from healing services, whether liturgical or non-liturgical.

"§ 3. It is absolutely forbidden to insert such prayers of exorcism into the celebration of the Holy Mass, the sacraments, or the Liturgy of the Hours.

"Art. 9 -- Those who direct healing services, whether liturgical or non-liturgical, are to strive to maintain a climate of peaceful devotion in the assembly and to exercise the necessary prudence if healings should take place among those present; when the celebration is over, any testimony can be collected with honesty and accuracy, and submitted to the proper ecclesiastical authority.

"Art. 10 -- Authoritative intervention by the Diocesan Bishop is proper and necessary when abuses are verified in liturgical or non-liturgical healing services, or when there is obvious scandal among the community of the faithful, or when there is a serious lack of observance of liturgical or disciplinary norms."

Article 7's prohibition of inserting prayers for healing within Mass obviously does not exclude the celebration of the Mass for the Sick found in the Roman Missal, or other similar votive Masses. It means that Mass must not be used as a vehicle for other purposes, even praiseworthy ones.

The document refers, above all, for prayer to heal physical ills. Mental or psychological illnesses, many of which also have a biological component, could also be included.

Emotional wounds would not be the direct object of these Masses. But there is no reason to believe that so-called healing services are of no benefit to these sufferers.

It has long been said that the vast majority of miracles at the sanctuary of Lourdes are the healing of emotional afflictions. The miracles of conversion, of forgiveness, of inner peace, and of acceptance of adversity in union with Christ's cross, are far more numerous than the relatively few approved physical miracles.

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Follow-up: Where the Priest Should Begin Mass

In the wake of our June 23 piece on where Mass begins, a Zambian reader offered the following comment:

“Your response to the question of where the priest should begin Mass is really impressive and accurately delivered (making reference to the GIRM). I also observed the same problem, but can't the architectural design of the sanctuary or church affect where the priest should begin Mass? For example, there might be an immovable altar and ambo with fixed microphone stand for which a microphone has a very short cable, yet because of the size of the church a microphone will be of great necessity. Is such kind of a church-setup a liturgical blunder (or liturgically ignorant)?”

There are many churches around the world which present obstacles to an optimal unfolding of the liturgy. This can sometimes be due to the presence of ancient and rightly untouchable artistic treasures such as screens, canonical choirs and dividing walls. Likewise, some modern churches, including a few designed by world-renowned architects, seem to forget that celebrating Mass is their primary purpose.

Inevitably, such hindrances occasionally oblige priests to adopt practical pastoral solutions and to improvise while a definitive solution is pending.

In the case presented by our reader the definitive solution is not found in removing the fixed altar and ambo as these elements should be fixed in a church. Rather, it is in redesigning the sound system so as to allow for a variety of microphone locations and, if possible, the use of cordless mikes.

The possibility of installing multiple microphones should always be contemplated when designing new churches as there are many occasions, such as the Good Friday reading of the Passion or at weddings and funerals, where several will be needed.