The 10 am weekday Mass in Newcestown on the August Bank Holiday ended at 11.30 am. What’s more, no one bolted for the door during the last hymn. Instead, amazingly, they stood and sang together. And most stayed on afterwards to talk to their neighbours.
It was a Bank Holiday after all. No one was in a rush. But more importantly, we had just celebrated the Sacrament of the Sick during the Mass. The regular weekday Mass attendance had been magnified tenfold. The atmosphere was electric.
This event had been flagged well in advance. People with a serious ailment of body, mind or spirit were invited to come along — ‘No questions asked’. People could come and receive the sacrament or come and pray for those suffering. In the event, most who attended opted to be anointed, including a few of our Church of Ireland neighbours.
In every parish, there are sick people, well known and always in everyone’s prayers. But there are also people whose ailments are known to no one, particularly ailments of the mind like depression. What’s troubling for parishes is that these conditions can be just as terminal for those afflicted. The Sacrament of Healing must find its way into their lives too.
This anointing service was a concelebration. While Newcestown has just one priest, like most parishes, it also has a talented and spiritual musician, whose gifts animate and accompanied the celebration.
People who attend and who wish to be anointed are recommended to come to the upper half of the church, though not all can. The only requirement for the sacrament is that people sit at the edge of the seat, where the anointing priest can more easily reach them.
Oil flows copiously and those anointed allow it to soak in and heal”
He does a circuit of the church twice, first to lay hands on all those to be anointed, individually, and the second time to anoint heads and hands. Oil flows copiously and those anointed allow it to soak in and heal. And the music fills the church during both circuits, preventing the priest from flagging!
Anointing follows the Gospel and precedes the Presentation of Gifts, so anyone in a ‘mad rush’ can slip out. No one ever does. These ceremonies take place three times a year, on bank holidays (May, August and October) and once in the parish hall for Our Lady of Lourdes, with tea and biscuits for all.
After the anointing, Mass goes on as usual, with Communion given under both kinds. And at the end, all are reminded that the healing oils are there for the people, so when the priest’s car comes into view, the oils aren’t far away. Most, however, are content with the quarterly public celebrations.
An added bonus is that people come away from the sacrament of the sick with all their sins forgiven (the reason only a priest can anoint).
People worried about the decline of Confession should encourage their priest to anoint people often, for the Lord can heal in many different ways. And he does.
Reach out to a new priest in your parish
It’s the time of year when priests move. So your parish may have a new priest. If so, treat him with compassion. He has just suffered a triple whammy – loss of his house, distance from friends made in the last parish, and a challenging new job.
He will not be like the previous priest: let him go. Let the new man be himself. But pray for him.
Write him a nice note. Invite him round for a meal with your family.
It will help him see your parish as his home — not like the last place of course, but maybe even better!