More than 1,200 people, including many ill and some with infirmities, filled Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral for the Mass of Healing and Anointing celebrated Feb. 10, the weekend of the Church’s 26th annual World Day of the Sick.
“The miracles Jesus performed 2,000 years ago and those He is still working today demonstrate the merciful love of God. We gather today because we know in faith that Jesus continues to heal, whatever is our deepest need for healing — either of our bodies, our souls, our spirits — just as it was needed 2,000 years ago,” Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted said in his homily.
Minutes later, the bishop joined nearly a dozen priests from across the Diocese of Phoenix in administering the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick to a number of those gathered. Several hundred men, women and children made their way to the foot of the altar, where Bishop Olmsted and the priests greeted each person, first placing hands upon them and praying for them, then anointing them with holy oil on the forehead and palms. Wheelchair-bound individuals were either led up to the front of the nave or were met by a priest if moving them was too cumbersome.
Betty Brennan, 80, who was diagnosed two years ago with cancer, was among the recipients. Brennan, who lost her husband just before learning of her illness, recalled him speaking of peace after his anointing and said she felt that same peace after receiving the sacrament.
“At that moment, I felt I was totally in the presence of Christ. There was such a stillness that I just can’t explain. I was able to realize He was there, (that) I was loved, totally surrender to Him and to forgive anybody in any way I might have been annoyed with or angry with, and hope I get well,” said Brennan, who alternates between attending the Church of the Ascension in Fountain Hills and St. Bernard of Clairvaux in east Scottsdale.
Peggy Baker, whose daughter, Jamie, 15, underwent surgery in June 2015 after being diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that spread to the girl’s brain, attended the Mass with Jamie, older daughter Kate, 17, and husband, Paul. Parishioners of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale, the family carried the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary to lead the Mass’ procession. For Jamie, who also underwent a bone-marrow transplant and intense chemotherapy before being declared cancer-free in 2016, the Mass was the latest of several anointings.
“We believe in the sacraments and power of the Anointing of the Sick as well as regular prayer,” Peggy said. “So many people have been praying for Jamie. She still needs healing from side effects. We had received such an amazing gift from God in being healed. Any opportunity to celebrate and give praise to God is welcome, but we also were there to pray for other people.”
Caregivers, who received a blessing of the hands, felt peace as well.
Maria Cassano, 65, who attends to an elderly woman with declining mental health, said receiving the blessing lifted her physically as well as spiritually. “When you are taking care of someone with mental issues, you need a lot of patience, compassion and understanding because it’s not easy,” said Cassano, a parishioner of St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Sun City.
Instituted in 1992 by Pope St. John Paul II as a vehicle for prayers and a blessing for the sick, the World Day of the Sick coincides with the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Feb. 11. The latter commemorates a series of 18 apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to St. Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old peasant girl in Lourdes, France, in 1858. During one of the appearances, the Blessed Mother directed Bernadette to a spring whose waters have since been consumed by thousands of visitors who report curing of medical conditions through the water and prayer.
For many years, the World Day of the Sick Mass has been organized by the Sovereign Order of Malta, a global lay religious order founded in 1048 whose twofold mission is defense of the Catholic faith and service to the poor and the sick. The Order staffed the Phoenix Mass with 50-60 members and a number of volunteers, according to Michael Grace, chancellor of the Order’s Western Association in the United States.
“It has grown in ways I never would have imagined. We started [participating] maybe 20 years ago, and they were small and not well-attended. Who knows how many watched on television and the internet. What a wonderful gift to be able to share the faith of the Church with the whole world — a world [that] is truly in need of healing.”
Phoenix was one of numerous sites around the globe hosting a Mass. In addition to being live-streamed via YouTube, the diocese’s liturgy was broadcast live by the ETWN Network and AZTV Channel 7 locally.
Great crew for the Order of Malta Anointing of the sick broadcast. pic.twitter.com/X3ye6GsSG5
— Joe Reynolds (@joereynolds65) February 21, 2018
“We think we’re achieving our goal, which is to reach as many sick as possible,” said Gabrielle Chung, co-chair of the Mass and the health fair that followed.
“I was in the vestibule. It was standing-room only. We had a lot of mothers with babies born with birth defects. They were thrilled to be able to have their babies anointed. At any stage of our life, we’re all sick. And we need this kind of healing Mass.”