SCOTTSDALE — Hundreds, many with chronic health conditions, received the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick during the annual Mass of Healing and Anointing celebrated by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted Saturday, May 22, in Scottsdale.
Tied to the World Day of the Sick, the Mass was shifted from its usual February date because of the ongoing novel Coronavirus outbreak around the globe. Data collected through a variety of agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Arizona Deptartment of Health Services, show the pandemic has stabilized across much of the nation, including the Grand Canyon State, while more than a third of Arizona’s population has been fully vaccinated.
The Order of Malta, which organizes the Mass, estimated around 900 were at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Church. The service was moved there from its usual site, the Cathedral of Ss. Simon & Jude, which is being renovated. The nave at St. Bernard of Clairvaux seats between 1,000-1,300. Many of the worshippers were healthy family and friends, as well as caregivers.
But the core purpose was to administer the sacrament to the ill and infirm.
“Asking God’s healing of the sick fulfills a key part of the Church’s mission in Christ of bearing witness to His merciful love,” said Bishop Olmsted in his homily. “Through the Holy Anointing of the Sick, Jesus offers the same healing and miraculous love that was offered to the paralytic who was carried to Him by four strong men and lowered down through the ceiling of the house where Jesus was teaching,” the bishop said, recalling the account in each of the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, and Luke 5:17-26).
“Today, as we pray in Jesus’ name for all the sick and elderly who have come here to be anointed, or are perhaps watching on television or by electronic media, let us put all our trust in Jesus’ promise: Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you (Matt 7:7),” the bishop continued.
However, he was quick to point out God does not necessarily answer prayers in the way one might hope for; that healing does not necessarily occur in each and every instance.
“He gives us whatever we need to come to full maturity in His name but especially to be prepared to enter the fullness of joy in heaven,” Bishop Olmsted said.
Many churchgoers bore signs of their conditions: canes, walkers, or being brought forward in wheelchairs to receive the bishop’s blessing and anointing with oil by the bishop and concelebrating priests.
To each receiving the sacrament, the bishop and priests recited the following prayer, “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in His love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.”
The sacrament is intended to totally prepare someone in the event he or she is called by the Lord from this life,” noted The Rev. Michael Straley, pastor of St. Bernard and one of the concelebrants.
“While we pray for healing, we are preparing them for whatever the Lord wills. The Anointing of the Sick includes the forgiveness of sins,” Fr. Straley said.
For recipients, there was a sense of refreshment.
“It was very pleasing. It refreshed my soul. I felt lighter and purer (afterward),” said Geraldine Renner, 78.
A resident of Foreston, Minn., about an hour north of Minneapolis, Renner had experienced a series of strokes throughout her adult life and suffers from a blood disorder. She was in the Valley visiting her daughter when the family learned the night before about the Mass.
Anita Renner, 50, parishioner at St Timothy in Mesa, received a text message from a fellow parishioner at 9 p.m. Friday. The younger Renner found the Mass inspiring.
“I was in awe. It was such a beautiful experience, like a little piece of heaven. The music, when the priests walked in; the beauty of our faith is so rich,” she said.
Worshippers came from across the Valley.
“I wanted to pray for my son, diagnosed in 2020 with bladder cancer. He is struggling, but (recent) tests are encouraging, and I wanted to thank God for that,” said Joseph A. Kryszak, parishioner of St. Thomas Aquinas in Avondale.
Those unable to attend or who preferred to remain away could submit prayer requests online at a website — praywithMalta.com — established by the Order.
As of 2 p.m. Saturday, the Order had received nearly 2,000 requests, according to Timothy Jeffries, KM.
“People do list their intentions. In the ones I scanned, I did not see COVID. I saw cancer, muscular dystrophy, conversion of children, estranged siblings,” Jeffries said.
A lay religious order established in 1113, the Sovereign Order of Malta is guided by the motto, Tuitio Fidei et Obsequium Pauperum — nurturing, witnessing and defending the faith, and serving the poor and the sick. Knights and Dames will continue their annual pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, in late August through early September, carrying with them the prayer requests. They will leave the petitions at the grotto where an image of the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858. The site is indirectly tied to the World Day of the Sick, established by St. John Paul II in 1992 to pray for the sick and their caregivers. The date, Feb. 11 is also The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, one of the Blessed Mother’s names.
Each year, millions visit the grotto in Lourdes to seek healing. Knights and Dames from the Order escort groups of the sick — called “malades” — on their annual trips to experience the holy, healing atmosphere. Jeffries said the organization will take 55 individuals from the Western U.S. this year. Knights and Dames also will collect water from the grotto and bring it back to the U.S. for distribution.
“The malade-selection process typically begins 6 months before the pilgrimage. The application is extensive. We review them prayerfully at multiple levels, so we can discern who needs Lourdes the most and assess whether they can physically make the trip,” Jefferies said.
Although over for this year, the selection process for the next trip, in April 2022, will begin this October.
Meanwhile, the Order is continuing to collect prayer requests from anyone.
“Go to praywithMalta.com, (precarii_malta), fill out your petition. There is plenty of time for people to submit petitions,” Jeffries said.