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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On "Healing" Liturgies

A friend of mine and I have been going back and forth on the issue of Healing Masses (and the services, in general).  While the intentions of these liturgies may be very good, sometimes, the way they are executed may not necessarily be line with what the Church prescribes.

In the year 2000, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed at the time by the then-Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, issued on Instruction on Prayers for Healing.  The Venerable Pope John Paul II ordered its promulgation on September 14, 2000, the Solemnity of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Although the document offers several theological statements concerning the matter, the Instruction does treat the matter of the liturgy.  It states that:

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 (28) 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 (29) 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.(30)

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,(31) and the Rituale Romanum (32).

§ 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.

Unfortunately, liturgical abuses wind up creeping into these "healing Masses".  These include insertions of prayers that are not found in any of the rubrics and books cited above.  Sadly, there have also been cases that have involved the Blessed Sacrament, itself.  One recent case concerned the celebrant selling handkerchiefs prior to Mass and then having the faithful approach the Monstrance in order to touch the Luna (the glass and metal vessel that contains the Sacred Host) with the cloth. 

Just because the books and the rubrics are silent on something, that does not give us the authority to invent rituals and encourage the faithful to engage in a practice that should not be happening in the first place.  The only ones who should be handling the Monstrance (when it contains the Blessed Sacrament) are the bishop, priest or deacon.  Only in those rare and extraordinary circumstances, specifically spelled out in the rubrics, are the laity (either religious or Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion) to either expose or repose the Blessed Sacrament. 

My friend challenged me on my point regarding the touching of the Luna (as it contained the Blessed Sacrament).  Evidently, the priest justified it by claiming that healings were happening.  However, we need to consult the authoritative documents issued by the Holy See, specifically the Instruction quoted.

While,  no doubt, some may claim that my comments are pharisaical in nature, that is hardly the case.  The liturgy, whether it is the Mass, Exposition, Benediction, or Holy Hour, is not some free form exercise in creativity.  We are not the masters of what happens at the liturgy.  We are its humble recipients who are bound by obedience to observe all that the Church tells us.  We need to approach the liturgy with open hearts, open souls and open hands, and not with an attitude of wanting to "improve" things as we see fit.

The Instruction set forth by the CDF encourages us to pray for the sick.  That is a given and a work of charity.  However, when we gather for formal, public prayer, we need to abide by what the Church prescribes and not on our own initiatives, as well-meaning as they may be.

The entire Instruction may be viewed here at:

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