ROME, 7 JULY 2009 (ZENIT)
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
"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
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
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
"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
"§ 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
"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
"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
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.
* * *
Follow-up: Healing Masses [7-21-2009]
Related to our July 7 piece on healing Masses, a priest reader from
Australia asked: "When a rather large number of people are to be
say, 100 or more
during Mass, must the priest(s) lay hands individually on each sick
person, or is it sufficient to hold out hands extended over the crowd
before saying the prayer of thanksgiving over the oil, and then
anointing each person individually?"
Both the ritual for Anointing within Mass and the Ceremonial of Bishops
(No. 653) state that the proper order for this ritual is: litany; laying
on of hands; blessing of oil or prayer of thanksgiving over the oil;
anointing; concluding prayer. It is also permitted to have the litany
after the anointing.
Regarding the laying on of hands, the Ceremonial of Bishops says: "The
bishop and the presbyters who are to take part in the anointing lay
hands in silence on some of the sick."
Therefore it would appear that the procedure for a large number of
faithful would be for the priest(s) to lay hands on a
representation of those who are to receive the sacrament. It is not
required that they lay hands on all of them.