Last week I attended my first Anointing Mass. I actually considered not going. My sick doesn’t seem as serious as other people’s sick. I have chronic health problems and a new one that has cropped up recently; something I need to think on, talk about, weigh pros and cons, and make decisions on, but because it has all of those steps it feels more like a business decision or planning a vacation rather than an illness.
I don’t know at what point I dismissed that as bullshit. That ridiculous my problems aren’t worth mentioning that so many of us do without thinking. We should not need to be beat over the head to take care of ourselves, both mentally and physically.
The anointing mass is for anyone who wants G-d’s help with whatever medical problem they’re having.
Even before I became as religious as I am now, I understood how important positive thinking is for health and curing illness. Studies have shown that even patients who didn’t know that they were being prayed for still did better than those that weren’t prayed for. Certainly, even non-believers can’t argue that prayer couldn’t hurt.
Still, it was very last minute that I decided to go. I needed to sign up since there would be lunch following the mass and they needed a head count.
Everyone I spoke to had told me how spiritual, how lovely, how beautiful this mass was. It hadn’t prepared me for the truly comforting feelings that the mass held and filled me with.
It was very similar to a Sunday Mass with the music ministry in attendance. However, we were seated in every other pew. People were helped to their seats so I ended up sitting with people I’d never met before. There were many elderly and wheelchair bound in attendance, several coming from the two nearby nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. There were many people from different parishes who come solely for this healing mass.
The Father went around the entire chapel and greeted everyone already sitting. He asked the woman next to me if they came with me to which we both replied, no, we’ve just met.
There were special readings that were incredibly moving. There wasn’t so much a homily as an encouragement to rely on G-d and to trust that all will be well. He quoted that from Julian of Norwich, and I found the simple words a necessary mantra for the rest of my week:
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”
It didn’t take long that I discovered why we were seated in alternating rows. That way, we didn’t need to leave our seats to receive the anointing and the Eucharist. It was a very kind gesture for so many of the attendees would have had trouble processing to the altar for the traditional communion.
First, one Father came through the aisle in front of us. He anointed our foreheads with the cross (similar to receiving ashes) and then also the palms of our hands. He spoke quietly and despite saying the same blessing to everyone, it sounded personal and more meaningful than I’d expected.
I didn’t feel better per se, although of course, I hadn’t expected to, but I did feel as if I’d received a shield; an additional protection, not only for the illness, but for the ability to make the decisions to move towards wellness.
After everyone was anointed and after the Eucharist was prepared, the second Father came to our side to give us the body of Christ with a Eucharistic minister following with the blood. I received a large pizza shaped piece and I carefully broke it, ate a piece, broke it again, ate a second piece, and placed the last piece on my tongue when I was offered the cup. I like to keep a bit of host in my mouth and swirl the wine with it. There’s no real reason for this – the host practically melts on your tongue, but I think, for me, there is something sacred about combining the body and blood and as it glides down my throat, there is a warm feeling. It is not a burning, but it remains and fades slowly as I meditate or pray while the host is replaced in the tabernacle.
After this, we all walked over the parish center together, steadying non-cane arms, pushing wheelchairs, holding doors open and lending a hand wherever needed. At first, I sat alone as I usually do when I know no one, but Anne Marie, the woman who was randomly put next to me for the mass came over and invited me to their table. I was glad for the company and even gladder that they were strangers. It made the day that much more distinct from the regular daily mass.
It was really a beautiful experience and if I need a boost of strength to carry on with my health decisions and getting well, I can think back on this day and reflect on it.
I have comfort in the prayers, in the fellowship of those of us joining together to combine our strengths and share them. It was very encouraging and I will rely on it in the upcoming months to support me in the trying times that are ahead.