Published February 2, 2006
Many of us have a tendency to consider the Sacraments rather private activities—the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick are perhaps the most private of all. We occasionally hear such attitudes expressed in terms such as “my wedding” … “can we arrange for a private Baptism” … “my First Holy Communion.”
Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Each Sacrament belongs to the entire Church, and we receive them not as individuals but as members of the community of faith.
Even when there are only a few other people in attendance at a liturgical celebration, there is a profound communal dimension of each Sacrament. Even when we acknowledge our sins in the privacy of a darkened confessional, at least one other member of the Church is present—the ordained servant of the Church speaking the words of absolution that belong to the Church and that restore and deepen our unity within the Church.
On Saturday, Feb. 11, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, we will celebrate the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick at Holy Spirit Church in Atlanta. The Archdiocese invites all those who have a serious illness or are anticipating a major medical procedure to come to this communal Mass and to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. We realize, of course, that some of the most infirm members of our community will be too frail to travel from their homes or hospital beds, and we will keep all of them especially close to our hearts in prayer on that day.
One of the distressing experiences of sickness is that a person might well feel isolated, alone, and very much afraid. That is why the Church prays so often for the sick and for those who care for them. We want all of those who are ill to know that they remain very close to the heart of the Church and to all of its members. I ask all of our parishes to include special prayers for the sick at their Masses this coming weekend to remind all of us of our sisters and brothers who are struggling with any illness at this moment, as the Church Universal pauses to remember those who are sick.
The feast of Our Lady of Lourdes holds special significance because Lourdes itself has become a home and a haven for people who ask the Lord for healing and for strength. Mary, the Immaculate One who appeared to Bernadette more than a century and a half ago, left an indelible sign of God’s love for the sick in those healing and calming waters of the grotto at Lourdes. One of the most poignant images of the late Pope John Paul II was his last visit to Lourdes where he came not seeking a miraculous cure for his own ills but to identify with the countless thousands of sick people who call upon the Lord for strength and comfort in their suffering.
I welcome my brother priests who will concelebrate this Mass with me and share in the sacramental Anointing of the Sick. I welcome most especially all of the sick from our Archdiocese who will gather in faith at this Mass to ask the Lord Jesus for comfort, hope and strength as they embrace their own human weaknesses.
The many members of our archdiocesan family who care for the sick—all medical personnel, ministers of care, family members and parishioners who serve the needs of the sick—deserve our unwavering gratitude. The celebration of the Anointing of the Sick will be a time for many people to gather to reassure those who are ill and to pray that the grace of this Sacrament will strengthen and comfort them and fortify the bonds of faith in this local Church.
A special word of thanks must be given to Holy Spirit Parish for hosting this celebration and to the Order of the Knights of Malta for sponsoring this opportunity of prayer for all of our sick brothers and sisters.