By ANNE NEUFELD RUTZ, Special to the Bulletin | Published September 12, 2013
ATLANTA—It’s known as the Addiction Mass, and one Saturday morning each month, this unusual ministry at Our Lady of the Assumption Church brings together people from across the community affected by addiction, so they can worship and find support.
The ministry is modeled after a similar program in New Jersey and its full title—Mass for anyone impacted by addiction—speaks to the breadth of the effect of addiction.
Marist Father Jim Duffy, pastor of OLA, explained, “People who have addictions need that spiritual boost and so do their families and friends, because addiction is not just affecting the individual; it’s also their friends, family and the community. This ministry is to reinforce that you are not alone. Brother and sister are there for you; Jesus is there. So this Mass offers a hand of support, not of condemnation.”
The Mass is celebrated at 10 a.m. on the second Saturday of the month and has been in place since last November.
Father Steve Yander, who often celebrates the Mass, said, “I have found in my ministry when this illness (addiction) is present, it affects the entire family. Very often this disease is the elephant in the living room, and everyone is walking around it. This Mass gives them an opportunity to talk about that elephant, and it’s extremely helpful and comforting to know the Church wants to be supportive and that we pray with them.”
He said that during the gathering after Mass, where there’s coffee and some snacks, many visitors find relief “just sharing what it is they’re burdened with. And very frequently they’re moved to tears.”
Addiction to alcohol or drugs is the most common problem that visitors mention, but the Mass is for any harmful compulsion, such as gambling or overeating. Ministry founder Mark Dannenfelser, who is on the staff at OLA, said, “Come if you are in recovery, come if you are actively using, come if you live with someone who is addicted, come if you grew up in an addicted household. … Come if you are not sure. … All are welcome!”
The Mass features homilies, intentions and readings tailored to the subject of suffering and addiction. Even music advances the theme. In August, worshippers sang, “Longing for peace, our world is troubled. Longing for hope, many despair. Your word alone has power to save us, make us your living voice. Christ, be our light!”
Each Mass ends with a volunteer sharing a short testimonial. Recently “Tom” described his struggle with alcohol addiction. “I tried to live two lives. It caused a lot of pain and suffering to those around me,” he said. “I decided to get help.”
“This kind of sharing of people’s experience with addiction or recovery or spiritual renewal is great for people who are early into recovery. There’s hope,” said Dannenfelser. A typical Addiction Mass attracts about 50 people, he said, “but obviously, we want to expand that. We know a lot of people out there are suffering.”
As the Mass approaches its first anniversary, its reputation is spreading. Recent visitors came from Gainesville and Rome. A priest-monk from Alabama asked to preside at the August Mass because of his own experience dealing with alcoholism. In his homily, Father Francis Reque told the congregation he felt “blessed with addiction. The paradox is that our greatest asset is our past that we try to hide or are so ashamed of. Yet those events are what people connect to when they show up for healing. We can relate to bad events in people’s lives. And when we share this stuff, then we offer healing.”
Father Reque continued, “God has blessed us with the ability to carry healing to people who desperately need it, and we are also continually healed and strengthened. It is the power of God.”
The social after Mass features plenty of laughing and snacking, and ministry volunteers talk and pray with visitors one-on-one. At a recent social, Kathleen McEvoy spoke of her “25 years of sobriety.”
“I want to support this ministry because it’s very welcoming, and I can share my history,” she said. “I’m willing to help in any way I can. No man can get someone sober, but God can.”
And Ben Post commented, “I personally believe in the power of prayer and it has changed my life. … AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) led me to my higher power, which was God, and God led me back to my faith.”
Ministry volunteer Gerry Christensen explained, “There are so many people who need this, so they can openly come and pray without feeling they are revealing anything.” She told of “a young mom with three kids who came to Mass, and she just sat in the church and cried. The next month, her husband was with her. He had been away in treatment.” Dannenfelser added to this story, recalling that the husband told him, “The Addiction Mass was something for me to come home to. Thank you!”