By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
About seven years ago, Alicia Nava of Davenport was struggling with depression. Efforts to overcome her feelings of sadness seemed fruitless. “Nothing helped,” she recalled.
When she began to attend Masses for healing, her outlook on life began to improve. The combination of confession, Mass and healing prayers helped her feel the Holy Spirit in a powerful and uplifting way. “Now everything is good, and I praise God for that,” she said with a smile.
As a lay leader of monthly Masses for healing in the Diocese of Davenport, she enjoys seeing how the Holy Spirit is working in the lives of the people around her. “I can see what people are like when they come in, and when they leave, their faces are different. … They’ve experienced the healing and presence of God and seen a change in their lives.”
The bilingual Masses for healing take place the third Thursday of the month at 7 p.m., with confessions heard at 6 p.m. and healing prayers and eucharistic adoration following the Mass. The location alternates between St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Davenport and St. Mathias Catholic Church in Muscatine.
History of Masses for healing
Masses for healing grew out of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal of the late 1960s, according to retired diocesan priest Father Ed O’Melia. He and the late Msgr. Marvin Mottet were among the first priests in the Diocese of Davenport to embrace the renewal movement. The intention of the renewal movement was to help Catholics feel God’s presence on a personal level and express the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This was a refreshing concept for Fr. O’Melia, who recalled feeling as if God was “far away” in his childhood. The renewal movement helped show people that Jesus “is still with us and alive and working.” The healing aspects of faith were a part of that, so clergy began to celebrate “Masses for healing” in combination with confession and prayers for healing. While all Masses offer opportunities for healing, Fr. O’Melia said, these events gave Catholics an opportunity to focus on this aspect of their faith as a group.
What is healing?
While most people are likely to think about healing as fixing some kind of physical ailment, prayers for healing have a much broader reach. People pray for a variety of spiritual, emotional or physical ills. One person at the Feb. 16 Mass for healing in Davenport prayed for political peace in the United States, while another prayed for his broken marriage.
God’s answer might not be what is hoped for or expected, no matter how many times someone prays for healing. “God will answer in his own mysterious way,” explained Father Troy Richmond, pastor of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine.
Fr. O’Melia said it is essential for people to have a healthy approach to healing. After all, Jesus may have brought Lazarus back from the dead, but Lazarus still had to meet his fate eventually. Part of healing is the ability to be at peace with whatever happens, and feeling God’s presence along the way.
What happens at a Mass for healing?
Before Mass begins —and during Mass if people are still waiting in line — priests hear confessions. Gerry Goebel of Davenport has participated in Masses for healing for about 40 years and appreciates the therapeutic experience of confession. “I’ve seen in my life how important it is,” he said. Mary Gonzalez of East Moline, Ill., added, “Confession starts the healing process.”
A Mass for healing does not have its own liturgy; the celebrating priest will incorporate Mass intentions that focus on healing. Fr. Richmond observes that “Every Mass is a ‘Healing Mass’ because it is there we encounter Jesus the Divine Physician. As we receive holy Communion, we should bring to the Lord all those areas of our lives where there is need for healing (physical, emotional, and spiritual).”
After Communion, the Eucharist is exposed and clergy begin to offer prayers for healing. People can either come up to the sanctuary to receive a prayer for healing, or stay in the pew and ask clergy to pray for them there. The person asking for healing may allow family, friends or other Catholics to pray over them as well.
Goebel calls the experience a “win-win,” since he is able to pray for his own healing as well as the healing of others.
Fr. Richmond finds the experience of praying for healing humbling. “The key to praying for healing is the realization that I am not the one doing the healing. Jesus is the healer. All that I am is his humble instrument.”
Who should go?
Fr. Richmond said Catholics may not be aware of the wide scope of God’s healing abilities. “We are all in need of healing of one kind or another. We are all wounded by original sin and the stronghold that sin has had in our own lives.”
He observes that a lot of people feel shame and low self-worth, but may not think to ask for healing from that. Masses for healing can be an opportunity to address and move past the negative feelings that can hinder one’s relationship with God, family and others. “The ultimate healing of heart comes when we experience the depth of our Heavenly Father’s love for us as his beloved children and hear his voice of love speaking over us, ‘You are my beloved daughter/son and with you I am well pleased.’”