It is a sad state of our fallen nature that sickness and suffering are so integral to the human condition. It is not as God intended, but we are all afflicted by illness nonetheless, some more severe than others.
It is the duty of the Church and Christians of good will to be near to the sick in their suffering through care, compassion and above all, prayer. Bearing this in mind, it was on Feb. 11, 1993, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, that St. John Paul II instituted the first World Day of the Sick, and the Church observes this day each year as “a special time of prayer and sharing, of offering one’s suffering for the good of the Church and of reminding everyone to see in his sick brother or sister the face of Christ who, by suffering, dying and rising, achieved the salvation of mankind” (Letter Instituting the World Day of the Sick, 13 May 1992, n. 3).
In the Archdiocese of Denver, the faithful are invited to observe the World Day of the Sick on Feb. 11 at 12:30 p.m. with a special healing Mass at Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver, celebrated by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila. The Mass is sponsored by the Order of Malta and will include the Anointing of the Sick for all who seek it, as well as a special blessing for healing.
As St. John Paul II said on the occasion of the first observance, “The World Day of the Sick — in its preparation, realization and objectives — is not meant to be reduced to a mere external display centering on certain initiatives, however praiseworthy they may be, but is intended to reach consciences to make them aware of the valuable contribution which human and Christian service to those suffering makes to better understanding among people and, consequently, to building real peace.”
St. John Paul II intentionally chose the World Day of the Sick to coincide with the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes because many pilgrims have experienced healing while praying at the Marian Sanctuary there in Lourdes, France. He also specifically called upon the Blessed Mother’s intercession at the institution the observance, for it is through her intercession that many have found the true healing they desire, whether it be from physical ailments or mental struggles.
“May the Blessed Virgin, ‘Health of the Sick’ and ‘Mother of the Living,’ be our support and our hope and, through the celebration of the Day of the Sick, increase our sensitivity and dedication to those being tested, along with the trusting expectation of the luminous day of our salvation, when every tear will be dried forever.”
During the Feb. 11 Mass at the Cathedral, the Anointing of the Sick will be administered to those in attendance who desire it. While this sacrament is often called “Last rites” because it usually given when someone is close to death, it is also given to those who are suffering from illness as a way to ask for God to provide healing for them.
“Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of peace and comfort that can also bring strength during the days ahead,” said Marice Erickson of the local Order of Malta. “What better way to face a life-changing illness than to be anointed and receive the special graces granted. We look forward to praying with our brothers and sisters who are ill, as well as for all caregivers.”
The Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament for those who are in danger of death due to old age, a serious illness, a bad accident or facing a serious surgery. If death is a real possibility for a person, then they may receive the anointing.
The USCCB says of the anointing: “When the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given, the hoped-for effect is that, if it be God’s will, the person be physically healed of illness. But even if there is no physical healing, the primary effect of the Sacrament is a spiritual healing by which the sick person receives the Holy Spirit’s gift of peace and courage to deal with the difficulties that accompany serious illness or the frailty of old age.”
For those faithful who attend the Mass seeking a particular kind of healing, whether it be physical, mental or emotional, but are not eligible to receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, a special blessing will be given at the end of the Mass asking for the Lord to heal their ailments.
“This is an opportunity for all of us — to give thanks for good health, show compassion and support for those that are struggling, and ask for healing on all those in need,” Erickson said.
Pope Francis, in his message for this year’s World Day of the Sick, urged the faithful to imitate the Good Samaritan in our care and compassion for those who are sick and suffering and remain near to them, both in prayer but also in our actions.
“Brothers and sisters, the first form of care needed in any illness is compassionate and loving closeness. […] Let us look to the icon of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:25-37), to his ability to slow down and draw near to another person, to the tender love with which he cares for the wounds of a suffering brother. […] Let us care for those who suffer and are alone, perhaps marginalized and cast aside. With the love for one another that Christ the Lord bestows on us in prayer, especially in the Eucharist, let us tend the wounds of solitude and isolation. In this way, we will cooperate in combating the culture of individualism, indifference and waste, and enable the growth of a culture of tenderness and compassion.
“The sick, the vulnerable and the poor are at the heart of the Church; they must also be at the heart of our human concern and pastoral attention. May we never forget this!”
World Day of the Sick Healing Mass
Sunday, Feb. 11, 12:30 p.m.
Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception