Inclusive Liturgy for Anointing of the Sick
New Spirit Rising, a small inclusive Catholic faith community located in Fresno, California is the faith community where I serve as a Roman Catholic woman deacon. The community has evolved over the course of several years. The community is an active community with a mission for outreach to those infirmed. New Spirit Rising recently requested to celebrate the sacrament of the anointing of the sick as an entire community. As part of an inclusive Catholic faith community, I shared in the planning stages of the liturgy. Some of the community members forwarded some scriptural readings and the leadership group prayed over the readings and selected in unison the readings that were to be used in what was now labeled a healing service. The prayers, blessings, responsorial and ritual were developed once I was able to meet with the community on several occasions to ensure the liturgy is inclusive, provides active participation from all those who wished to participate in the various elements of the liturgy but most of all met the needs of the community. For the ritual, the leadership group impressed upon me that it was very important for the community to feel of sense of connectedness to each other during the ritual to instill a sense of connection and the power love can bring forth when healing wounded hearts, minds and spirits. I listened very carefully to the needs of the community, developed the ritual, and asked for continual feedback until the leadership group to ensure this was an inclusive process. The language used was inclusive to ensure an inclusive nature resounded throughout the liturgy. It is important for the needs of the community that a liturgy and any celebrated sacraments use inclusive language. The community is a very thoughtful and determined group that wishes to define their needs and how the sacraments can be celebrated to meet the needs of the community and all those wishing to partake in sacramental celebration. The healing service was active and inclusive with a great deal of participation from all those in attendance. As noted by Susan Ross (1998), “Since the church’s official liturgical celebrations have been so exclusive of women, women have turned to ‘unofficial’ religious practices, to ways of celebrating, mourning, and remembering significant events in their lives that are on no liturgical calendar” (p. 27). The following pages provide the liturgy, presider’s reflection and ritual that were developed to meet the sacramental need for the anointing of the sick for New Spirit Rising.
New Spirit Rising Welcomes You!
Beloved Holy One, along this journey of healing may your loving compassion break through the darkness and shine through onto the road that lies ahead. Thank you for the gift of sight planted deep within our hearts so that we may see in others the comfort you send each of us along our journeys of healing. Thank you for protecting each of us from the destruction of our brokenness. Through your grace and mercy, grant us wisdom to persevere.
PRESIDER: We gather together embracing the healing presence of God.
ALL: In our need, and bringing with us the needs of the world.
PRESIDER: We gather together in service to one another as Jesus serves.
ALL: And who walks with us the road of the world’s suffering.
PRESIDER: We come with our faith and with our doubts.
ALL: We come with our hopes and with our fears.
PRESIDER: We come as we are because it is God inviting us to come.
ALL: And God has promised never to turn us away.
Gospel Reading: Matthew 26:6-13
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head, as he sat at table. But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor.” But when Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Presider’s Reflection is shared at this time
Reflection of Matthew 26:6-12
In the Gospel of Matthew this passage of the woman anointing Jesus is a short passage and even though this is a short passage; in these few sentences; what had happened; what was created was such a profound experience. There are several things unfolding in this moment of anointing. Even though the apostles were present they couldn’t truly see what was actually taking place. What the apostles had seen was only through their eyes. They saw the woman pour a jar of expensive oil over the head of Jesus. The saw the superficial; they saw the materialistic nature of the act and complained about the use of the oil as a waste of money. The profound experience between Jesus and the woman with the alabaster jar was beyond what the apostles could see.
As this woman anoints Jesus, she is ministering to him in a way that extends far beyond what only the eyes could see. Jesus recognizing what the woman had done says, “she has done a beautiful thing for me.”
In this profound moment compassion, love, and comfort pours out from this woman to Jesus. This powerful extension of compassion, love, and comfort was such a profound moment Jesus said, “what she has done will be told in memory of her.” Jesus and the woman with the alabaster jar share a moment of comfort, a moment away from any fears for what might happen to Jesus. The woman did not know what was to come but she offered healing comfort to Jesus through her loving and compassionate act.
There is such power in compassion, love, and comfort which can be healing.
Much like the woman with the alabaster jar she was not truly aware of what was going to happen to Jesus we too cannot predict the future. In our daily lives we prepare for the worst and hope and pray for the best. We are truly not able to ever fully prepare for any type of brokenness that comes into our lives. The brokenness that enters into our lives can and does take many forms whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual the depth of the experience can leave us with wounds deeper than what the physical world can see, sometimes deeper than what our own loved ones can see. It is in our brokenness that we seek healing, we seek to become whole once again.
The word healing in its most basic definition means to restore, to repair, to set right. Though we don’t have the opportunities to foresee the brokenness of what is yet to come in life we do possess the same gifts the woman with the alabaster jar possessed which can be extended and shared with others. We too carry in us the gifts of compassion, love, and comfort.
We often look at the fact finding evidence of healing and have at times discarded our own gifts of healing comfort. For those that have ever cared for a child and that child hurts for example got scraped up and is truly feeling the physical pain of those injuries it is amazing what your hug and kiss gave to that child in the moment of love, compassion, and comfort. For those us that have ever hugged to ease another’s suffering how amazing was that gift in that moment? Our gifts of healing are not just relegated to hugs and kisses as we have seen throughout history we have been witness to the healing of nations. We have witnessed the death of injustice and the birth of human rights for so many people throughout the world. The gifts we have been endowed with can have the strength to heal nations yet gentle enough to comfort the most fragile of moments of personal one to one interactions. In our own healing whether it is from the visible or invisible brokenness it can at first have an ugly appearance; much like a scab on a wound. Some of us may show anger, some despair, fear, some hopelessness yet when we go beyond looking at the superficial level of one’s pain we can anoint the brokenness of that other person with compassion, love, mercy, truth, and justice what begins to happen is the healing the restoration, the repair, the setting right, the movement from brokenness to wholeness.
When we stand up for what is right we anoint with the healing gifts of truth and justice
When we unconditionally care for those not able to care for themselves we anoint with the healing gift of love
When we show kindness to the stranger and to our enemy we anoint with the healing gift of mercy and when we use the gifts of God’s love as modeled through the woman with the alabaster jar Jesus reminds us that what we have done will be remembered.
Shared reflections are invited at this time from the community
[A moment of silence is shared as the oil is brought forward for the communal blessing]
Blessing of the Oil - All are invited to extend their hands over the oil
Presider welcomes everyone to extend their hands for blessing the oil:
[Prayer for blessing oil]
With hands extended over the oil, we pray:
In your name Merciful Creator may it please you to regard favorably, to bless, and make sacred this oil, which earth has given and has been prepared from your fruitful gift of olives. We pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit, those whose hands come upon this oil are blessed in your name, and continue to receive your loving healing of heart, mind, body, and spirit. - ALL: Amen
Rite of Healing (everyone is invited to come forward)
Healing Ritual – people have come forward and one by the one the presider faces each person that has come forward and completes the following:
The presider pours water from a water jug onto the person’s hands then dries them. The person then turns to the person behind them and proceeds to repeat the hand washing.
The presider now begins to place oil in the hands of the person whose hands were cleansed and dried
The presider proceeds to take one hand at a time and recites the words while placing the oil in each hand.
As oil is placed in the right hand.
Presider: “From the hands that long to be healed.”
As oil is placed in the left hand:
Presider: “to the hands that lovingly heal”
The presider places a small stone into the oiled hands, presses them together saying:
May the light of Christ shine in you and strengthen the healing gifts of love, compassion & comfort that is poured out from you to others & may you also continue to experience the strength of God’s healing Grace.
The presider repeats this ritual with each person and the last person proceeds to wash and cleanse the hands the presider’s hands and completes the ritual for the presider.
Musical Accompaniment – “See Me, Heal Me”
See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.
Silent Prayer and Meditation
Musical Accompaniment – “Wash Me”
Participation: Invitation to all for testimonies and sharing (this is the time the presider welcomes everyone to share in their testimonies, stories, thoughts of healing)
PRESIDER: In mercy and in love may we go forth to receive and become the healing hands of the body of Christ for our sisters and brothers and the whole world.
PRESIDER: Loving Creator, we give you thanks for the continuous healing of mind, body, and spirit. We give you praise for the healing hands you send to us in the form of our brothers and sisters through your works of healing, and we also give you thanks as we become the merciful, loving, compassionate, and healing hands which we hope to share with others, and we ask this in the name of Jesus your son, our beloved brother.
Music – “Go In Beauty”
O, God is beauty. Peace be with you.
Til we meet again in the light.
The healing service was very powerful and received wonderfully positive feedback. Because of the communal nature of New Spirit Rising, I always enjoy asking the community how they feel about the celebration services so that I can continue to understand how to meet the sacramental needs of the community. As noted by Susan Ross (1998), because “women’s experiences of the sacraments are ambiguous and ambivalent…these ambiguities and ambivalences are not entirely negative and have the potential to refocus and redefine the nature and experience of sacramentality itself” (p. 204). This liturgical celebration and several others have been offered at New Spirit Rising. As a deacon I am not able to offer Eucharist however, New Spirit Rising has invited Roman Catholic women priests to preside and I have been able to serve as deacon during Mass. The celebrations offered at this time are prayer services and other types of services celebrating the community while meeting their spiritual, ministerial and sacramental needs. It is the hope of the community and mine that someday I will be ordained a priest so that I may offer Eucharist using inclusive liturgy while ensuring a feminist theological approach to the sacrament of Eucharist.
Ross, S. (1998). Extravagant affection: A feminist sacramental theology. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group, Inc.
This Inclusive Liturgy for Anointing of the Sick is shared with permission of Author ,Donnieau Snyder as an assignment for Course TH565 Feminist Sacramental Theology at Global Ministries University Course. Dr. Bridget Mary Meehan, D. Min. is Dean of Doctor of Ministry Program