THE HOLY MASS IS
OUR GREATEST HEALING PRAYER
A reflection on Mary’s messages at Medjugorje on healing
— by Fr. Al Winshman, S.J., Director
Marian Renewal Ministry
319 Concord Rd
Weston, MA 02493-1310
[Published in “Signs and Wonders for Our Times,”
Spring 1998, Vol 10 No 1, pages 37-40]
From the earliest days of the daily apparitions of Our Lady at Medjugorje there were miraculous healings — the blind saw, the deaf heard, the dumb spoke, the lame walked, the cancerous were cleansed and the dying lived. There are some five hundred reported physical healings on record in the parish, some with extensive medical histories. But by far the healings of greatest importance, and they number in the hundreds of thousands if not the millions, are those who have been healed in heart and soul, those who have come home to God’s love, and those who have returned to the Church. The young visionaries would ask the Gospa questions about the sick. Our Lady would answer, “Have strong faith, pray and fast and they will be cured," [11/26/81] “Pray! Pray and believe firmly. Do more penance.” [4/24/82]
Prayer and sacrifice are so important for our spiritual life in developing a loving relationship with our heavenly Father, Jesus our Brother, and their Holy Spirit. If we are seeking healing and wholeness through the love and power of our God we need to be daily submitting to His love. Our Mother cautioned us against forgetting God. “Many have begun to pray for healing here at Medjugorje, but when they have returned to their homes, they abandon prayer, forget, and also lose many graces.” [9/12/86] She had earlier told us in 1983 that God alone can heal, and that she needs our prayers and sacrifices to help us. “I cannot cure. God alone cures. Pray! I will pray with you. Believe firmly. Fast, do penance. I will help you as long as it is in my power to do it. God comes to help everyone. I am not God. I need your sacrifices and your prayers to help me.”
There is no greater healing prayer than the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It brings us face to face with the mystery of suffering and of the Cross. I do not pretend to understand the mystery of the crucifixion and death of Jesus. However, I do believe that it saves us from our sins and eternal death; it heals us and brings us to new life. Jesus had prayed in the Garden to be delivered from the cup that he was being asked to drink. Although nothing externally seemed to have changed in His approaching death by crucifixion, His prayer was heard. Jesus accepted and offered His cross as a sacrifice for us to the Father’s love. His suffering became a sacrifice of love and the greatest healing prayer man has ever known.
Today Jesus allows us to share in His Sacrifice and be healed. We were not able to be present at the Crucifixion of Jesus, since we did not exist two thousand years ago. Yet, while still with His apostles Jesus gave us the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at the Last Supper. Our Blessed Mother at Medjugorje told the visionary Marija that the Mass was better than an apparition, for at Mass Jesus is truly present on the altar and she is also present offering her Son’s sacrifice to the Father with her priest son. At every Mass we are literally on Calvary, offering with Mary the sacrifice of her Son to the Father. It is the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus made present to us in our time to bring the graces of Jesus’ redemptive death into our lives today.
This is our Catholic faith that Jesus is truly present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity under the signs of bread and wine. At the consecrating words of the priest these are no longer bread and wine, but truly the Body and Blood of Jesus offered in the Sacrifice of the Cross for our sins. Around the year 700 there was a priest in Lanciano, Italy, who had lost his faith in Real Presence. He prayed to God to help him. One day at Mass after consecrating the bread and wine he must have gasped at what he saw. From that moment Jesus was truly present under the appearance of bread and wine, but to help this priest’s lack of faith Jesus let the Flesh and Blood of His Heart be seen. The consecrated Host took on the appearance of a sliver of the Human Heart of Jesus, showing the aorta, veins and muscle tissue, and the consecrated Wine coagulated into five globules of Jesus’ Precious Blood.
Recent reliable polls tell us that less than thirty percent of Catholics today believe in the Dogma of the Real Presence. As spiritual director of many pilgrimages today I have taken a number of groups to the shrines of Italy and brought them to look upon the Eucharistic miracle at Lanciano. The sliver of the Heart of Jesus and the globules of His precious Blood are still enshrined in a large monstrance above the high altar of the church at Lanciano where this miracle occurred thirteen centuries ago. They have been medically tested throughout the centuries and doctors, including an agnostic doctor, affirm that they are living flesh and blood. Throughout the centuries when faith has been lacking God has provided us with Eucharistic miracles. Today with so many losing their gift of faith in the Real Presence there are numerous Eucharistic miracles taking place around the world.
Back in 1980 I was invited to concelebrate an Healing Mass, and then celebrated several Healing Masses in the next few years. But I was troubled. The Mass did not appear to be the focus. Rather people seemed to be coming to be prayed over and to “rest in the spirit.” How could I make the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the focus of these healing evenings and the healing prayer that it truly is? The priest is not the healer, Jesus is! Priests and laity have been given the gift of healing, but it is through Jesus’ power. People can be prayed over at any time, and I encourage this, especially for parents to pray over each other and their children regularly at home. When celebrating a Healing Mass I needed to find a way to focus people and the healing ministry on Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
While I was struggling with this question I read “Say But the Word,” a book on praying the Mass, by Fr Ted Dobson, in which he shared a key insight. The gifts of bread and wine are the gifts of the people and represent them gathered for the celebration of Mass. This I had known, but I was not always conscious of it. Why not make this more explicit, Fr Dobson suggested, by placing a theme of one’s life into the bread and wine and offering oneself in this theme to God as the bread and wine are brought to the altar and presented to God. I began to develop this in my teachings on the Mass, leading people in praying the Mass with their hearts by placing a personal hurting theme of their lives into the bread and wine and offering it to God for healing. Many have told me that Mass had never been as special and meaningful to them as it is now is and that they left Mass with such peace in their hearts. God’s love had touched them.
Our loving Father never intended us to be sick, or to suffer, or to die. This came about when our first parents, Adam and Eve, turned away from God’s love and sinned. We have ratified their choice for evil every time we too have sinned. Our Mother Mary takes us to Jesus and His cross for healing: “Dear children, today, in a special way, I invite you to take the cross in your hands and to meditate on the wounds of Jesus. Ask of Jesus to heal your wounds, which you, dear children, during your life sustained because of your sins or the sins of your parents. Only in this way, dear children, you will understand that the world is in need of healing of faith in God the Creator. By Jesus’ passion and death on the cross, you will understand that only through prayer you, too, can become true apostles of faith; when, in simplicity and prayer, you live faith which is a gift.” [3/25/97] Let us go then to the Cross at Mass.
We have many hurts and sufferings to be healed. There are the physical sufferings of sickness, disease, broken or non-functioning organs and members of our bodies, etc. All of us at one time or another suffer, sometimes terribly, from sickness and brokenness. Yet these physical hurts do not block eternal life for us, and in many cases can be the means of our salvation. God has worked many physical healings, but most often He permits our suffers that we may offer them in union with His Son’s passion and death for our own salvation, the redemption of the world and the good of His Church. We need to learn to pray as Jesus did in the Garden. He begged His Father to deliver Him from the crucifixion He was about to suffer, but then added the most important prayer that united Him to His Father’s love. “Abba (Father), you have the power to do all things. Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you would have it, not as I.” [Mk 14:36] Jesus’ prayer was heard. He was empowered to accept and offer the cup out of love for us to His Father.
While I have witnessed physical healings in my ministry I have experienced and seen a multitude of healings of the heart and soul, where one has had a profound conversion or is no longer weighed down by suffering but able to offer it to God joyfully in union with Jesus’ sacrifice. Now in praying for physical healing I pray that God’s Will be done. If God’s love and glory is best served by one’s physical healing, let that be done; but if by one’s offering his suffering, then may this person’s heart be healed so that he can offer it in peace and joy. During the preparation for the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross Our Lady told us: “I desire that your cross also would be a joy for you. Especially, dear children, pray that you may be able to accept sickness and suffering with love the way Jesus accepted them. Only that way shall I be able with joy to give out to you the graces and healing which Jesus is permitting me.” [9/11/86] The acceptance and willingness to bear sickness and suffering opens us to the healing, not as we want but as God lovingly wants for us.
Then there are what I call the psychological hurts, the brokenness of our hearts and our spirits. We struggle to let go of our anger, animosity and even hatred in our hurting relationships. Only true love can heal broken relationships. Sometimes we cannot control our feelings, we feel hurt and hateful. True love is not in our feelings, but rather in what is in our will and in the way we speak of and to others and treat them. We need to heal these hurts of our broken relationships. Then there are the areas of the terrible evil we have done. We may have turned from such evil, gone to confession and received God’s forgiveness, but we still hurt deeply over this part of our lives. A prominent example of this today is the many who have murdered human life in the womb by the practice of contraception or abortions, and who have confessed and turned away from these evils. Yet they still hurt inside, are broken over the realization of what they have done. God has forgiven them. However we need the healing of coming to accept God’s forgiveness in our hearts.
Finally there are the sicknesses and hurts of our souls, our sinfulness and attraction to sin. Here we might consider all those areas of our lives where God is not at the center. Mary wants us to be at peace and to have within our hearts the desire: “I want to put God in the first place in my life.” [12/25/97] Sin is any way in which we choose anything else over God to be in first place in our lives. We need to be open to the light of the Spirit to recognize what is not of God and of His love in our lives. His ten commandments of love show the way. We need God’s healing grace to break from all that He reveals to us as sin and the occasions of sin, whether it be persons, places, amusements, or whatever. I remember the day, many years ago now, that God convicted me that the uncritical and habitual viewing of network television had become an occasion of many sinful tendencies in my life. I was healed and put aside television, except for good programming carefully selected with God at the center of my life. Anything in our lives where God is not first must be brought to His love for healing. The is no question that God longs to heal our sinfulness.
All these hurts and sufferings of our broken hearts, spirits and souls God definitely wants to heal. But He needs our permission, for He will do nothing against our wills. We must surrender to His love and truly want Him to heal us. Our Mother has also spoken to us about this. “Dear children, I am calling you to that love which is loyal and pleasing to God. Little children, love bears everything bitter and difficult for the sake of Jesus through His love. Therefore, dear children, pray that God comes to your aid, not however, according to your desire, but according to His love. Surrender yourself to God that He may heal you, console you, and forgive everything inside you which is a hindrance on the way of love.” [6/25/88]
How then do I bring all this to the healing power of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is our greatest healing prayer? Each time I pray the Mass I can bring one hurt — physical, psychological or spiritual — to place in the bread and wine and surrender it to God. I then pray the whole Mass with my heart out of this personal theme, this hurt needing God’s healing touch. I make the whole Mass my personal prayer, prayed in the context of my personal life theme. In the first part of the Mass I come in thanksgiving and repentance. In the Sign of the Cross, one of Mary’s favorite prayers, I recall that I am in the presence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the greeting and introduction to the Mass I thank God that this hurt in my life is now bringing me to Him in His healing love. In the confession of sins I explicitly name my sins. God, who totally respects my free will, cannot forgive me unless I truly desire to be forgiven and healed. Here I can name my sins related to my personal theme. How have I contributed to, nurtured, or acted out of this hurt?
The liturgy of the revealed Word of God, the Bible, is the second part of the Mass. Our Lady continually calls us to read, pray and live the Bible. Yet how often do I really hear God’s Word? We are constantly bombarded with radio waves, but we can’t hear these unless we have a tuner, a radio to tune them in. Similarly I cannot hear God’s Word unless I have a tuner. Mary reminds us that God gave us a built in tuner, our hearts. The Scriptures are not an old book. They are for us today. They are God’s love letters to us. I can expect God to speak to me in the life theme that I am surrendering to Him in the Mass. He will. I’ve been amazed at how rich God’s Word is when I’m listening with my heart in this way. Invariably whatever readings the Church provides for that day speaks to me when I am listening expectantly out of a personal life theme.
In the early days of the Church the people brought their gifts, the produce of their labors, to the altar. These represented them and were the offerings of themselves to God. Today the offertory procession has been restored to the Mass. We tithe our income, time and talents, in our offering to God. We also bring up the gifts of bread and wine to be offered at the altar. These represent us. Therefore in the offertory, the third part of the Mass, I place my theme, my hurt, materially into the bread and all its psychological and spiritual ramifications into the wine. As the priest offers the bread and wine at the altar I surrender to God that part of myself that I have put into the bread and wine. The more explicitly and totally I surrender it to God, not according to my will but His Will, the better He will be able to make it over according to His love for me.
Now we come to the fourth part of the Mass, the Holy Sacrifice itself, the liturgy of the Incarnate Word of God. I make my own the healing words of the Eucharistic prayer as I am now literally on Calvary with my Mother Mary at the foot of Jesus’ Cross. At age six and seven I was going to daily Mass with my mother. With the simplicity of a child I somehow realized that something truly awesome was happening at the consecration. I still remember that fall day at the beginning of second grade when I left St Mary’s Church and turned to my mother to tell her that I was going to become a priest. I felt the call to do what the priest, and only an authentically ordained priest in line with Peter and the Apostles, can do. I was being called to make Jesus present on the altar. My vocation was sealed that day.
The priest holds the bread and says “This is my Body,” and it no longer is bread but the Flesh of Jesus’ Sacred Heart. Remember the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano. What a fantastic way to heal a hurt! I placed my hurt into the bread, and now Jesus’ Sacred Flesh, His Heart, embraces my hurt. The priest then takes the cup of wine and says, “This is my Blood,” and it no longer is wine but the Blood of Jesus’ Sacred Heart. Again remember the Eucharistic miracle of Lanciano. What an incredible way to heal a hurt! I placed my hurt into the wine, and now my hurt is being washed by Jesus’ Sacred Blood, in His Heart. Don’t try to understand this; it is a mystery. Just simply rest in the realization that Jesus is embracing our hurts, just as truly as He touched the leper and was touched by the sinful woman. They were healed. Now He heals us. We assent to Jesus’ sacrifice for us, accepting His healing love and affirming that we will live under His Cross in our great “Amen!”
Everything prayed up to now in the Mass is so that we can be united with Jesus in the greatest intimacy known, that of taking Jesus within our bodies in Holy Communion. Our Mother Mary has been calling us back to frequent, at least monthly, confession, so that we can receive Jesus with greater love. We are in need of daily conversion. She weeps over the multitude of people receiving Communion sacrilegiously, that is, receiving in a state of serious sin or without true faith. In this fifth part of the Holy Mass I take on Jesus’ mind and heart to make His prayer my own. The “Our Father” is a prayer not to be mouthed, but to be lived out in my life: “Our Father..., Your kingdom come..., Your will be done..., forgive us our sins as we forgive...” I make my commitment to live as Jesus did, to be a peace bearer, as I pray and share the covenant sign of peace. Then, and only then, am I truly ready to enter into this greatest intimacy of Communion.
I need to realize deep within my heart that I am truly receiving Jesus, and yet more. I placed a part of my own life into the bread and wine. Now Jesus gives me back that part of myself that He is healing in the embrace of His Heart. I now must be responsible for this part of my lives, but Jesus will walk with me. Any time that one can not receive sacramentally for whatever reason, that person can pray for a spiritual communion, longing for Jesus to come into his heart and drawing him into the life of Jesus’ love and grace.
Returning to our place we enter into the final part of the Mass, our thanksgiving. There is so much to be thankful for in all that Jesus has done out of love in coming to us through His sacrifice of the Cross. I need to be still in the intimacy of His presence within me in Communion. I am pregnant with Jesus. I ask Him to reveal to me what He has done with that theme of my life that I have offered to Him. I let His love speak to my heart and let my heart respond in thanksgiving. This is not the time to be engaged in conversation with those around me or to rush out of Church early. Mary has told us that the Mass is the most perfect prayer, and that we should come early to prepare and linger afterwards to give thanks. Jesus has touched us. Jesus has healed us. Let us go forth now to live in the love and peace of Jesus.