Introduction: The Body Gathers
Like bees to a hive, people begin to move into the church. The day is warm and sunny, which is a mirror to the mood. Today we will celebrate the bi-annual Anointing Mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Glenville.
Greeters cheerfully usher in those arriving. Nametags are given out with great love, hands are held tightly, hugs are dispensed with wild abandon. The church moves from empty and quiet, to filling, with the hum of life all about.
Cars continue to pull into the parking lot, driven by volunteers who deliver the precious cargo of our elderly, ill and infirm. Some drive themselves; others come with family and friends. Vans from local nursing homes, arrive, and one by one, the wheelchair lift deposits more of God’s people to gather as one. Not everyone is visibly ill, not everyone is exclusively elderly. We are the Body of Christ, many members, gathering in the name of Jesus.
The Story: The Body Celebrates
Twice a year, in May and in October, the Anointing mass is held on a Monday morning. At the heart and soul of this liturgy is Pastoral Care Associate, Rachel Winters and pastor, Fr. Jerry Gingras, along with a veritable army of volunteers. Add to that the Parish Nurses, under the direction of Betty Parks, who provide care and hospitality. There is always a second presider present; this time is was Fr. Leo Markert, a retired priest of our diocese, who is celebrating his Jubilee this month.
The pews fill up, with wheelchairs, walkers and canes accompanying many of the guests. Every other pew is marked with a ribbon, indicating a place to be. Every other pew is left vacant, so that no one has to go to the altar for anointing or communion; the priests come to them. If this is not reminiscent of the life of Christ, I do not know what is.
Gazing around, one sees the Body of Christ, so very broken, yet coming together – yes, literally, being re-membered in this church at this moment. This realization never fails to make my eyes well up with tears.
The music begins, the entrance procession follows, the Gospel book held high as we live that Gospel in the here and now. We hear readings about healing and grace, the Gospel reminds us of what Jesus did – and what Jesus continues to do through us.
The time for anointing is upon us. With Father Jerry on one side and Father Leo on the other, they make their way through the pews. First the forehead is anointed, then the hands. Their tender touch upon each person’s head, then hands, head, then hands is a glimpse of Christ the Lord. Touching, sealing with oil, blessing, praying, healing, loving.
It is my turn; I tremble, I almost always do. Honestly, I can’t recall the words intoned, but the feeling of his thumb on my forehead, the moisture of the oil, made me feel faint. Then my hands, one palm, then the other palm, crosses marked into them with oil, by hands that bring healing and grace.
My professional observation is suspended. I am ill, I am broken. My legs work, my arms function, my hands are free from any arthritic twist. I can walk, I don’t appear to need any help, but believe me, I know how broken I am. And that brokenness is only healed in the One Body that is Christ. This anointing draws me closer and closer, on this Christian journey through life.
It takes a long time to anoint everyone, as the priests move from pew to pew, with their oil, with their healing hands and hearts. I am reminded of the almost constant complaint from so many Catholics that mass is “too long.” Does the touch of Jesus have time constraints? There is no such thing as “drive-thru” healing here; it takes as long as it takes. I recall a maxim about how turning up the oven will not result in a more rapidly baked cake, simply a ruined cake.
Communion takes a long time too. Deliciously long, which I get to observe through the lens of my camera, and the lens of my heart as well. Once again, each priest, deliberately and prayerfully makes their way from person to person, from pew to pew. “The Body of Christ,” followed by “amen.” Not far behind are parishioners Denis and Sharon Durnan, each trailing a priest, chalice in hand, “Blood of Christ,” and then, “amen.” Feed my sheep, that is what Jesus asked of us. That is what we do.
Mass concludes, we are dismissed. The dismissal intones us to go out into the world, a timely message always, but perhaps more so as we approach Pentecost. A chain of wheelchairs, walkers, and others winds its way across the parking lot to the Parish Hall. Now we will have a banquet of another sort.
The parish nurses have a feast for us. Salads, sandwiches, fruit, deserts. We sit at tables of eight, laughing, talking and eating. Father Jerry makes his way to each table, greeting and joking with people; his smile ever present and his healing touch remains apparent. The din of conversation and laughter is loud, like the music of heaven here on earth. We are shown a glimpse of the Kingdom.
The Faith Formation staff comes out toward the end of the meal, bearing large trays of ice cream. “Chocolate or vanilla?” Whatever one wishes, one receives. It is a “small s” sacrament in this place.
Eventually people begin to take their leave. We are all touched and transformed by what has happened here, just as we have been before, and God willing, will be again. We are the Body of Christ, broken and restored, dying and rising, over and over again.
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