As worshipers enter the friary chapel at St. Joseph Cupertino Friary in Ellicott City for a healing Mass, they often first kneel at the relic of St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of the lost.
Although St. Anthony is famous for helping recover lost car keys or missing legal documents, the people who attend the healing Mass are praying for relief from far deeper losses. Loss of health, death of a loved one, loss of faith, loss of sobriety, loss of a home or loss of a relationship are among reasons people come to the friary for healing.
"We invite people to bring these kinds of losses to the sacrifice of the Mass," says the Rev. Greg Moore, priest at St. Joseph and guardian of the friary. "Our primary concern when we say lost is the full gamut of human experience. We have a litany of loss that covers the spectrum of losses."
Worshipers have ready access to cards on which they can request prayers for their specific loss. After Mass, people are invited to come forward to receive prayers for their specific needs. The friars intercede for those who come forward, praying for healing, anointing and laying on hands.
"As friars, we try to open ourselves as much as we can," Moore says. "As you are opening yourself to others, you feel close to them, you experience what they experience."
The healing Mass is part of the ministry of the Companions of St. Anthony, a group of friars and lay people who use the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony to help people encounter Jesus.
"The Mass is such a beautiful liturgy. We become the body of Christ, the Eucharist, to those in need of healing and they become the body of Christ to us," says Lita Maisel, a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and lay assistant at the healing services.
Moore says attendance at the healing Mass has about doubled, to as many as 150 worshipers, since November, when the friary installed a relic of St. Anthony. The relic is a piece of tissue from an unidentified part of St. Anthony's body.
St. Anthony, a younger contemporary of St. Francis, was the first friar to whom Francis gave permission to study theology. "He is a powerful intercessor," Maisel says.
Through the intercession of St. Anthony, Moore says, a woman may have been cured of a malignant foot tumor and another woman of torn ligaments.
In addition to the relic, Moore attributes the increase in attendance at healing services to levels of pain in our modern society. "The traumas people are experiencing now are severe," he says. "I'm talking about physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual traumas. A result is isolation and loneliness. People are not able to get the full peace they are looking for."
The healing offered by the friars is consistent with the message of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis wanted his friars to serve the poor, as Jesus had. Although Francis assisted the materially poor, poverty includes those who are emotionally or spiritually bereft.
"The spiritual healings are more important," says Maisel.
"Sometimes the physical healings are needed so the spiritual healing can take place."
The friars and five lay people devoted to the healing services gather together for at least an hour a week to pray for those who fill out prayer cards. They also commit to pray alone daily for those who need healing.
"I think people are searching and hurting," Maisel says. "We've made the almighty dollar our sole measure of worth."
The healing Masses are not limited to a specific time or place. In addition to holding the monthly Friday night Mass, the Companions of St. Anthony visit the homes of those unable to travel, taking with them a smaller relic of St. Anthony. As family and friends gather, psalms and scriptures are read, followed by the Eucharist and the laying on of hands.
The home visits can be extraordinarily powerful, says Maisel. For Miriam Dorsey of Marriottsville, a frequent visitor to the friary, the healing is not limited to a particular service. She comes for a son who was killed in 1979, and she hopes to bring a sister who had a stroke. "It's very uplifting here. Very beautiful, very peaceful," Dorsey says. "We also want to say thank you for our blessings."
The healing Mass is the first Friday of the month at 7:30 p.m. The friary chapel in Ellicott City is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Information: 410- 531-2800.