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Lent - Easter 2001, Volume XVI, No. 1 

Instruction on Prayers for Healing 

(Click here to go to complete Instruction)

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published an "Instruction on Prayers for Healing" on November 23. The document is a response to problems and questions concerning "healing" during liturgical or paraliturgical celebrations.

The document, published in seven languages, deals with doctrinal aspects and disciplinary measures. It is signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, respectively prefect and secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and is dated September 14, 2000, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

An accompanying note says that the Congregation intends that the document "may serve above all as an aid to local ordinaries in better guiding the faithful in this matter, favoring good practices and correcting those which must be avoided".

The note observed that during these celebrations "healing is sought through special rites (prayers, the laying on of hands, anointing etc.) with endorsement, though it may be indirect, sometimes offered by the presence of a prelate", and that interest in these occasions sometimes leads to confusion about what happened.

"This generates vast movements of crowds who meet in those places in the hope, sometimes frustrated, of experiencing or seeing miracles.

In some cases, by no means infrequent, it is proclaimed that healing has taken place, thus arousing expectations of the same phenomenon in other similar meetings. In this context, mention is sometimes made of a supposed 'charism of healing'.

These gatherings for healing also give rise to further questions of their just discernment from a liturgical and disciplinary perspective, especially on the part of ecclesial authorities whose duty it is to lay down and oversee appropriate norms for the proper conduct of liturgical celebrations".

Doctrinal aspects of healings
The first part of the document gives the doctrinal foundation and scriptural sources for miraculous healings. It observes that the healings performed by Jesus "manifest the victory of the kingdom of God over every kind of evil, and become the symbol of the restoration to health of the whole human person, body and soul".

"The sick person's desire for healing is both good and deeply human, especially when it takes the form of a trusting prayer addressed to God.... Obviously, recourse to prayer does not exclude, but rather encourages the use of effective natural means for preserving and restoring health".

Jesus transmitted the power to heal to the Apostles and to the first evangelizers in order "to confirm their mission....

"In this perspective, the references to the 'charisms of healing' acquire special importance. The meaning of charism is per se quite broad, 'a generous gift', and in this context it refers to `gifts of healing obtained'. These graces, in the plural, are attributed to an individual, and are not, therefore, to be understood in a distributive sense ... but rather as a gift granted to a person to obtain graces of healing for others".

Anointing and healing
During the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick, priests ask God "to heal the sick person of the infirmities of body and to grant him the right path

"In the course of the Church's history there have been holy miracle-workers who have performed wondrous healings.... However, the so-called 'charism of healing' ... does not fall within these phenomena of wonder-working. Instead, the present question concerns special prayer meetings organized for the purpose of obtaining wondrous healings among the sick who are present, or prayers of healing after Eucharistic communion for this same purpose".

Pilgrimages, shrines and healing
Healing associated with certain places of prayer "contributed to the popularity of pilgrimages to certain sanctuaries.

The same also happens today at Lourdes, as it has for more than a century. Such healings, however, do not imply a 'charism of healing', because they are not connected with a person who has such a charism, but they need to be taken into account when we evaluate the above-mentioned prayer meetings from a doctrinal perspective".

Prayer Meetings

What about prayer meetings, "healing services" and "healers"?

"A possible 'charism of healing' can be attributed when the intervention of a specific person or persons, or a specific category of persons (for example, the directors of the group that promotes the meetings) is viewed as determinative for the efficacy of the prayer. If there is no connection with any 'charism of healing' then the celebrations provided in the liturgical books, if they are done with respect for liturgical norms, are obviously licit and often appropriate, as in the case of a Mass 'pro infirmis'. If the celebrations do not respect liturgical law, they lack legitimacy.

"In sanctuaries, other celebrations are frequently held which may not be aimed per se at specifically asking God for graces of healing.... For example, one could not place on the primary level the desire to obtain the healing of the sick, in a way which might cause Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to lose its specific finality".

"The 'charism of healing' is not attributable to a specific class of faithful.... Consequently, in prayer meetings organized for asking for healing, it would be completely arbitrary to attribute a 'charism of healing' to any category of participants, for example, to the directors of the group; the only thing to do is to entrust oneself to the free decision of the Holy Spirit, who grants to some a special charism of healing in order to show the power of the grace of the Risen Christ. Yet not even the most intense prayer obtains the healing of all sicknesses".

Ten articles at the end of the document provide guides or norms to be observed concerning prayers for healing and liturgies and services of healing.

Article 1 It is licit for every member of the faithful to pray to God for healing. When this is organized in a church or other sacred place, it is appropriate that such prayers be led by an ordained minister.

Article 2 Prayers for healing are considered to be liturgical if they are part of the liturgical books approved by the Church's competent authority; otherwise, they are non-liturgical.

Article 3.1 Liturgical prayers for healing are celebrated according to the rite prescribed in the 'Ordo benedictionis infirmorum' of the 'Rituale Romanum' and with the proper sacred vestments indicated therein.

3.2. In conformity with what is stated in the 'Praenotanda, V., De aptationibus quae Conferentiae Episcoporum competunt' of the same 'Rituale Romanum', Conferences of Bishops may introduce those adaptations to the Rite of Blessings of the Sick which are held to be pastorally useful or possibly necessary, after prior review by the Apostolic See.

Article 4.1 The diocesan bishop has the right to issue norms for his particular Church regarding liturgical services of healing, following can. 838, 4.

4.2 Those who prepare liturgical services of healing must follow these norms in the celebration of such services.

4.3 Permission to hold such services must be explicitly given, even if they are organized by bishops or cardinals, or include such as participants. Given a just and proportionate reason, the diocesan bishop has the right to forbid even the participation of an individual bishop.

Article 5.1 Non-liturgical prayers for healing are distinct from liturgical celebrations, as gatherings for prayer or for reading of the word of God; these also fall under the vigilance of the local Ordinary in accordance with can. 839, 2.

5.2 Confusion between such free non-liturgical prayer meetings and liturgical celebrations properly so-called is to be carefully avoided.

5.3 Anything resembling hysteria, artificiality, theatricality or sensationalism, above all on the part of those who are in charge of such gatherings, must not take place.

Article 6 The use of means of communication (in particular, television) in connection with prayers for healing, falls under the vigilance of the diocesan bishop in conformity with can. 823 and the norms established by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the 'Instruction' of March 30, 1992.

Article 7.1 Without prejudice to what is established above in art. 3 or to the celebrations for the sick provided in the Church's liturgical books, prayers for healing whether liturgical or non-liturgical must not be introduced into the celebration of the Holy Mass, the sacraments, or the Liturgy of the Hours.

7.2 In the celebrations referred to in para. 1, one may include special prayer intentions for the healing of the sick in the general intercessions or prayers of the faithful, when this is permitted.

Article 8.1 The ministry of exorcism must be exercised in strict dependence on the diocesan bishop, and in keeping with the norm of can. 1172, the Letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of September 29, 1985, and the 'Rituale Romanum'.

8.2 The prayers of exorcism contained in the 'Rituale Romanum' must remain separate from healing services, whether liturgical or non-liturgical.

8.3 It is absolutely forbidden to insert such prayers of exorcism into the celebration of the Holy Mass, the sacraments, or the Liturgy of the Hours.

Article 9 Those who direct healing services, whether liturgical or non-liturgical, are to strive to maintain a climate of peaceful devotion in the assembly and to exercise the necessary prudence if healings should take place among those present; when the celebration is over, any testimony can be collected with honesty and accuracy, and submitted to the proper ecclesiastical authority.

Article 10 Authoritative intervention by the diocesan bishop is proper and necessary when abuses are verified in liturgical or non-liturgical healing services, or when there is obvious scandal among the community of the faithful, or when there is a serious lack of observance of liturgical or disciplinary norms.

The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the Cardinal Prefect, approved the present Instruction, adopted in Ordinary Session of this Congregation, and ordered its publication.

(Click here to go to complete Instruction)

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