Honoring Our Lady of Lourdes: a new healing mass for a broken world

This piece was originally published in the National Catholic Register.

By Most Rev. Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco

On Jan. 27 I made a trip to a mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay, site of a horrific mass shooting, to pray with the families and friends of the victims. It turned out to be for me an extraordinary journey. 

“We come together this day to reclaim this space of death as a place of life, this place where violence occurred we are reclaiming as a place of peace,” I said, blessing the grounds with holy water.

These families’ deep faith in the midst of such horror shone like a beacon of light in the darkest of nights. I am humbled even now by the strength of a faith that could do that in that moment: extend forgiveness to the perpetrator of this heinous crime who took their loved ones away from them. The cousin of one of the victims told an NBC reporter, “Forgiveness is necessary so the killer can heal from his sins.”

We live in a world that is broken. So many of our institutions that have always been the bulwark of good order in society now seem mired in controversy, conflict and decline, from politics to public schools to the police, not to mention religious communities. 

Crime and disorder proliferate. Marriages break down or fail to form. Birth rates are falling and so is church membership, especially among Catholics. The next generation fears having the children they want.

Our culture and our kids are not doing well. In 2019, almost 37% of high school students reported feeling persistently sad or hopeless in the past year. Almost 19% of these teens seriously considered suicide, according to the CDC.

The world has always been a mixture of strife, illness, want and suffering, along with love, care and creativity. That the world is full of both is not new. What is new is that the traditional sources of identity and stability in a fallen world are all actively undermined by our culture: faith, family, community, the nation, even the body itself is being stripped of its inherent meaning. We are not made to make up our own identities out of whole cloth. We are made for communion. We are made for the love of God, for that is what makes communion with Him, and one another, possible, and that is the ultimate end of human existence.

We need healing. More than a year ago, as we began to emerge from the Covid nightmare, I commissioned a new healing Mass for the World Day of the Sick in honor Our Lady of Lourdes from the Benedict XVI Institute’s composer-in-residence Frank La Rocca

On Feb. 11 at 11am PST at Oakland’s Cathedral of Christ the Light, we will gather for an extraordinary event: the first celebration of the Messe des MaladesHonoring Our Lady of Lourdes. In addition to featuring, as the Order of Malta does every year on the World Day of the Sick, the sacrament of the anointing of the sick and the blessing of the hands of their caretakers, it will also provide a special display of Catholic unity: the knights and dames of the Order from both sides of the Bay — San Francisco and Oakland — will join together at the cathedral where the Order operates its free medical clinic for the poor, with Bishop Michael Barber as celebrant of the Mass and me as preacher. And in addition to the Order of Malta, the Mass will also bring together the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulcher, the Knights of Columbus, the Dominican Friars Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, and the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist — all processing together to worship God and ask for healing love for our broken world. 

EWTN will broadcast the Mass live. The Benedict XVI Choir, conducted by the acclaimed Richard Sparks, will elevate this beautiful new Mass. A new painting of Our Lady of Lourdes by Matilde Olivera will be set up as a shrine. Catholics have recognized for centuries that the sacred beauty which reveals the reality of God is not a luxury item but a spiritual necessity, even — indeed, especially — in times of trouble.

A few weeks ago, sitting in my living room, Frank went to the piano and played for me the Agnus Dei, my first glimpse of this new composition for Mass. “This is another masterpiece,” I blurted out, “a journey from sickness to healing, from darkness to light.”

We all need healing. We all suffer. We all sin. We need forgiveness from each other, and most of all from the Lord God who made us to love and be loved for all eternity. A Eucharistic revival and a renaissance of faith cannot stem from changing this or that uncomfortable teaching of Jesus Christ. No, not the ones that ask us to sublimate our sexual desires to his will. No, not even the far more difficult teaching that we must do good to those who do us wrong, to forgive as we hope for forgiveness. 

Eucharistic revival means a conversion in our hearts to conform with the will of God, shown to us by his Son Christ Jesus. God made us for communion: It would be incoherent to turn our backs on his call to communion as He has mapped it out for us in our very nature while at the same time partake of the sacrament of that communion.

God knows this is hard. After all, he made us! So that is why he gives us the means, through the Eucharist and the sacrament of Penance, to live our faith coherently, that is, to obtain the grace of purification of our souls through outward and visible signs, and so reverently unite ourselves with him in the communion of his Body and Blood. 

The antidote to despair is hope. But that doesn’t come just by wishing for it. Lourdes is the living lesson, for it is Lourdes (not Disneyland) that is the happiest place on earth. As anyone who has been there knows, the most common sight in Lourdes is not churches, not water, not rosaries; it is the smile. That is the mystery in the midst of so much suffering, everyone in Lourdes is smiling, because it’s a place of love that puts us in touch with reality, the deepest reality: God is here and he loves us.