The oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick and holy chrism are powerful symbols of a priest’s ministry to the people, which in these last few years of the COVID pandemic have proved vitally important.
These sacred oils, used in the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders, are blessed and consecrated by the local bishop at the annual Chrism Mass, which is traditionally held during Holy Week. The oils are then distributed and used in every parish, signifying the Lord's healing presence and the life-giving gift of the Holy Spirit among the people.
Fr Anthony Doran, Parish Priest of St Vincent de Paul in Strathmore, says his ministry to the sick during this time of COVID has been ‘more than challenging’ but remains integral to the work of the Church.
Pastoral care of the sick and dying is important because it is one of the signs of the healing ministry of Jesus, and so is one of the signs of the Kingdom breaking in upon our world.’
‘It is sickness that often isolates and marginalises people, making them feel excluded, that they are of little worth, and separated from loved ones and rest of the community,’ he said. This was further highlighted by Victoria’s extended periods of lockdown, he says, where the sick and marginalised felt even more isolated than ever before.
‘Whatever we were able to do to alleviate and eliminate these feelings of isolation, was worth doing,’ he says.
Before his appointment to Strathmore, Fr Doran was Parish Priest of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ringwood and during the height of Victoria’s lockdown in 2021, visited several local aged care facilities to provide pastoral care for residents.
‘Sometimes it meant visiting people to anoint them in full PPE gear; other times, a mask only,’ he says, recounting the accommodating spirit of the staff he encountered at these facilities.
Often, priests and pastoral/spiritual care workers might be the only non-medical person a sick person might encounter, attending to needs beyond just the physical or medical,’ he explains. ‘So our ministry is more important than ever.’
In his message for this year’s 30th annual World Day of the Sick, Pope Francis drew attention to those who have sadly suffered their sickness in solitude during the pandemic.
‘How can we forget … all those patients who, during this time of pandemic spent the last part of their earthly life in solitude, in an intensive care unit, assisted by generous healthcare workers, yet far from their loved ones and the most important people in their lives? This helps us to see how important is the presence at our side of witnesses to God’s charity, who, following the example of Jesus, the very mercy of the Father, pour the balm of consolation and the wine of hope on the wounds of the sick.’
I would like to remind everyone that closeness to the sick and their pastoral care is not only the task of certain specifically designated ministers; visiting the sick is an invitation that Christ addresses to all his disciples. How many sick and elderly people are living at home and waiting for a visit!
The ministry of consolation is something that every baptised person can undertake, the Holy Father said, calling to mind the words of Jesus himself: “I was sick and you visited me” (Matthew 25:36).
Melbourne Catholic27 February 2024
Justin McLellan (CNS)26 February 2024