(This article appeared in the NACC Vision, April 2002.)
by Carey Landry
“I would like to pray for my husband who is dying of cancer.” “I would like to pray for my father who is undergoing heart bypass surgery right now.” “I would like to offer a special prayer for reconciliation in my family.” “I would like to pray for our baby who is seriously ill.” “I would like to pray for one of my fellow staff members who is having personal difficulties right now.” These are some of the kinds of prayer requests we receive every Tuesday afternoon, at 12:30, at our weekly healing service in the St. Vincent Hospital chapel.
I have been in the ministry of music since 1967 at the local, national, and international levels. Songs that I have written and recorded, such as “I Will Never Forget You,” “Peace Is Flowing Like a River,” “Hail Mary: Gentle Woman,” “Lay Your Hands,” “Only a Shadow,” to name a few, have been used in the ministry of healing and grief for many years. When I was hired as chaplain at St. Vincent Hospital, Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1995, I came on board as both chaplain and liturgical music minister for the hospital system. I began immediately to look for ways that music could be better integrated into our patient care.
Another chaplain and I began conducting a weekly healing service at St. Vincent Hospital in November of 1995. The service has continued steadily throughout the years. Other chaplains from our pastoral care department assist me in leading the service. It has proved itself to be a valuable service for patients, family members, staff associates, and volunteers.
As the service is taking place in the chapel, it is simultaneously being televised and shown in patient rooms throughout the hospital and at the satellite facility where I am chaplain, St. Vincent, Carmel, Indiana. We announce the service about half an hour prior to it and attendance is usually between 10 and 25 people. Even if attendance is very low, we conduct the service because it is being televised.
We have found that those who attend appreciate hymns and songs from a variety of sources, with an emphasis on ecumenical hymns. There are times when only instrumental music is used as a gentle background to the meditative setting of the service.
The mood of the service is quiet and reflective. Even though each chaplain who conducts the service is free to choose an order of service, the service usually follows this ritual:
Welcome and Opening Prayer Theme Song (usually two verses)
Scripture or Responsive Reading of a Psalm
Theme Song (another two verses are sung)
Anointing (Optional) (with music in background)
Sharing of Peace
Led by the chaplain, the Guided Meditation is a reflection on the Scripture or the Psalm. It is not meant to be a “sermon.” It is a guided meditation in which we invite all to center within and reflect on the meaning of the Word of God, which has been read at the service.
The Prayer Requests are spoken aloud by those present, with a common response, such as “Lord, hear our prayer.”
The Anointing is completely optional. The chaplain who began the service with me is a member of the Disciples of Christ. He felt led to do an ecumenical anointing based on the text of James 5:14. This anointing is not the Roman Catholic Sacrament of the Sick, and this is made clear to all participants at each service. We clarified that with the Archdiocese when we first began the service and we received permission to continue it as an ecumenical anointing. Care must be taken to clarify this with your own local diocese before proceeding.
We use scented oil in a simple glass container. We invite those present to come forward. If they wish to be anointed for their own healing, we anoint the forehead. If they wish to be anointed as caregivers for others, we ask them to extend the palms of their hands and we anoint their palms. In either case we offer a prayer for healing or compassionate care giving over each one as they come forward.
Those who have attended the service have found it very meaningful. It provides them with an opportunity to ritualize their love, care, and concern, as well as their anxiety and grief. Many have never participated in such a quiet, reflective service and they find it to be refreshing and comforting.
Our associates and volunteers come to the service as a source of peace in the midst of an often chaotic day. We have found that having it at lunchtime allows them to have lunch and then attend the service. Many staff members have told me that even though they may not be able to attend the service, the fact that we are having such a service every week is a source of comfort for them.
Preparation of the service on a weekly basis can be demanding. You may want to begin with a monthly service. If responsibility for the service is shared by several chaplains, then it is much easier for each one. I have found that one song used throughout the service as a theme song works very well. It is not necessary, however, to have sung music at the service. Many instrumental recordings are available to help provide a meditative mood.
Because I am a liturgical musician and composer, the service has led me to compose new music for healing services. That music is found on the new recording, O Healing Light of Christ, published by Oregon Catholic Press. There is also music on this new recording for memorial services and bereavement groups. Much of the music of O Healing Light of Christ is recorded instrumentally on the new Gentle Sounds 4 compact disc.
May the peace of Christ sustain you in the healing ministry we share.
(NACC-certified chaplain Carey Landry can be contacted at [email protected] if readers have questions about the healing service.)