Church of Blessed Mary MacKillop

Balclutha - New Zealand 

Catholic Practices.  

Healing the sick.

'Is there anyone sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him and anoint him in the name of the Lord. This prayer, made in faith, will save the sick man. The Lord will restore his health, and if he has committed any sins, they will be forgiven.' (James 5:14-15}.

The Church names the anointing of the sick as one of the Seven Sacraments. The practice of the Church has varied even in my lifetime. in fact the old description of the Sacrament was 'Extreme Unction', - the Last Anointing, on the assumption that the person was already dying. Numerous incidents of miraculous recovery have been recorded over the centuries, but often the 'miracle' is simply a reconcilement with impending death. As well as this, people often recover from illness, even when the nature of the disease is not critical.

What was once a rare occurrence, and a sign that death was close, is now often quite frequent. People are anointed often. We are reminded that Jesus, although on rare occasions actually raised the dead, he healed the sick with all kinds of problems. Is he any less powerful today?

Our practice in the Parish is to administer the Sacrament every month to those who feel a need for healing of various kinds. It is given during mass every First Tuesday of the month.


Catholic belief in Eucharist, belief in this unique way that Christ is present under the appearances of bread, is extended by the fact that this presence is more than a symbol. Whatever the individual may or may not believe, does not alter the fact of Christ's presence, because this is what the Church believes and teaches. Besides the candle and the flowers is the centerpiece of the altar table. It is 'the monstrance', from the Latin 'monstrare,' - to show. It is in fact a gilded show case. It contains the consecrated host, which, in spite of the evidence of our senses, is the true presence of Christ among us.

For Catholics, to be there in this 'presence' is a powerful aid to faith, informing understanding and generosity to others. To spend time alone in prayer is not an easy thing to do. I find it is much easier to 'do' something like, get the mail, clean the car, weed the garden. But to simply 'be' in the presence of God, when perhaps, no exalted thoughts are present, where God doesn't appear to be listening, or even there at all, requires a good deal of faith, to say nothing of patience.

Yet, this taking of time simply to 'be' in the presence of God, or rather to be conscious that we are in fact always in his presence, is vital if we are to have any depth of spirituality. To the person who counts this as a waste of time we answer that this is a magnificent way of 'wasting' time. This is what the moderns would call 'non verbal communication, between God and us.' It is much more direct than the using words. Like lots of other lessons , this can only be learned by doing. Every Friday after the daily morning Mass, the Blessed Sacrament is placed in the monstrance, and it remains there until mid-day.

It may take years before our parish gets totally switched on to the practice, but numbers are not important. What matters is that the knowledge of the customs grows until it's natural to drop in and visit the Lord.

The Rosary

The Rosary has always been something of a mystery to those who are not Catholic. There are at least two reasons for this. The first is the element of repetition. The 'Hail Mary' is repeated a good number of times. To some it probably resembles the idea of the prayer-wheel. The more times you turn it, the better it is. But the Rosary doesn't work that way. There is some truth in the belief that over the centuries when the Rosary has been recited, people were illiterate. They couldn't read, but they could very easily remember the words of the Hail Mary. The idea of the beads is also a matter of curiosity to some. 'Something to hold on to, 'almost immediately gives the clue. The actual 'fingering' of the beads is a tangible experience, and for those who are used to saying the Rosary it is a great comfort. When you arrive at the large bead at the end of another ten, then you have arrived at the end of one decade and the beginning of the next one.

The picture makes it clear that the layout of the Rosary is a circle, with a small tail attached to it. Forget the tail for the moment. It is not an essential part. When people speak of saying the Rosary they would mean they are going to say five decades ie. five lots of ten Hail Marys, or once around the circle.

The final complication is that each of the five groupings is about a particular theme, which we call Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious, and quite recently the "luminous" Mysteries proposed by the present Pope. The Joyful Mysteries are about the infancy of Jesus based especially on St Luke's Gospel. It's theme is really a question. Who is this Child, who will he grow up to be?

The Sorrowful Mysteriesare about the agony and crucifixion of Christ. What is the meaning of this horrendous death? What does it tell us about the love of God? What meaning did suffering have for him, what meaning does it have for us?

The Glorious Mysteries are the happy ending, where Christ returns to his Father in triumph. It tells us about the shortness of life, or the value of suffering, the inevitability of death, and the expectation that this life is not all there is, what happens beyond the grave is of vital importance to what happens in our life, and how we interpret it.


THE "NEW LUMINOUS MYSTERIES" In October 2002 the present Pope proposed the addition of another set of five mysteries which are called 'Luminous' or 'enlightening'. It is many centuries since any such addition has been made. These new Mysteries are the first addition to the Rosary in centuries. They are a summary of the meaning of Christ's life. For those who are not yet aware of their names they are 'the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan, The Wedding Feast at Cana, Christ announcing the Kingdom, his Transfiguration, and the Institution of the Eucharist. They centre on the Public Life of Jesus. The are:-


1. THE BAPTISM OF CHRIST IN THE JORDAN. This is the event when the two cousins meet. It is not the first time. When Mary went to visit Elizabeth neither John nor Jesus had yet seen the light of day. Both unborn, they were nevertheless present to each other. This meeting at the Jordan made very clear both to Jesus and to John, the mission of Jesus, which was to proclaim the beginning of our salvation.

2. THE WEDDING FEAST AT CANA. John the Evangelist calls this first of the signs that Jesus gave. What makes it even more interesting is the fact that he did it in obedience to the request made my Mary. Initially he appears to have refused her request. Mary knew better. To the servants she said, "Just do whatever he tells You." Not only was there plenty of wine: it tasted better than any of them had experienced before

3. CHRIST ANNOUNCES THE KINGDOM. The history of the Jews had led to the expectation of the Messiah. What they could not have foreseen was what kind of Messiah he would turn out to be. The Jews were in a position of preference. They were after all, the Chosen people of God. But they could not accommodate a messiah who would accept injustice, who would have an actual preference for poor people rather than powerful ones. They did not like what they saw and heard.

4. THE TRANSFIGURATION OF CHRIST. Because Jesus knew his disciples would be hard put to cope with what seemed to be failure on his part, he fortified them with a glimpse of the glory which had always belonged to him, and which they would one day share. Here on Mount Tabor in a scene reminiscent of Sinai and the giving of the Commandments, the disciples see Jesus in the company of Moses the recipient of the Commandments, and Elijah, the prophet. Jesus belonged unequivocally in their company, and so one day, would his disciples!

5. THE INSTITUTION OF THE EUCHARIST. The promise Jesus made to the people when he fed five thousand with a few loaves and fish led on to his claim that the food which would enable them to live forever was nothing else but his own body and blood. He told them that if they did not eat this food, they would not have life in them. At the last Supper he took bread and said to them, "This is my body, this is my blood. Take and eat!" Not only would he feed them; this eating and drinking would allow them to enter into the very dying and rising that for us, spells our redemption.

Mary in the Church

All Christians accept the place of Mary in the scheme of redemption. They believe, that she was the one human being chosen to be God's mother. As God, God did not need a mother. He is eternal, no beginning, and obviously no ending. But as a human being, he did need a mother as we all did. So to be precise: Mary became in time, the mother of him who is of eternity. As the Gospels of the infancy of Jesus show, this event of Christ's birth was heavily influenced, almost copied by the birth of important figures in the Old testament .

The Catholic tradition has always been one of great reverence and love for Mary. It venerates her humility, her obedience, and her discernment of the divine in the affairs of her life. But she is not a bodes. While being chosen in an altogether singular way, she remains deeply human, even though she is a bridge to the divine. So there could never be any sense of 'competition' between Jesus and Mary, as if they were vying with each other for our attention!

This would reduce them both to the petulant gods of Greek mythology. Rather they are more like allies, sensitive to their own rolls and aware of the common love they both have for all people. Even in the need to approach God through Jesus, there remains the need for us to often go to Jesus through Mary. 

The Crucifix

The clothed figure of Christ on his cross reminds us of the intimate connection between the two. It is a reflection on the Resurrection, where both Christ and the Christian look on it as a symbol, not of his defeat, but of his victory. Realistic impressions of what a horrid sight crucifixion really is, have often been portrayed through the subsequent history of Christianity.

Quite often the cross alone, without the figure, is a cogent sign of Christian belief and devotion. The clothed figure reminds us that Calvary was not the end of Christ's life and teaching, but a necessary prelude to his resurrection. Had he not first died, there could have been no question of Resurrection.

There is no question either of any morbid fascination with the details of Christ's suffering. Crucifixion was a normal punishment for hardened criminals, and was a clear warning to others to observe the law. Needless to say, Christ was no criminal. He made it abundantly clear at his trial that he had not broken any law.

This mystery of the suffering of Christ born willingly for love of the Father, and love for us, is the central image of the whole of Christianity. It has been the inspiration of countless suffering souls who have willingly embraced persecution, misunderstanding, and even death in order to be at one with this extraordinary love of God expressed through the suffering of Christ. 

Incense and Holy Water

At Catholic funerals especially, the casket containing the deceased person is usually sprinkled with holy water, and incense is used as well.

Holy water is simply ordinary water that has been blessed by the prayer of the priest. It is not magic. It is used by way of faith and invocation. In other words we ask God to bless this most common of elements with his own power, so that those who use it in faith may be rewarded by God's blessing and protection. Incense grains are placed on hot charcoal in a container called a thurible. The smoke that rises from the container was likened in the Old Testament to the way prayer rises to God.

The mortal remains of those who loved and served God are regarded as sacred even in death. That's why the Christian tradition of burial is still highly regarded in the church. 

Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament

When Jesus said to his disciples at the Last supper, "this is my body," the Church took him literally, at his word. When Catholics receive holy Communion they believe they receive not bread, but Christ himself, God and man. In the early days of the Church the custom grew of reserving the Sacrament . After the faithful had received the Bread of Life at the Eucharist, or what we now call the Mass, some consecrated hosts would have been kept over after the Mass was finished, for distribution to the sick and elderly. Even children were sometimes entrusted with this sacred task.

It's not surprising that the custom of 'reservation' was extended to certain ' holy places' like the Church itself where the Mass had originally been said. During my lifetime, until the 2nd Vatican Council, the Blessed Sacrament was always kept on the high altar of the church.

Of course there could be no Reservation of the Sacrament without the Mass that brought the Sacrament into being. Obviously there is an immediate connection between the two. Yet the Mass is not the same thing as the worship of the Sacrament. In order to keep them connected but apart, it is quite usual nowadays to have one part of the church for Mass, (usually the larger, gathering-part of the church), and a smaller chapel for private personal and intimate devotion. This practice is at the heart of genuine, personal and intimate devotion with Jesus Christ.


1998 - 2014


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