Bishop Loverde anoints the sick

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The annual Mass for the Anointing of the Sick was celebrated at St. Ambrose Church in Annandale March 21. Scores of people in wheelchairs, with crutches and canes and others whose ailments were not visible were greeted by men and women of the Knights and Dames from the Northern Virginia Region of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Malta, Federal. Each person to be anointed was given a Miraculous Medal on a ribbon to hang around their neck.

Seating in the sanctuary was set in alternate rows, allowing the bishop and priests to easily walk through and bless and anoint the sick.

The Mass was celebrated by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde, Conventual Chaplain "Ad Honorem" of the Order of Malta, assisted by Fathers Andrew J. Fisher, pastor; Charles C. Smith, parochial vicar; Alexander R. Drummond, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls; Robert J. Wagner, bishop's secretary; and Deacon Kevin J. Dansereau.

Bishop Loverde greeted the congregation saying that it is an honor to serve at this anointing Mass. His duties as a bishop, he said, were administrative now and he doesn't get to visit the sick as he would like.

In his sermon, the bishop's theme was suffering, saying that our suffering becomes a means of salvation for ourselves and others. He said that we pray for those who are suffering here and around the world.

"I rejoice that I can provide the gift of Christ's healing power," said the bishop.

After the homily, the bishop and priests prepared for the blessing and anointing. It was a three-part ceremony. Bishop Loverde and the priests went through the church walking through the empty aisles and placed his hands on the heads of those with medals around their necks and blessed them.

Next, the oil was blessed and then again, the bishop and priests walked through the sanctuary to anoint those standing.

When it came time for holy Communion, there was a break from the usual tradition. Instead of the faithful coming to the altar to receive the host, the bishop, priests and deacon walked through the empty aisles bringing the consecrated hosts to the people.

When Mass ended, Fra' James-Michael von Stroebel , vice-regent of the Order of Malta, thanked everyone who supported the Order and gave the prayer of the Order.

The congregation was asked to write their prayer petitions to Our Lady of Lourdes and give them to the Knights to take to the grotto in Lourdes during their annual pilgrimage in May.

Tom Ziolkowski brought his son, Ben, 4, to the ceremony and held him in his arms for the blessing and anointing. Ziolkowski is a member of the Fort Belvoir Catholic Community. He came last year too and found the ceremony comforting.

The Order of Malta hosted a lunch after Mass at the parish center. As people walked in, small bottles of Lourdes holy water were distributed.

Zoila Chavez was there to be blessed and anointed and found the ceremony beautiful and meaningful.

"It was hard to describe," she said. "It was wonderful."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015