NORTH BRANFORD – It’s 7 o’clock on a Friday and people have driven as long as an hour to attend the monthly healing Mass being celebrated by Father Robert Rousseau, pastor of St. Augustine Parish.
As a guitar strums quietly in the background, the people who arrive are quiet, reverential, prayerful … hopeful.
"Be open to how the Lord works," Father Rousseau encourages. "We’re here to praise and worship God and to be open to what God wants in our lives.
In a few words, he has captured the essence of healing Masses, which grew in popularity during the 1970s from the Charismatic movement.
And, while Father Rousseau and all priests will remind people that "every Mass is a healing Mass" – "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed" – he is quick to explain that there is something special, something holy, something intimate about asking God for a special healing.
"We’re all broken, we all have problems," he tells the faithful, "Maybe what the Lord wants to heal is something other than what we’re asking. So, just be open to what God wants to do in your life."
Father Rousseau, who estimates that he has been celebrating such Masses for a quarter of a century, emphasizes that it’s prayer, or reaching out to God in faith, that heals.
In fact, Father Rousseau himself prays and fasts before Mass, then is joined by a team of people who will pray with others after the Mass.
Then, as the summit of the service, he celebrates the Mass.
Afterward, Father Rousseau walks through the church, holding the monstrance and blessing the congregation.
He then invites people to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, and he stands in silent prayer with each person who comes forward. Prayer teams are available for further prayer with those who desire it.
The service concludes with Benediction.
Father Rousseau holds his healing services on the second Friday of every month except during the summer. Other parishes and prayer groups offer healing prayer or Masses, as well.
Among the organizers is Eugene Dion, director of the Archdiocese of Hartford’s Office of Charismatic Renewal. For the past 16 years, he has coordinated healing Masses on the third Tuesday of every month at the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield. The office has offered the Masses for 22 years.
"There definitely is a need," said Mr. Dion. "People are hurting a lot out there. Where else can they go to have people pray with them? We’re another voice for them."
The format for most healing services includes praise and worship music and, most important, the Mass, followed by "a laying on of hands" for individual prayer, an opportunity to receive additional prayer from a prayer team and a time to offer testimonials about the experience.
Some people pray with the charismatic gift of tongues while others who experience an infilling of the Holy Spirit may quietly "rest in the spirit," said Father Rousseau.
"All of us have different ways of praying," said Mr. Dion. "But ultimately, it is Jesus working through us who does the healing."
For people who are seriously ill, some services, such as those at the archdiocesan center, also offer the sacrament of the sick administered by a priest.
"We’ve had many healings over the years that people have come back and witnessed to at our service," said Mr. Dion.
He tells a story about a man who received prayer for a drinking problem. He came back a year later, seeking prayers for his granddaughter and saying he hadn’t had a drink in a year.
"These stories are encouraging to us," Mr. Dion said. "We have found that many people go away with a lot more peace in their life."
In fact, he said, in response to people who have asked about how to pray with others, his office has developed a course that teaches them how to pray with family members.
"You can do that every night at home with your family by just putting your hands on them and saying a prayer," he said.
Mr. Dion estimates that his prayer teams have individually ministered to well over 6,000 people over the past two decades. "It would be beautiful if this was going on at all the churches," he noted.
Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Peter A. Rosazza, who celebrated one of the healing Masses at the seminary in June, told the congregation that the two elements necessary for healing are "faith and humility. Without God, we cannot do anything," he said.
"God is rich in mercy," he said, explaining that sometimes health is regained through intercessory prayer, or by seeking forgiveness if we have been hurt or have hurt others, or if God determines it to be "expedient for the soul."
However, in all cases, he noted, "Our Lord Jesus is with us because he knows what suffering is."
Father Rousseau agreed. "Suffering of any kind is difficult because it challenges us," he said. It forces us to ask, "Do we trust that God is with us in all circumstances?"
But eventually, through our struggles, "we come to realize that Jesus is saying, ‘I love you unconditionally,’" he said. "It doesn’t mean that things will be easy, but it does mean that God will give us his peace in our heart. He’s the healer … the one who touches our lives."
Other regular healing Masses are celebrated by Father Bill McCarthy at My Father’s House retreat center in Moodus and Father Ray Introvigne at St. Mary Parish, both in the Diocese of Norwich, and Father Lawrence Carew at Christ the King Parish in Trumbull.
"People come for many reasons," said Father Rousseau, who estimates that about half of the people attending his healing services are from his own parish. "It can be because of personal struggles or illness.
"But they look to hear that God loves them," he said. "As a result, many leave with a sense of peace … and the reality that God is with them."
In turn, he said, he is blessed. "I get the same energy as the people who come for prayer," he said. "It fills me."
Corrine Clark of Bristol, who attended a healing Mass at St. Augustine, agrees. "I come because I feel God’s presence in a very powerful way. It brings me closer to God and increases my faith; and that’s a blessing to me."