Being Anointed: Falling into Community

I went alone to Mass alone this morning – my hubby had to be somewhere else – and afterwards I was just sitting in the pew, trying to decide if I was being called to get anointed, because the month-long stiff neck, the two-week long headache and the coughing have been wearing me down.

The priest, a pal, walked by and said, “you look awful.”

I laughed and said “Do I? Well, I guess that’s my cue to ask to be anointed.”

My eyes were closed during the rite, but I was surprised to hear other voices responding, “Amen” to the prayers and blessing and I became conscious of the fact that all the post-Mass chatter among the choir members had ceased. When the Lord’s Prayer began, it sounded like scores of voices joining in.

The anointing was taking place in a “quiet” spot, near the tabernacle, and yet the musicians packing away their gear had noticed and stopped what they were doing. The neighborly chit-chatters lingering at the door had stopped chatting and moved back inside, they stood near the sanctuary. Families gathering for baptisms had stopped fussing and greeting; they all participated in the prayers and blessings of my anointing.

Most of them did not know me. None of them had any idea about my circumstances; they couldn’t – I don’t even know them, fully, yet – but without any visible or obvious prompting (except, perhaps the prompting of the Holy Spirit) the whole community of faith, represented by 40-50 people going about their business in the church, stopped and prayed as one for someone they did not know, for her good.

When I looked around, rather amazed, the priest said, “yes, we forget too easily that we’re a community of believers.”

I murmured a sort of general “thank you” and everyone once more got involved with whatever they’d been doing, and the moment was over – a descent of peace that made me think of the dove at Jesus’ baptism, or the dropping down of the dew of righteousness that Isaiah wrote of.

It was a potent moment. My headache is finally gone, the stiff neck is remains but is markedly better.

As I put on my coat, an acquaintance who had been part of all that walked by with a wink and a quick sign that she’d pray for me; my priest started naming all the different diseases he thought I should be checked for tomorrow and then turned to the next person who wanted his attention, and I walked away thinking about what that spontaneous communal prayer had felt like – and the humbling generosity of it – and was very moved. I was also thankful for the priest who – in his homily – had described his office not as that of shepherd, who is Christ, but as being “the shepherd’s dog, barking at and herding the sheep, in His service.”

Lots of sheep and lambs were in need of his notice, and he was fully on duty, going about the business of the flock, to help out the Shepherd. Nice. God bless all priests and sheepdogs.

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