October 9, 2020

Mass offers prayer, sacraments as ‘great aids’ for those with mental health issues

A couple receives a blessing from Msgr. William F. Stumpf, archdiocesan vicar general, after the Healing Mass for Mental Health Awareness on Sept. 15 in St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

A couple receives a blessing from Msgr. William F. Stumpf, archdiocesan vicar general, after the Healing Mass for Mental Health Awareness on Sept. 15 in St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

It was Sept. 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. A painting of the Blessed Mother, tears streaming from her eyes, stood near the pulpit where Msgr. William F. Stumpf delivered his homily.

“Mary knew firsthand the struggles and pain that life can bring,” the archdiocese’s vicar general said. “As our Mother, she cares deeply about the burdens and trials we face.”

The message resonated with the nearly 60 people gathered for the archdiocese’s Healing Mass for Mental Health Awareness.

The Mass, which is celebrated annually around central and southern Indiana, was held this year at St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. An additional 34 people watched the Mass online.

During his homily, Msgr. Stumpf empathized with the congregants.

‘This painful cross’

“The focus of our liturgy today and our time together, which centers on the struggles and impact of mental illness, is deeply personal,” he said.

He shared how a person dear to him struggled periodically with depression.

“I understand firsthand how challenging and painful mental illness can be for the patient and for those who love them,” he said. “And I also know that its effects touch all aspects of a person’s life—even their spiritual life.”

While awareness of mental health issues “has grown exponentially,” such issues are still misunderstood, and society often stigmatizes those who “suffer carrying this painful cross,” Msgr. Stumpf said.

“But amid those misunderstandings, our Church reminds us powerfully that mental illness is not a sign of insufficient faith or weakness of will. … Indeed, men and women of heroic holiness—men and women like St. Thérèse of Lisieux [and] St. Benedict—suffered from psychological wounds.”

Christianity does not promise a life with no pain or suffering, he noted.

“However, faith, prayer and the sacraments are great aids for healing and the source of much comfort in coping with mental illness or any illness,” he added.

Catholics are called to care for others, to help “carry their burdens and crosses,” said Msgr. Stumpf.

“Thus, we have a duty to reach out to those who struggle with mental illness and to accompany them—all the while doing everything we can to heal or diminish their suffering.”

‘We are not alone’

Such are the goals of the archdiocese’s annual Healing Mass.

This year’s event included opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation, a personal blessing from Msgr. Stumpf, and for individuals or groups to be prayed over by two-person prayer teams.

“We wanted people to have a full experience of healing with multiple sacraments available,” said

Brie Anne Varick, coordinator of the archdiocesan Office of Human Life and Dignity. The office’s Mental Health Ministry sponsors the annual Mass.

This year saw the highest turnout in the event’s four-year history, perhaps because of the pandemic, said Varick.

“We had this [Mass] planned long before we knew about COVID-19,” she said. “I think we were in need of healing before COVID, and [the pandemic] just kind of brought it to the surface. … Anything people were struggling with before is now exponentially worse.”

Add to the mix isolation, restrictions on socializing, anxiety regarding the coronavirus and the short-term inability to receive the sacraments, and the result is “a real crisis” for mental health, said Varick.

Ed Cahill agreed.

“It’s a complex issue,” said the member of Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood. “We all have ups and downs in our lives, and we need each other to just push through it.”

Cahill worshipped at the Mass with five of his siblings. Noting that other members of the family have dealt with mental health issues, he was grateful for the healing Mass.

“Things like this help us understand how we can be more compassionate toward those people,” he said. “Through [the archdiocese’s] outreach and ministries and Masses, it helps us better understand the issue and gives us ways to be there for each other.”

Katie Warrenburg, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, witnessed the positive effects of the event. The artist of the Our Lady of Sorrows painting displayed during the Mass also served as one of the prayer team members.

“They seemed lighter, their faces not so tense, smiling,” she said of those over whom she prayed. “We just need to be reminded every once in a while that we are not alone.”
 

(To view the Healing Mass for Mental Health Awareness Month, a recording will be available for a limited time at cutt.ly/HealingMass. For more information on the archdiocese’s Mental Health Ministry, go to cutt.ly/ArchIndyMentalHealthMinistry or call the Office of Human Life and Dignity at 317-236-1543 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1543.)

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