The prayers of blessing and healing are usually said at the end of the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word within the RCIA process.
The prayers are said for catechumens.
The prayers are said by a priest or deacon, or by an appointed catechist. The rite encourages all ministers to be attuned to opportunities that might naturally arise to make best use of these rituals and prayers.
Reflecting on the word of God is like ‘a double-edged sword’ (Hebrews 4:12). It makes catechumens aware of the blessings God has sent into their lives as well as the challenges and the obstacles they will need to overcome on their journey of conversion. It is important, then, to seek God’s blessing of this process and to invite God to heal and restore the catechumens as they reflect not only on the good things that God has done for them but also on the places of hurt and brokenness in their lives.
Because of the negative overtones of the word ‘exorcism’ in popular culture, it is recommended that the minor exorcism be referred to instead as ‘the rituals or prayers of healing’.
Like all liturgical rituals, they include both word and action.
The liturgical action
The liturgical action for the minor exorcism (or ‘the rituals of healing’) is set out in the RCIA:
As the catechumens bow or kneel, the celebrant with hands outstretched over them, says one of the following prayers.RCIA §94
The liturgical action for the rituals of blessing is also outlined in RCIA:
The celebrant, with hands outstretched over the catechumens, says one of the following prayers. After the prayers of blessing [and of healing], if this can be done conveniently, the catechumens come before the celebrant, who lays hands on them individually.RCIA §94
Note the personal and intimate action: hands are placed on the catechumen’s head followed by a moment of silence before the prayer.
The meaning of the action
The blessings of the catechumens are a sign of:
- God’s love
- the church’s tender care.
They are bestowed on the catechumens so that even though they do not as yet have the grace of the sacraments, they may still receive from the church courage, joy and peace as they proceed along the difficult journey they have begun (see RCIA §95).
The words accompanying the text
The words of the prayers give shape to the liturgical action and are said in response to what has arisen during the catechumens’ celebration of and reflection on the word of God. As part of this process, they are invited each week to reflect on how the word of God has shaped their lives. Their reflections will name moments of blessing they have experienced during the week (blessings). But they will also include the obstacles and difficulties they have encountered during the week (opportunities for healings).
Thematically, then, the prayers of blessing and healing will cover the whole range of the human experience: the personal, moral, intellectual, social, emotional, psychological and physical experiences of each person’s life.
What is the difference between them?
With the prayers of blessing, the church publicly proclaims that the catechumens:
- are on a journey towards a loving and tender God
- will strive to live their whole life in the presence of and under the protection of a loving God
- regard their whole life as a blessing from God
- believe that God’s blessing becomes a reality for them in this liturgical action.
With the prayers of healing, the church publicly proclaims that the catechumens:
- acknowledge that they are not perfect, make mistakes and sin
- are aware that there is a struggle within them between flesh and spirit (RCIA §90)
- recognise their unending need for God’s help (RCIA §90)
- believe in a God who forgives their sins when they truly repent
- believe that God’s forgiveness becomes a reality for them in this liturgical action.
Rev. Dr Elio Capra SDB, a Salesians of Don Bosco priest, lectures in Liturgy and Sacramental Theology at Catholic Theological College, Melbourne.