My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Sickness can be discouraging and frightening. Sickness is discouraging when we are sidelined from our usual activities at home, school, or work and are prevented from engaging with our family and friends because we do not feel well. Sickness is frightening when the disease is life-threatening and there is no known cure.
The disease known as COVID-19 is discouraging and frightening. Even in those cases when the symptoms are mild, people may wonder if it will develop into something more serious or even life-threatening, also making it a frightening reality.
In our Catholic tradition, people suffering from various sicknesses and diseases have turned to God for healing and protection. Often these prayers for divine assistance are mediated through the intercession of saints, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In the Traditional Roman Missal, the Feast of Our Lady, Help of the Sick is observed on the Saturday before the last Sunday in August, which this year is Saturday, Aug. 29. Closely related to this title is devotion to Our Lady, Health of the Sick. In the Litany of Loreto, we implore the intercession of Mary as “Health of the Sick.”
There are many other special observances throughout the church year on which we seek the intercession of the Blessed Mother for those who are sick. For example, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Feb. 11, was designated by Pope St. John Paul II as the World Day of the Sick to be observed as a special occasion for believers to offer prayers for those suffering from illnesses.
It is fitting that we turn to Our Blessed Mother in times of sickness. When we suffered from illness as children, we turned to our mothers for their help. Their gentle caresses helped soothe our sufferings and calm our fears. So too do we turn to our spiritual mother for her intercession in times of sickness. Our Blessed Mother loves her children and will not abandon them in their need.
The Blessed Virgin Mary also understands and empathizes with our fears. When the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary in what we now call the Annunciation, the angelic messenger greeted Mary with these words: “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled by the appearance of the angel and his greeting, so Gabriel added, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:28-30). Mary understands what it means to feel fear, for she herself felt afraid, but she found comfort and peace by trusting in God’s grace.
So, too, we implore the intercession of the Blessed Mother to help us to overcome our fears and find comfort and peace in the face of sickness by trusting in God’s grace.
Pope Francis composed a prayer to Our Lady, Health of the Sick, which he recited by video March 11 to implore her protection during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. I encourage you to say this prayer frequently during these troubling times:
you always shine on our path
as a sign of salvation and of hope.
We entrust ourselves to you,
Health of the Sick,
who at the cross took part in Jesus’ pain, keeping your faith firm.
You, Salvation of the Roman People,
know what we need,
and we are sure you will provide
so that, as in Cana of Galilee,
we may return to joy and to feasting
after this time of trial.
Help us, Mother of Divine Love,
to conform to the will of the Father
and to do as we are told by Jesus,
who has taken upon himself our sufferings and carried our sorrows
to lead us, through the cross,
to the joy of the resurrection. Amen.
Under your protection, we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God. Do not disdain the entreaties of we who are in trial, but deliver us from every danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin.
May God give us this grace. Amen.