White Mass celebrates health care workers
By Michele Chan Santos
At the 12th annual White Mass, celebrated Feb. 11 at St. Mary Cathedral in Austin, Bishop Joe Vásquez honored physicians, nurses, technicians and others who care for the sick in our community.
"Let us pray for those who have dedicated their lives to the sick, to caring for those who are ill," Bishop Vásquez said.
The White Mass is an annual event where health care workers receive the blessing of the bishop. This year, it fell on the same day as Pope Benedict XVI’s surprising announcement that he would step down on Feb. 28 because of advanced age.
Bishop Vásquez noted that the day, Feb. 11, was the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and also the World Day of the Sick.
"On this day, our Holy Father recognizes his own limitations. May the Holy Spirit guide the College of Cardinals as they elect a successor to Peter," the bishop said.
The day also marked a change in name for the Catholic Physician’s Guild of Central Texas. Dr. Frank Mazza announced that from Feb. 11 forward, the organization would be known as the Catholic Healthcare Guild of Central Texas.
"We are expanding our membership from physicians to all health care workers," Mazza said. The board and membership of the Catholic Healthcare Guild of Central Texas sponsors and coordinates the White Mass. The group is part of the national Catholic Medical Organization.
"We always knew that physicians needed to reconnect with their spirituality and to recall why they were called to health care ministry in the first place, but others clearly want a venue to do so as well," said Mazza, the vice president, chief patient safety officer, and associate chief medical officer of Seton Healthcare Family.
"As we thought about that some more, we recognized that it was important for us to embrace our brothers and sisters in other areas of health care and to have them help us design our programs and our offerings and to give them a chance to create a shared space with us and with people like themselves as they pursued their own spiritual journey," Mazza said.
At the White Mass, the Gospel reading was Mark 6:53-56. "After making the crossing to the other side of the sea, Jesus and his disciples came to land at Gennesaret and tied up there. As they were leaving the boat, people immediately recognized him. They scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring in the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed."
In the homily, Bishop Vásquez explained that during Biblical times, people did not physically touch sick people unless they were a doctor. "But Jesus wants to reach out and touch the sick," the bishop said. "Those in the health care ministry are indeed blessed. In the hospital, in the clinic, in the hospice, these are profound places where God and man encounter one another."
Bishop Vásquez advised the health care workers that patients "need to receive from you the utmost respect, to always see them as human beings. We must continue to bring God’s face to those who are ill. Thank you very much for your ongoing work. May you see your work as sharing in Christ’s compassion."
At the conclusion of the Mass, the bishop prayed the Blessing of Health Care Workers.
"Thank you very much for your commitment and your service," Bishop Vásquez told the medical workers, "especially your care for the poor, who need it so desperately."
Afterwards, there was a reception sponsored by Seton Healthcare Family and Our Lady of the Rosary Cemetery.
Changes are coming for the White Mass next year.
"Beginning next year, with the help of the bishop and the diocese, we will coordinate a Mass of Healing instead of the White Mass, and of course, most of our programs will now be less physician-focused and more inclusive of others," Mazza said.
The Catholic Healthcare Guild of Central Texas "stands in service to those in need in the community, and we nurture our own so that they can help pursue their own spiritual journey," Mazza said.
For more information about the Guild, visit www.catholicphysiciansguildofcentraltexas.org (website name will be changing soon).