The longing for happiness, deeply
rooted in the human heart, has always been accompanied by a desire to be freed
from illness and to be able to understand the meaning of sickness when it is
experienced. This is a human phenomenon, which in some way concerns every person
and finds particular resonance in the Church, where sickness is understood as a
means of union with Christ and of spiritual purification. Moreover, for those
who find themselves in the presence of a sick person, it is an occasion for the
exercise of charity. But this is not all, because sickness, like other forms of
human suffering, is a privileged moment for prayer, whether asking for grace, or
for the ability to accept sickness in a spirit of faith and conformity to God's
will, or also for asking for healing.
Prayer for the restoration of health is therefore part of the Church's
experience in every age, including our own. What in some ways is new is the
proliferation of prayer meetings, at times combined with liturgical
celebrations, for the purpose of obtaining healing from God. In many cases, the
occurrence of healings has been proclaimed, giving rise to the expectation of
the same phenomenon in other such gatherings. In the same context, appeal is
sometimes made to a claimed charism of healing.
These prayer meetings for obtaining healing present the question of their proper
discernment from a liturgical perspective; this is the particular responsibility
of the Church's authorities, who are to watch over and give appropriate norms
for the proper functioning of liturgical celebrations.
It has seemed opportune, therefore, to publish an Instruction, in accordance
with canon 34 of the Code of Canon Law, above all as a help to local Ordinaries
so that the faithful may be better guided in this area, though promoting what is
good and correcting what is to be avoided. It was necessary, however, that such
disciplinary determinations be given their point of reference within a
well-founded doctrinal framework, to ensure the correct approach and to make
clear the reasoning behind the norms. To this end, it has been judged
appropriate to preface the disciplinary part of the Instruction with a doctrinal
I. DOCTRINAL ASPECTS
1. Sickness and healing: their meaning and
value in the economy of salvation
People are called to joy. Nevertheless each day they experience many forms of
suffering and pain. (1) Therefore, the Lord, in his promises of redemption,
announces the joy of the heart that comes from liberation from sufferings (cf.
Is 30:29; 35:10; Bar 4:29). Indeed, he is the one "who delivers from every evil
(Wis 16:8). Among the different forms of suffering, those which accompany
illness are continually present in human history. They are also the object of
man's deep desire to be delivered from every evil.
In the Old Testament, "it is the experience of Israel that illness is
mysteriously linked to sin and evil. (2) Among the punishments threatened by God
for the people's unfaithfulness, sickness has a prominent place (cf. Dt
28:21-22, 27-29, 35). The sick person who beseeches God for healing confesses to
have been justly punished for his sins (cf. Ps 37; 40; 106:17-21).
Sickness, however, also strikes the just, and people wonder why. In the Book of
Job, this question occupies many pages. "While it is true that suffering has
meaning as punishment, when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that
all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment.
The figure of the just man Job is a special proof of this in the Old Testament.
. . And if the Lord consents to test Job with suffering, he does it to
demonstrate the latter's righteousness. The suffering has the character of a
Although sickness may have positive consequences as a demonstration of the
faithfulness of the just person, and for repairing the justice that is violated
by sin, and also because it may cause a sinner to reform and set out on the way
of conversion, it remains, however, an evil. For this reason, the prophet
announces the future times in which there will be no more disease and infirmity,
and the course of life will no longer be broken by death (cf. Is 35:5-6;
It is in the New Testament, however, that the question of why illness also
afflicts the just finds a complete answer. In the public activity of Jesus, his
encounters with the sick are not isolated, but continual. He healed many through
miracles, so that miraculous healings characterised his activity: "Jesus went
around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming
the Gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness" (Mt 9:35; cf.
4:23). These healings are signs of his messianic mission (cf. Lk 7:20-23). They
manifest the victory of the kingdom of God over every kind of evil, and become
the symbol of the restoration to health of the whole human person, body and
soul. They serve to demonstrate that Jesus has the power to forgive sins (cf. Mk
2:1-12); they are signs of the salvific goods, as is the healing of the
paralytic of Bethesda (cf. Jn 5:2-9, 19-21) and the man born blind (cf. Jn 9).
The first preaching of the Gospel, as recounted in the New Testament, was
accompanied by numerous miraculous healings that corroborated the power of the
Gospel proclamation. This had been the promise of the Risen Jesus, and the first
Christian communities witnessed its realization in their midst: "These signs
will accompany those who believe:. . . they will lay hands on the sick, and they
will recover" (Mk 16:17-18). The preaching of Philip in Samaria was accompanied
by miraculous healings: "Philip went down to a city of Samaria and proclaimed
the Christ to them. With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said
by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing. For unclean
spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many
paralysed and crippled people were cured" (Acts 8:5-7). Saint Paul describes his
own proclamation of the Gospel as characterized by signs and wonders worked by
the power of the Holy Spirit: "For I will not dare to speak of anything except
what Christ has accomplished through me to lead the Gentiles to obedience by
word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit"
(Rom 15:18-19; cf. 1 Thes 1:5; 1 Cor 2:4-5). It would not be without foundation
to suppose that these signs and wonders, manifestations of the power of God that
accompanied the preaching of the Gospel, were constituted in large part by
miraculous healings. Such wonders were not limited to St. Paul's ministry, but
were also occurring among the faithful: "Does then the one who supplies the
Spirit to you and works mighty deeds among you do so from works of the law or
from faith in what you have heard preached?" (Gal 3:5).
The messianic victory over sickness, as over other human sufferings, does not
happen only by its elimination through miraculous healing, but also through the
voluntary and innocent suffering of Christ in his passion, which gives every
person the ability to unite himself to the sufferings of the Lord. In fact,
"Christ himself, though without sin, suffered in his passion pains and torments
of every type, and made his own the sorrows of all men: thus he brought to
fulfilment what had been written of him by the prophet Isaiah (cf. Is 53:4-5).
(4)" But there is more: "In the cross of Christ not only is the redemption
accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been
redeemed. . . In bringing about the redemption through suffering, Christ has
also raised human suffering to the level of the redemption. Thus each man in his
suffering can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ." (5)
The Church welcomes the sick not only as the recipients of her loving care, but
also by recognizing that they are called "to live their human and Christian
vocation and to participate in the growth of the kingdom of God in a new and
more valuable manner. The words of the Apostle Paul ought to become their
approach to life or, better yet, cast an illumination to permit them to see the
meaning of grace in their very situation: In my flesh I complete what is lacking
in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church' (Col
1:24). Precisely in arriving at this realization, the Apostle is raised up in
joy: I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake' (Col 1:24). (6)" It is a paschal
joy, fruit of the Holy Spirit, and, like Saint Paul, "in the same way many of
the sick can become bearers of the joy inspired by the Holy Spirit in much
affliction' (1 Thess 1:6) and be witnesses to Jesus' resurrection." (7)
2. The desire for healing and prayer to obtain it
Presuming the acceptance of God's will, the sick person's desire for healing is
both good and deeply human, especially when it takes the form of a trusting
prayer addressed to God. Sirach exhorts his disciple: "My son, when you are ill,
delay not, but pray to God, who will heal you" (Sir 38:9). A number of the
Psalms also ask for healing (cf. Ps 6; 37; 40; 87).
Large numbers of the sick approached Jesus during his public ministry, either
directly or through friends and relatives, seeking the restoration of health.
The Lord welcomes their requests and the Gospels contain not even a hint of
reproach for these prayers. The Lord's only complaint is about their possible
lack of faith: "If you can! Everything is possible to one who has faith" (Mk
9:23; cf. Mk 6:5-6; Jn 4:48).
Not only is it praiseworthy for individual members of the faithful to ask for
healing for themselves and for others, but the Church herself asks the Lord for
the health of the sick in her liturgy. Above all, there is the sacrament
"especially intended to strengthen those who are being tried by illness, the
Anointing of the Sick."(8) "The Church has never ceased to celebrate this
sacrament for its members by the anointing and the prayer of its priests,
commending those who are ill to the suffering and glorified Lord, that he may
raise them up and save them."(9) Immediately before the actual anointing takes
place, in the blessing of the oil, the Church prays: "Make this oil a remedy for
all who are anointed with it; heal them in body, in soul, and in spirit, and
deliver them from every affliction"(10) and then, in the first two prayers after
the anointing, the healing of the sick person is requested.(11) Since the
sacrament is a pledge and promise of the future kingdom, it is also a
proclamation of the resurrection, when " there shall be no more death or
mourning, crying out or pain, because the old order has passed away" (Rev 21:4).
Furthermore, the Roman Missal contains a Mass pro infirmis in which, in addition
to spiritual graces, the health of the sick is requested.(12)
In the De benedictionibus of the Rituale Romanum, there is an Ordo benedictionis
infirmorum, in which there are various prayers for healing: in the second
formulary of the Preces (13), in the four Orationes benedictionis pro adultis
(14), in the two Orationes benedictionis pro pueris (15), and in the prayer of
the Ritus brevior (16).
Obviously, recourse to prayer does not exclude, but rather encourages the use of
effective natural means for preserving and restoring health, as well as leading
the Church's sons and daughters to care for the sick, to assist them in body and
spirit, and to seek to cure disease. Indeed, "part of the plan laid out in God's
providence is that we should fight strenuously against all sickness and
carefully seek the blessings of good health. . . "(17)
3. The "charism of healing" in the New Testament
Not only did wondrous healings confirm the power of the Gospel proclamation in
Apostolic times, but the New Testament refers also to Jesus' real and proper
transmission of the power to heal illnesses to his Apostles and to the first
preachers of the Gospel. In the call of the Twelve to their first mission,
according to the accounts of Matthew and Luke, the Lord gave them "the power to
drive out unclean spirits and to cure every disease and illness" (Mt 10:1; cf.
Lk 9:1), and commanded them: "Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers,
drive out demons" (Mt 10:8). In sending out the seventy-two disciples, the Lord
charges them: "cure the sick" (Lk 10:9). The power to heal, therefore, is given
within a missionary context, not for their own exaltation, but to confirm their
The Acts of the Apostles refers in general to the wonders worked by them: "many
wonders and signs were being done by the apostles" (Acts 2:43; cf. 5:12). These
were amazing deeds that manifested the truth and the power of their mission.
However, apart from these brief general references, the Acts of the Apostles
refers above all to the miraculous healings worked by individual preachers of
the Gospel: Stephen (cf. Acts 6:8), Philip (cf. Acts 8:6-7), and, above all,
Peter (cf. Acts 3:1-10; 5:15; 9:33-34, 40-41) and Paul (cf. Acts 14:3, 8-10;
15:12; 19:11-12; 20:9-10; 28:8-9).
In the conclusion to the Gospel of Mark, as well as in the Letter to the
Galatians, as seen above, the perspective is broadened. The wondrous healings
are not limited to the activity of the Apostles and certain of the central
figures in the first preaching of the Gospel. In this perspective, the
references to the "charisms of healing" in 1 Cor 12:9, 28, 30 acquire special
importance. The meaning of charism is per se quite broad - "a generous gift" -
and in this context it refers to "gifts of healing obtained." These graces, in
the plural, are attributed to an individual (cf. 1 Cor 12:9), and are not,
therefore, to be understood in a distributive sense, as the gifts of healing
received by those who themselves have been healed, but rather as a gift granted
to a person to obtain graces of healing for others. This is given in uno
Spiritu, but nothing is specified about how that person obtains these healings.
It would not be farfetched to think that it happens by means of prayer, perhaps
accompanied by some symbolic gesture.
In the Letter of James, reference is made to the Church's action, by means of
the priests, directed toward the salvation - in a physical sense as well - of
the sick. But this is not to be understood as a wondrous healing; it is
different from the "charisms of healing" of 1 Cor 12:9. "Is anyone sick among
you? He should call for the priests of the Church and have them pray over him
and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord and the prayer of faith will
save the sick person and will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he
will be forgiven" (Jas 5:14-15). This refers to a sacramental action: anointing
of the sick with oil and prayer "over him" and not simply "for him," as if it
were only a prayer of intercession or petition; it is rather an efficacious
action on the sick person.(18) The verbs "will save" and "will raise up" do not
suggest an action aimed exclusively or predominantly at physical healing, but in
a certain way include it. The first verb, even though the other times it appears
in the Letter of James it refers to spiritual salvation (cf. 1:21; 2:14; 4:12;
5:20), is also used in the New Testament in the sense of "to heal" (cf. Mt 9:21;
Mk 5:28, 34; 6:56; 10:52; Lk 8:48); the second, while having at times the sense
of "to rise" (cf. Mt 10:8; 11:5; 14:2), is also used to indicate the action of
"raising up" a person who is lying down because of illness, by healing the
person in a wondrous fashion (cf. Mt 9:5; Mk 1:31; 9:27; Acts 3:7).
4. Prayers to obtain healing from God in the Church's tradition.
The Fathers of the Church considered it normal that believers would ask God not
only for the health of their soul, but also for that of their body. With regard
to the goods of life, health, and physical integrity, St. Augustine writes: "We
need to pray that these are retained, when we have them, and that they are
increased, when we do not have them."(19) St. Augustine has also left us the
testimony of a friend's healing, obtained through the prayers of a Bishop, a
priest, and some deacons in his house.(20)
The same perspective is found in both the Eastern and Western liturgical rites.
One of the post Communion prayers of the Roman Missal asks ". . . may the power
of this heavenly gift take hold of our minds and bodies."(21) In the liturgy of
Good Friday, Christians are invited to pray to God the Father Almighty that he
"may keep diseases away. . . and grant health to the sick."(22) Among the texts
that are most significant is that of the blessing of the oil of the sick, in
which God is asked to pour forth his holy blessing so that all "those who are
anointed with it may receive healing, in body, soul and spirit, and be delivered
from all sadness, all weakness and suffering."(23)
The expressions used in the prayers of the anointing of the sick in the Eastern
Rites are very similar. For example, in the anointing of the sick in the
Byzantine Rite, there is the prayer: "Holy Father, doctor of souls and bodies,
you who sent your only begotten Son Jesus Christ to cure every sickness and to
free us from death, heal also your servant from the infirmity of body and spirit
that afflicts him, by the grace of your Christ."(24) In the Coptic Rite, the
Lord is invoked to bless the oil so that all who will be anointed with it will
obtain health of spirit and body. Then, during the anointing of the sick person,
the priests make mention of Jesus Christ who was sent into the world "to heal
all sicknesses and to free from death" and ask God "to heal the sick person of
the infirmities of body and to grant him the right path."(25)
5. The "charism of healing" in the present-day contest
In the course of the Church's history there have been holy miracle-workers who
have performed wondrous healings. The phenomenon was not limited to the
Apostolic period; however, the so-called "charism of healing," about which it
seems appropriate to offer some doctrinal clarifications, does not fall within
these phenomena of wonder-working. Instead, the present question concerns
special prayer meetings organized for the purpose of obtaining wondrous healings
among the sick who are present, or prayers of healing after Eucharistic
communion for this same purpose.
There is abundant witness throughout the Church's history to healings connected
with places of prayer (sanctuaries, in the presence of the relics of martyrs or
other saints, etc.). In Antiquity and the Middle Age, such healings contributed
to the popularity of pilgrimages to certain sanctuaries, such as that of St.
Martin of Tours or the Cathedral of St. James in Compostela, as well as many
others. The same also happens today at Lourdes, as it has for more than a
century. Such healings, however, do not imply a "charism of healing," because
they are not connected with a person who has such a charism, but they need to be
taken into account when we evaluate the above-mentioned prayer meetings from a
With respect to prayer meetings for obtaining healing, an aim which even if not
exclusive is at least influential in their planning, it is appropriate to
distinguish between meetings connected to a "charism of healing," whether real
or apparent, and those without such a connection. A possible "charism of
healing" can be attributed when the intervention of a specific person or
persons, or a specific category of persons (for example, the directors of the
group that promotes the meetings) is viewed as determinative for the efficacy of
the prayer. If there is no connection with any "charism of healing," then the
celebrations provided in the liturgical books, if they are done with respect for
liturgical norms, are obviously licit and often appropriate, as in the case of a
Mass pro infirmis. If the celebrations do not respect liturgical law, they lack
In sanctuaries, other celebrations are held frequently which may not be aimed
per se at specifically asking God for graces of healing, but in which, in the
intentions of the organizers and participants, the obtaining of healing has an
important part. With this purpose in mind, both liturgical and non-liturgical
services are held: liturgical celebrations (such as exposition of the Blessed
Sacrament with Benediction) and non-liturgical expressions of popular piety
encouraged by the Church (such as the solemn recitation of the Rosary). These
celebrations are legitimate, as long as their authentic sense is not altered.
For example, one could not place on the primary level the desire to obtain the
healing of the sick, in a way which might cause Adoration of the Blessed
Sacrament to lose its specific finality, which is to "bring the faithful to
recognize in the Eucharist the wonderful presence of Christ and to invite them
to a spiritual union with him, a union which finds its culmination in
The "charism of healing" is not attributable to a specific class of faithful. It
is quite clear that St. Paul, when referring to various charisms in 1
Corinthians 12, does not attribute the gift of "charisms of healing" to a
particular group, whether apostles, prophets, teachers, those who govern, or any
other. The logic which governs the distribution of such gifts is quite
different: "All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who distributes
to each one individually just as the Spirit choses" (1 Cor 12:11). Consequently,
in prayer meetings organized for asking for healing, it would be completely
arbitrary to attribute a "charism of healing" to any category of participants,
for example, to the directors of the group; the only thing to do is to entrust
oneself to the free decision of the Holy Spirit, who grants to some a special
charism of healing in order to show the power of the grace of the Risen Christ.
Yet not even the most intense prayer obtains the healing of all sicknesses. So
it is that St. Paul had to learn from the Lord that "my grace is enough for you;
my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12:9), and that the meaning of the
experience of suffering can be that "in my flesh I complete what is lacking in
Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" (Col 1:24).
II. DISCIPLINARY NORMS
Art. 1 - It is licit for every member of the faithful to pray to God for
healing. When this is organized in a church or other sacred place, it is
appropriate that such prayers be led by an ordained minister.
Art. 2 - Prayers for healing are considered to be liturgical if they are part of
the liturgical books approved by the Church's competent authority; otherwise,
they are non-liturgical. 27
Art. 3 - § 1. Liturgical prayers for healing are celebrated according to the
rite prescribed in the Ordo benedictionis infirmorum of the Rituale Romanum (28)
and with the proper sacred vestments indicated therein.
§ 2. In conformity with what is stated in the Praenotanda, V., De aptationibus
quae Conferentiae Episcoporum competunt (29) of the same Rituale Romanum,
Conferences of Bishops may introduce those adaptations to the Rite of Blessings
of the Sick which are held to be pastorally useful or possibly necessary, after
prior review by the Apostolic See.
Art. 4 - § 1. The Diocesan Bishop has the right to issue norms for his
particular Church regarding liturgical services of healing, following can. 838 §
§ 2. Those who prepare liturgical services of healing must follow these norms in
the celebration of such services.
§ 3. Permission to hold such services must be explicitly given, even if they are
organized by Bishops or Cardinals, or include such as participants. Given a just
and proportionate reason, the Diocesan Bishop has the right to forbid even the
participation of an individual Bishop.
Art. 5 - § 1. Non-liturgical prayers for healing are distinct from liturgical
celebrations, as gatherings for prayer or for reading of the word of God; these
also fall under the vigilance of the local Ordinary in accordance with can. 839
§ 2. Confusion between such free non-liturgical prayer meetings and liturgical
celebrations properly so-called is to be carefully avoided.
§ 3. Anything resembling hysteria, artificiality, theatricality or
sensationalism, above all on the part of those who are in charge of such
gatherings, must not take place.
Art. 6 - The use of means of communication (in particular, television) in
connection with prayers for healing, falls under the vigilance of the Diocesan
Bishop in conformity with can. 823 and the norms established by the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Instruction of March 30, 1992.(30)
Art. 7 - § 1. Without prejudice to what is established above in art. 3 or to the
celebrations for the sick provided in the Church's liturgical books, prayers for
healing - whether liturgical or non-liturgical - must not be introduced into the
celebration of the Holy Mass, the sacraments, or the Liturgy of the Hours.
§ 2. In the celebrations referred to § 1, one may include special prayer
intentions for the healing of the sick in the general intercessions or prayers
of the faithful, when this is permitted.
Art. 8 - § 1. The ministry of exorcism must be exercised in strict dependence on
the Diocesan Bishop, and in keeping with the norm of can. 1172, the Letter of
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of September 29, 1985,(31) and
the Rituale Romanum (32).
§ 2. The prayers of exorcism contained in the Rituale Romanum must remain
separate from healing services, whether liturgical or non-liturgical.
§ 3. It is absolutely forbidden to insert such prayers of exorcism into the
celebration of the Holy Mass, the sacraments, or the Liturgy of the Hours.
Art. 9 - Those who direct healing services, whether liturgical or
non-liturgical, are to strive to maintain a climate of peaceful devotion in the
assembly and to exercise the necessary prudence if healings should take place
among those present; when the celebration is over, any testimony can be
collected with honesty and accuracy, and submitted to the proper ecclesiastical
Art. 10 - Authoritative intervention by the Diocesan Bishop is proper and
necessary when abuses are verified in liturgical or non-liturgical healing
services, or when there is obvious scandal among the community of the faithful,
or when there is a serious lack of observance of liturgical or disciplinary
The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned
Cardinal Prefect, approved the present Instruction, adopted in Ordinary Session
of this Congregation, and ordered its publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
September 14, 2000, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross.
+ Joseph Card. RATZINGER
+ Tarcisio BERTONE, S.D.B.
Archbishop Emeritus of Vercelli