BY ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD, THE WESTERN KENTUCKY CATHOLIC
Silently processing up the aisle of St. Stephen Cathedral in Owensboro on the rainy evening of Feb. 5, Bishop William F. Medley reached the sanctuary, where he laid prostrate before the altar.
The congregation, which had gathered for that evening’s Prayer of Lament and Reparation, knelt for the several minutes that the bishop laid face-down on the ground.
After Bishop Medley stood back up, several musicians opened the prayer service with the hymn “O God, When Trust is Shattered,” which shared a melody with the traditional Lenten hymn, “O Sacred Head, Surrounded.”
The prayer service was being held in response to the Catholic Church’s ongoing sexual abuse crisis, as the bishop explained in his opening reflection.
These sins “weigh heavily on our hearts and minds,” said the bishop, encouraging the congregation, “grieved and broken,” to turn to God, “who alone can make all things new.”
The service included a reading from the Book of Lamentations 5:15-21, a responsorial psalm (Psalm 130), and a reading from the Gospel of John 8:31-36.
In his homily that followed, Bishop Medley explained the purpose of the “ancient gesture of prostration” which he had done at the beginning of the service. He explained that Catholics are accustomed to seeing the gesture at the annual Good Friday prayer service, and also at ordinations.
This evening, he said the gesture symbolized an acknowledgement of “our sins before God.”
“We may protest that you and I have never hurt someone,” said the bishop, “but within the community of the Church, people have been harmed and carry wounds.”
The bishop encouraged the congregation to pray “that our Church as institution, and each of us, will be instruments of healing, instruments of God – because God is the only source of healing.”
After the homily, a series of intercessions were read by Deacon Richard Murphy of St. Stephen Cathedral.
The intercessions included the plea, “Do not turn your face from us as we beg your forgiveness,” and “We have been duped by the lure of evil; set us on the path of goodness and purity.”
The congregation was then welcomed to process up before the altar and put a pinch of incense in a bowl of burning coals, as a symbol of prayers rising to Heaven.
At the conclusion of the prayer service, the hymn “O God of Life, Your Healing Touch” was sung.
Angie Sorrells and Julie Campbell, representing New Beginnings Sexual Assault Support Services, had been invited to attend the prayer service and had a table with brochures at the back of the cathedral.
“I thought it was wonderful; something our community needed,” said Sorrells, New Beginnings’ community educator.
Campbell, the assistant director of New Beginnings, agreed: “As a Christian and someone who works in the field, this renewed me in being an instrument of healing. We were very honored to be invited to be here.”
Editor’s note: New Beginnings is currently collaborating with the Diocese of Owensboro to offer a six-week support group for sexual abuse survivors. To learn more, visit owensborodiocese.org/support-group.
Originally printed in the March 2019 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.
Copyright © 2019 Diocese of Owensboro/The Western Kentucky Catholic