Mass at the Jesuit Infirmary in the Loyola House of Studies: the Anointing of Sick Jesuits

I.  The Road to the Infirmary

Today is the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.  It’s 5:30 p.m. and I haven’t yet went to mass.  I am thinking of going to de la Strada, but it requires an effort.  I called my friend and she suggested that I go to the Jesuit Infirmary chapel at the Loyola House of Studies.  “Fr. Roque Ferriols, S.J. is the celebrant,” she said.  I haven’t been there before.  So I agreed to go.

The Loyola House of Studies is a 5 minute walk from the Manila Observatory.  I walked downhill in a winding road until I reached a dead end marked by a pine tree; cars would have to go around it to go back to the Observatory.  I asked the porter where the Jesuit Infirmary is.  She pointed me to a narrow corridor, a tunnel through the hillside.

“Go straight, turn left, and climb the stairs to your right.  The chapel is in the second floor.”

I went inside.  It was gloomy.  And spooky.  I have played Dungeons and Dragons before and this is a real dungeon.  Oh, I have been here before.  That room in the corner is where I took my oral exams in Theology 131 on Marriage under Fr. Adolfo N. Dacanay, S.J, a canon lawyer who finished his doctorate from the Gregorian University in Rome.  My exam question is on the relationship of Fundamental Option and venial sins.  I took it an hour before the sun rose.  The corridor was as dark then as it is now.  I can still see in my mind Fr. Dacanay sitting behind his wooden desk under a lamp light.  Now, the door is closed.

I turned left.  On my left is a garden.  A little farther and higher is a church with its unmistakable stained glass windows, shining like precious gems in the setting sun.  I wished to be there but it is not the chapel I seek.

I opened the double door.  One stairway goes down to the right; another goes up to the right.  I went up.

When I arrived at the second floor, I turned right and saw the Infirmary.  There is the nurses’s station on the right and straight ahead is little chapel filled with people for mass.  An Indian priest greeted me before the door.  I asked if I can come inside.  He said yes and showed me an empty chair on the second row.  I sat.

II.  The Mass at the Infirmary

The celebrant is not Fr. Roque Ferriols; it is Fr. Jun Viray, the Rector (of Loyola House?). He is still young, in his 40’s.  Serious, soft-spoken, reserved–a figure of red and white against a background of a large IHS surrounded by the Latin words: ET VOCATEM NOMEN EIVS IESVS (I am not sure if I remember this right).  This translates to “And you shall call him Jesus,” the words the Angel Gabriel said to Mary during the Annunciation (c.f. Lk 1:31).

Fr. Ferriols is beside me wearing his characteristic slippers, his legs swollen from years of walking.  He does not wear his usual maong jeans.  Instead he wears a striped purontong or a half-pajamas.  Over his grey t-shirt is a blue stole embroidered with ethnic designs of crosses and zigzag lines.  His head droops.  His cheeks sag.  He is in his 80’s.

This is a sitting mass.  Everyone sits on chairs throughout the mass–no standing or kneeling.  I guess because the normal participants are old and sick Jesuits.  Some Jesuits even come in wheel chairs.

The chapel can only accommodate forty.  The first two rows are reserved as a rule for sick priests.  The next two rows are for the professors of the Loyola House of Studies who sings as the choir accompanied by a guitar.

During the consecration, I hear Fr. Ferriols mumble the words without opening his lips.  At the sign of peace, I shook hands with him.  This is a rare encounter:  I shook hands with the only priest in Ateneo who is called not Father but Padre.  Padre Ferriols spearheaded the adoption of Filipino in Philosophy in the 70’s.  I took my Philosophy in Filipino, but with a different teacher–Mr. Simon Gregorio.  And I agree with Fr. Ferriols:  the act of doing philosophy in the native tongue, enriches the language, as new concepts are formed, and the Filipino worldview is laid bare:

Meron.  May roon. May doon.  A state of having a place (in the universe).  There is.

Kalooban.  Loob.  Inside.  That which is inside of man, his innermost self..

Pagmamahal.  Mahal.  Priced high.  To love is to to put a high price to someone more than the golds of the earth.

Before the mass ended, the Fr. Jun Viray lays his hands on the sick priests and anointed them with oil in the forehead and in the hands.  There are three other priests who were sick, but they are in their rooms.  They too were anointed with oil after the mass.

There was a sign in the door saying that after each liturgy, we must pray the Hail Holy Queen for the recovery of the sick and the rich harvest of vocations to the priesthood.  I waited for Fr. Viray to lead the prayer; he did not.  I guess the prayer should be said in silence.  I prayed the Salve Regina.  When I left, I saw ten old priests inside the chapel still praying, half of them Americans and half of them Filipinos.   I do not know them, but they must have been legends, too, in their prime.  Now their eyes have grown dim and their backs are bent low.  Yet still they prayed.  Then I recall the words of Qoheleth the Seer:

Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years approach of which you will say, I have no pleasure in them; before the sun is darkened. and the light, and the moon, and the stars, while the clouds return after the rain; when the guardians of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, And the grinders are idle because they are few, and they who look through the windows grow blind; when the doors to the street are shut, and the sound of the mill is low; When one waits for the chirp of a bird, but all the daughters of song are suppressed; and one fears heights, and perils in the street; When the almond tree blooms, and the locust grows sluggish and the caper berry is without effect, Because man goes to his lasting home, and mourners go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped and the golden bowl is broken, And the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the broken pulley falls into the well, and the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the life breath returns to God who gave it. (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7)