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EPISODE#239
OC CATHOLIC RADIO: DR VINCENT NGUYEN ON “THE WHITE MASS” FOR MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS

Welcome to another episode of Orange County Catholic Radio, featuring host Rick Howick.

On this week’s program, Rick welcomes Dr. Vincent Nguyen to the studio. Dr. Nguyen is the Director of Palliative Care at Hoag Hospital in both Newport Beach and Irvine. Our primary topic of conversation is the concept and purpose of the “White Mass” for those working in the medical profession. It takes place annually at Christ Cathedral.

Rick and Dr. Nguyen also take a moment to reflect on the passing of Hank Evers, a good friend and longtime employee of the Diocese of Orange.

This is a fascinating conversation. Be sure to share this podcast with a friend!

 

 

 

 

 

Originally broadcast on 10/16/21

SERVING FAITHFULLY

Catholics in legal and medical occupations gathered at Christ Cathedral at two separate Masses this month to receive the Church’s blessing on their labors.

Bishop Kevin Vann presided over the Diocese of Orange’s 33rd annual Red Mass on Oct. 4, invoking God’s blessing upon attorneys, judges and other legal professionals. On Oct. 21, physicians, nurses and others in healthcare related occupations congregated at the cathedral for the White Mass, held on the Feast Day of St. Luke, patron saint of physicians. Monsignor Stephen Doktorczyk, diocesan Vicar General, presided over the Mass.

Deacon Modesto Cordero, diocesan director of the Office of Worship, reflected that individuals in law and medicine both help to carry out the Church’s seven Corporal Works of Mercy, which include visiting the sick and the imprisoned.

“We wanted to honor all those professionals, because they are important in the mission of the Church, (which) is always working toward social justice, taking care of the poor, the sick, those who are alienated and those in need of compassion and care,” he said. He noted that those in either field must see individuals as creations of God and “not just a business.”

ADVOCATING FOR EQUALITY
The Diocese traditionally holds the Red Mass on the first Monday in October, when the U.S. Supreme Court begins its annual term. The Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, D.C., typically offers the Red Mass the Sunday before the term begins, with the congregation frequently including the president, Supreme Court justices and members of Congress.

The St. Thomas More Society of Orange County, a local Catholic association of legal professionals, hosted a dinner following this year’s Red Mass.

Attorney William Malecki, Red Mass chairperson for the organization, said, “One of our most cherished freedoms is our freedom of religion and the right to worship … Although we’re not all constitutional lawyers, we’re all involved in the legal process and helping to ensure that everyone is treated equally under the law.”

The St. Thomas More Society of Orange County honored its Attorney of the Year, Lisa Ramirez, at the event. Ramirez specializes in immigration law and has provided extensive pro bono representation for immigrants in the county. Malecki correlated Ramirez’s work with Jesus’ admonishment to welcome the stranger in Matthew 25:35.

“Jesus didn’t discriminate in exercising charity,” Malecki said. “Legal professionals must have in mind that charity, mercy and justice are the ultimate aim and aren’t incompatible with our legal system.”

Malecki added, “Faith provides the basis for the idea that we are all created equal by God, which is expressed in the Declaration of Independence but is also expressed in the gospel.”

Deacon Modesto Cordero, director of the Office of Worship in the Diocese of Orange, saw this year’s White Mass as particularly special, as the Mass was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event also marked the first celebration of the White Mass at Christ Cathedral.

“We in the Church look after the health of people’s souls, while medical professionals take care of the body, but those are connected,” Deacon Cordero said. “We see their faith being put into the care of the people, in seeing the person as the creation of God, loved by God, and doing their best to maintain that life.”

Providence Orange County sponsored the event, with representatives from each of its acute-care ministries participating in the Mass. Mark Jablonski, Chief Mission Integration Officer for Providence St. Jude Medical Center, noted the last 18 months have been especially challenging for health-care workers, who have had to work extensive hours and put their own health at risk amid the pandemic.

RED, WHITE, BLUE AND GOLD
The Red Mass originated in 13th-century Europe, deriving its name from the color of the vestments worn by the celebrant as well as the scarlet robes of the royal justices in England. Deacon Cordero noted that the Church also uses red to represent the Holy Spirit, on whom legal professionals must rely for wisdom and guidance. Arriving to the United States in 1877, the Red Mass has been celebrated in the Diocese since 1988.

Celebrations of the White Mass date back to the founding of the Catholic Medical Association in the United States in the early 1930s, white being the color traditionally worn by doctors, nurses and others in the medical field. Alternatively, some dioceses invoke a blessing upon health-care workers at a “Rose Mass” on the fourth Sunday of Lent or Laetare Sunday, when priestly vestments are rose-colored.

The Blue Mass, recognizing those in law-enforcement, firefighting and other public-safety occupations, also emerged in United States the 1930s and is celebrated annually in the Diocese. The Society of Catholic Scientists introduced the first Gold Mass in 2016 to pray for scientists, science educators and students. Gold is the color of the hoods worn by those graduating with a doctorate in the sciences.

CHOC EXPANDS SPIRITUAL CARE MINISTRY TO PATIENTS AND FAMILIES

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me.

—Matthew 25:36

 

On any given day, the smallest, sickest patients at CHOC Children’s Hospital and their worried families are in as desperate need of spiritual comfort as they are physical healing. Parents need a chaplain’s encouraging words, sick children rally with special blessings from Eucharistic ministers, and bereft families need to lean on a wise minister for comfort and guidance.

Thanks to the hard work of its former supervisor and the generous support of its donors, CHOC’s Spiritual Care Department is expanding to accommodate those needs.

Before leaving recently to work in a similar role at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange, Norm Jeune served for six years as CHOC’s Spiritual Care director. Jeune partnered with the Orange County faith community and worked tirelessly to expand volunteer ministry hours and grow the department’s staff and responsibilities.

From his years at CHOC, Jeune knew that patients and their families come from many faith traditions, so he invited Protestant ministers, Islamic clerics, Mormon leaders, Jehovah’s Witness ministers and a Jewish rabbi to join the department’s outreach efforts.

“Norm raised awareness at CHOC of the importance of treating the whole person – body, mind and soul – to promote the healing process,” explains Byzantine Catholic Father James Barrand, recently hired as CHOC’s first full-time priest. “He found private donations to fund the expanding Catholic and Protestant ministries.”

Under Jeune’s watch, the department has grown to offer Mass seven days a week. Volunteers, including deacons and Eucharistic ministers, visit Catholic patients every day. And ministers of other faiths are available to the families who need them.

“Parents whose children are in the hospital are frantic with worry and beside themselves,” Father James says. “We can be there to lift their spirits, encourage them and carry their burden with them so that they are not alone.”

CHOC has grown into a large secular hospital, though its roots are in the Catholic Church, he notes. “Many of our medical professionals – doctors, nurses, social workers and pharmacists – are people of faith, who see their gifts and talents coming as gifts from God, ones that they have had to work diligently to perfect,” he explains. “They recognize that they have the privilege of continuing the healing ministry of Jesus Christ to their patients, and we are providing this opportunity for them to offer their thanksgiving to God and to ask the blessing of the bishop on their important work.”

On Sept. 26, the feast day of Saints Cosmos and Damian – Christian brothers skilled in medicine and who treated the poor and never took money for their services – Bishop Kevin Vann offered a White Mass at CHOC for physicians, nurses and the medical staff. The saints, who died as martyrs in Syria around 300 A.D., are the patrons of surgeons, physicians, dentists, barbers, pharmacists and veterinarians.

White Masses are termed ‘white’ in recognition of the white coats health care workers wear. Other traditional colored Masses include the Red Mass held at the beginning of the judicial year for judges, attorneys and law school professors, and the Blue Mass, held to honor police officers, firefighters and first responders.

“We want to show the doctors, nurses and the health care staff how much we appreciate them using the gifts God has given them to help our children and families,” Father James says. “God is there to strengthen them in their work as they spread the love of God to everyone.”

About 50 health care workers from inside and outside CHOC attended the White Mass, including Carol Cox, a retired CHOC ICU nurse who volunteers once a week as a Eucharistic minister and helps out regularly in the ICU, and Chaplain Rick Majewski, a Catholic who is in his fifth year of service at CHOC.

The White Mass was significant to Bishop Vann himself, since he wore a white coat when he worked for three years as a medical technologist at St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Illinois before entering the priesthood.

In his homily, Bishop Vann recalled visiting the Basilica of Saints Cosmos and Damian in Rome when he was studying canon law there in 1981. “Looking out you could see all the ruins of the Forum before you,” he remembered, noting that the brother saints are so important in the Church that they are mentioned in the Canon of the Mass.

Before concluding, Bishop Vann blessed the hands of the health care workers assembled in the Holmes Towers conference rooms.

“This is a wonderful day to thank you for your service and ask God’s blessing on you,” he says. “I am glad to be here to recognize your involvement in health care at CHOC and to help raise awareness of all that is involved in serving patients and their families.”