Cancer Journey

Prayer Rituals for Patients and Family Members

A variety of religious rituals and practices help patients and families on their cancer journey.

By Nancy Christie

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Religious practices include bedside prayers, the Eucharist (if requested) and the use of sacramental aids in the spiritual life, including such items as rosary beads and holy images of saints, especially Mary, the mother of Jesus.

“During the Anointing of the Sick, a priest will anoint the patient with blessed oil, forgive all sins and offer the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist, sometimes referred to as Holy Communion. The ritual also includes prayers for both physical and spiritual healing,” explains Sr. Anne.

Prayers for the sick can be an important part of faith in illness for observant Jews. The most common prayer used in this context is called the Mi Sheberakh.

“There are some beautiful aspects to that prayer,” explains Rabbi Elisa Goldberg, beginning with invoking the patient’s family member for whom the person was named. “It’s very powerful when you are facing a serious illness to evoke your ancestors. It’s that sense of lineage and connection. The Mi Sheberakh is a prayer for ‘a healing of body and healing of spirit’ and then ‘complete healing,’ but that word complete is a version of the word shalom, which is ‘peace.’ So, ultimately, the prayer is about finding a sense of peace and wholeness with whatever happens.”

Many cultures in Islam practice their own particular rituals; however, there are some rituals that all observe: Chapter 96 (Surah Yasin) of the Quran is read to the sick, and the Declaration of Faith is said by the patient at the end of life.

“When Muslims visit a Muslim who has been diagnosed with cancer and is going through trials and tribulations, we ask that patient to pray for us because at that point they are closer to Allah than we are,” explains Imam Amin Abdul-Aziz. “And the prayer goes both ways: The community will pray that Allah will send the patient the best of his wisdom in the person of the doctors and other health care professionals because we believe that whoever comes to the patient’s bedside was sent there by God.”

Rituals practiced by Protestants include prayers for the healing and comfort for the sick, personal prayer, sacraments, anointing, reading the Bible and bedside baptisms.

Jacqueline Griffin, MATS, Chaplain at CTCA® in Goodyear, Arizona, says that “oftentimes patients ask for prayer before a procedure or surgery and afterward express their sense of peace and calmness and release of anxiety.” At CTCA in Goodyear, she adds, “Special ceremonies such as baptisms for patients and their children have been performed upon request during end of life. These rituals have given a sense of peace and closure with family and God as well as offered hope and comfort to patients who are being treated.”


1. Handbook of Patients’ Spiritual and Cultural Values for Health Care Professionals, available at
2. Surah Yaseen. Muslim World. Retrieved May 27, 2015, from
3. Declaration of Faith. Why Islam? Retrieved May 27, 2015, from