Lord, I Am Not Worthy

I’d like to continue our examination of the forthcoming changes to the English translation of the Roman Missal, resuming at the Ecce Agnus Dei where the priest will elevate the Eucharist and say:

“Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”

The new translation for the priest refers to “the Lamb’s supper,” language that comes from the Book of Revelation, but one will also notice that “blessed” replaces the adjective “happy;” a noteworthy upgrade with regard to sacred significance that should be apparent to anyone who has ever given their kid a Happy Meal!

Our response, however, will undergo a more significant change:

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

This response calls to mind the words that were spoken by the Roman centurion to Jesus when he begged the Lord to heal his sick servant in Matthew 8.

In this instance we are asking the Lord to heal not our servant, but our very soul, our inmost being. We are acknowledging that we’re about to receive Him under the “roof” of our mouths and thus to welcome Him into our physical abode; into our bodies, the dwelling place of the soul.

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…

While this unusual language may feel uncomfortably distant as compared to the incredible intimacy of Holy Communion as some have noted, it’s important for us to realize that these words are spoken in preparation for the Divine encounter; this is not the moment of intimacy itself. Our response, in other words, is intended to orient our thoughts in such way as to help us embrace the breathtaking reality of what is about to take place. This is important!

Let’s now take a closer look at the Scriptural roots of this response as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew to discover how we might make the centurion’s words and sentiments our very own; inspiring the kind of awe that should accompany our union with Christ in the Eucharist.

And Jesus saith to him: I will come and heal him. And the centurion, making answer, said: Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man subject to authority, having under me soldiers; and I say to this, Go, and he goeth, and to another Come, and he cometh, and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

What is the centurion saying? In comparing himself to his own servant as “a man under authority,” the centurion is suggesting a few very important things. One, he realizes that in Jesus’ presence he is really no more than a servant himself. Secondly, his words also suggest that he recognizes in Jesus far more than just an ordinary man; rather, he indicates an awareness that Jesus is one to whom true authority belongs.

In describing how his own underlings obey his word, the centurion is essentially saying, “If those under me do what I command at my word, surely You who have ultimate authority can command anything — including something as incredible as the miracle of healing — by your very word alone.”

The end result?

And Jesus said to the centurion: Go, and as thou hast believed, so be it done to thee. And the servant was healed at the same hour.

Now let’s see if we can make these words our very own.

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Consider, if you will, the sentiment being expressed in more earthly terms. Imagine your telephone rings one day and a voice on the other end says, “The Holy Father is coming to your house for a visit; he’ll be walking through the front door in five minutes.” How would you feel?

In addition to being excited and thrilled at the prospect, you’d probably think, “Oh no! Not me! Not now! I’m not prepared! The house isn’t clean enough, the furniture isn’t good enough, I’m not well-dressed enough, etc.”

So when we are preparing to receive the Lord Jesus Christ in an infinitely more profound way in the Most Holy Eucharist, it is absolutely right that we should take on similar sentiments, filled with anticipation and desire at the very thought, yet also with a sense that we are utterly unprepared for such a privileged encounter; the interior of our abode — our bodies — are not quite clean enough, our holiness is not yet refined enough, etc. In the words of the centurion, we simply are not worthy.

As we prepare to receive Christ in the Eucharist, the time is truly fitting to express the degree to which we are awed by the very thought of such intimate union with our Lord. We should feel a bit of uncomfortable distance. He is, after all, the One through whom all things were made and we are but His creatures.

It is fitting, therefore, that we tell Jesus, just as the centurion did, that we recognize Him as Lord, and that we really are not worthy of having Him so abide in us.  But the centurion didn’t stop there and neither do we. We recognize that Jesus is Lord, and so all that it takes is His mighty word and our souls – dwelling within our bodies – will in fact be healed of all unworthiness such that He can, and indeed will, enter. “But only say the word…”

In this response at Holy Mass, we not only proclaim before God and one another that we are truly unworthy of the intimate union that is about to follow (and who is?) we then also accept in faith that Jesus will respond to us just as He did to the centurion, “As thou hast believed, so be it done to thee.”

At this, we must humbly accept that we are now prepared to receive the Lord in a way the centurion couldn’t even begin to imagine — Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, under the very roof of our mouths, into our bodies, the abode of the soul.

This recognition of unworthiness and our acceptance of the Divine healing love that makes intimate union with Christ possible are essential, because when this is lost we run the risk of losing our sense of the sacred mystery in our midst. Worse still, we might even begin to grow a bit casual in our approach to the Eucharist before which even the angels tremble in awe.

We need to be reminded at every Holy Mass – as this response does for those who consider its meaning well — that in Holy Communion we receive something far more incredible than even an impromptu visit from the pope.

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