Dear Catholic Exchange:
I've always been confused about the words we speak immediately before we partake of the Eucharist: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Of course, I know I am not worthy, but what does the second part of the sentence mean? And why are we required to say it each time?
Yours in Christ,
Church of St. John of St. Paul, Minnesota
Peace in Christ!
The two parts go together, recalling the words and the faith of the Centurion, a Roman pagan, who approached Jesus to heal his servant. “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed” (Mt. 8:8).
Reading the entire passage (verses 5-13) the verse comes from is instructive:
As he entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress.”
And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
But the centurion answered him, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,' and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,' and he does it.”
When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”
And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment.
Thus, this prayer expresses the faith by which we approach Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. It uses the words of the Centurion who in faith approached Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. As the Catechism explains:
“Before so great a sacrament, the faithful can only echo humbly and with ardent faith the words of the Centurion: ‘Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea’ (‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed’) [Mt.8:8].
And in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom the faithful pray in the same spirit:
‘O Son of God, bring me into communion today with your mystical supper. I shall not tell your enemies the secret, nor kiss you with Judas’ kiss. But like the good thief I cry, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’” (Catechism, no. 1386).
So, most basically, the entire prayer is an expression of faith, paraphrasing the faithful words of the Centurion. Of course, Jesus is the Divine Physician and we are in need of spiritual healing. Here is a prayer said before Mass or Communion, written by St. Thomas Aquinas, which dwells upon this theme:
Almighty and ever-living God, I approach the sacrament of your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
I come sick to the doctor of life, unclean to the fountain of mercy, blind to the radiance of eternal light, and poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.
Lord, in your great generosity, heal my sickness, wash away my defilement, enlighten my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness.
May I receive the Bread of angels, the King of kings and Lord of lords, with humble reverence, with the purity and faith, the repentance and love, and the determined purpose that will help to bring me to salvation.
May I receive the sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood, and its reality and power.
Kind God, may I receive the body of your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born from the womb of the Virgin Mary, and so be received into his mystical body and be numbered among his members.
Loving Father, as on my earthly pilgrimage I now receive your beloved Son under the veil of a sacrament, may I one day see him face to face in glory, who lives and reigns with you for ever and ever. Amen.
I hope this is helpful.
United in the Faith,
Catholics United for the Faith
827 North Fourth Street
Steubenville, OH 43952
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