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November 29, 2010
The Liturgy of the Eucharist cont.
By Louie Verrecchio *

By Louie Verrecchio *

We continue our examination of the Liturgy of the Eucharist at the Ecce Agnus Dei:

After once again receiving the Lord’s blessing, The peace of the Lord be with you always, and responding, And with your spirit, the next change that we encounter takes place when the priest elevates the Host and Chalice and says:

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 found in the Book of Revelation. 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 will also 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, however, we are asking the Lord to heal not our servant, but our very soul. 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.

We ask that our souls be healed so that the Lord may indeed enter in spite of our unworthiness, so that He may abide in us and we in Him. The imagery of the Lord entering under the roof of our physical bodies should naturally lead our thoughts to the Bread of Life discourse found in John 6: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him."

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

While some people have commented that the unusual language employed here, though Biblical, feels uncomfortably distant when compared to the incredible intimacy of Holy Communion, it’s important for us to realize that our response is the lead up to the divine encounter that awaits us; it is not the moment of intimacy itself. Our response, in other words, is meant to orient our thoughts in such way as to help us embrace the breathtaking reality of what is about to happen. This is important!

Let’s 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 Most Holy Eucharist.

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." (Matthew 8:7-9)

What is the centurion saying here? In comparing himself to his own servants as "a man under authority," the centurion is suggesting some very important truths. One, he realizes that in Jesus’ presence he is really no more than a servant himself. Secondly, his words also suggest that he recognizes that Jesus is more than just an ordinary man; rather, he indicates an awareness that Jesus is one with true authority.

In describing how his own underlings obey him even though he is but a servant to another as well, the centurion is 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, ‘Go; be it done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed at that very moment" (Matthew 8:13).

Now let’s 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 just how fitting the sentiment being expressed truly is – we are telling Jesus that we recognize Him as Lord, and that we know how unworthy we are of having Him join Himself to us not only spiritually, but physically in an intimacy that exceeds our comprehension.

As we prepare for this incredible encounter with Christ, 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. He is, after all, the One through whom all things were made and we are but creatures!

Perhaps an analogy will help. Imagine your telephone ringing and the 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 my God! Not me! Not now! I’m not prepared! The house isn’t clean enough, the furniture isn’t good enough, I’m not dressed well enough," etc.

When we are preparing to receive the Lord Jesus Christ in an infinitely more profound manner in the Most Holy Eucharist, it is absolutely right that we should take on similar sentiments, filled with anticipation and awed 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, in the words of the centurion, we simply are not worthy.

But the centurion didn’t stop there and neither do we. We recognize that because Jesus is Lord, all that it takes is His word and our souls – dwelling within our bodies, our inmost being – can be healed of all unworthiness such that He can, and indeed will, enter. But only say the word...

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me," says the Lord (Revelation 3:20).

In our response at Holy Mass, we are proclaiming before God and one another that we truly are unworthy of the Holy Communion that is about to come (and who is?) but we then 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 accept in faith that our souls are thus healed and we are prepared by grace to "open the door" so that the Lord who knocks may enter under the roof of our mouths, into our bodies, that we may receive Him in a way the centurion couldn’t even begin to imagine.

There is indeed infinite distance between the Holy One of God and ourselves, but the Lord by His awesome power, His infinite love and His unfathomable mercy, breaches that distance in response to our faith; a faith reflected in the words that we say from the depths of our hearts:

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

This recognition of our unworthiness and our acceptance of the healing that makes intimate union with Christ in the Eucharist possible is essential, because when this is lost we run the risk of losing the sense of awe that should accompany our participation in this great and glorious mystery of God’s sacrificial love for His people.

The Concluding Rites

Finally, we return in the Concluding Rites to those familiar words that we first encountered in Part One; The Lord be with you / And with your spirit. In this way, all are reminded that we go forth from Holy Mass newly fortified indeed, yet also just as we entered; in Christ who dwells within us.

All glory, praise and honor to Almighty God – Father, Son and Holy Ghost!

 

Author and speaker Louie Verrecchio was a columnist for Catholic News Agency from April 2009 to 2013. His work, which includes Year of Faith resources like the Harvesting the Fruit of Vatican II Faith Formation Series, has been endorsed by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia; Bishop Emeritus Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster, England; Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, IA, USA and others. For more information please visit: www.harvestingthefruit.com

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