Only say the word

One of the most curious revisions made in the new translation of the Roman Missal is to the prayer we say in response to the priest’s declaration to, “Behold the Lamb of God.” We reply, “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 uses language that is far removed from the way we speak in contemporary circumstances.

“Under my roof” is an ancient way of saying “in my home,” which begs the question why that rendering was not used. And the “word” we ask the Lord to say seems mysterious.

This response is almost a direct quotation of Matthew 8:8. Here Jesus is approached by a Roman solider in charge of 100 others. For that reason he is called a “centurion.”

After Jesus cured a leper, the centurion asks Him to heal his sick servant who is at his home.

Jesus assures the centurion that He will come to the man’s home and cure the servant, but the centurion says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”

This is a particularly fascinating declaration because it is made by a man who was in the service of Herod, who had Jesus’ cousin — John the Baptist — beheaded and who tried to have the infant Jesus murdered.

Despite this, and the fact that the centurion was not a Jew looking for the messiah, he shows tremendous faith in the power of Jesus’ word to heal his servant.

This certainly would have challenged the prejudice of Jesus’ Jewish audience.

It is a reminder that Jesus’ mission started in and for the “House of Israel.”

However, because of the faith exhibited by this centurion, who showed allegiance to the power of the word of the Lord over and above the sovereign Herod, Jesus becomes the God-among-us for anyone who will believe in the same power of His word.

While we too declare great humility in repeating the centurion’s words before receiving the Lord in Holy Communion, we, unlike him, are not inviting the Lord into our homes proper.

At the same time we should recall the words of St. Peter that say “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you.”

In this sense we are welcoming the Lord into what already is His dwelling place, our soul.

The declaration by the Roman centurion shows the power of faith. He clearly recognized that Jesus, who in healing the leper and raising the dead, has the same power in his word as God when He said “let there be light” and it came to be.

For his faith Jesus replied to the centurion, “In no one in Israel have I found such faith” and “many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven,” showing that it was faith that helped Jesus recognize the universal nature of His mission.

The centurion had power over 100 others, but at the same time he was powerless.

We have power in the modern world to control many things, but we still need faith to be saved. That the Lord loves us so much is cause for us to repeat, “Lord I am not worthy!” each time He feeds us in the Mass.