After the priest announces, “Behold the Lamb of God…”, then the congregation and the priest together say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
This is a powerful prayer. It is an honest prayer. If we have been following the Mass closely, if we have a real relationship with God and His truth, then by now we should have a clear view of who God is and who we are in relation to him. God is the Creator, and we are his creatures. He has no obligation to share his nature with us. He is eternal and infinite, and we are temporal and finite. What could He have to do with us? He is holy, and we are sinners. By our disobedience, we have forfeited the privilege of living in His presence. The Eucharist is the most supremely unmerited, undeserved gift in all the universe.
We are not worthy. This statement is simply our logical inference based on what we’ve seen so far.
The prayer is taken almost verbatim from the Gospel of Saint Matthew. It appears in a chapter that shows Jesus’ immense power as a healer. First, he cured a leper just by declaring him “clean.” (Matthew 8:2-3). Then a Roman official approached him. A Roman, a Gentile, and so a man who had no claim to God’s promises to His chosen people.
The man seeks help not for himself, but for a beloved employee: “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully” (Matthew 8:6). Jesus consents to going to his home and curing the young man. But the Roman official protests, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8). Those words “amazed” Jesus, who extolled the faith of this Gentile.
Like that long-ago centurion, we see Jesus and are moved to ask for mercy, for healing. Or, at least, we should be. As with many things we say at Mass and in the course of our liturgical prayer at the Mass and elsewhere, we are invited to say things that we may not feel are strictly true at the time. “Lord, we long to see your face,” “Lord, we love you with all our heart,” These are all examples of things that we may or may not be actually experiencing internally. Does that make us liars? No. Rather, statements like these are acts of the will. We wish they were true. And so we speak them, declare them, will them, mean them. The more we speak them intentionally and purposefully, the more that we find ourselves transforming by God’s Grace in their image. If you want to love God, then tell God you love Him. If you want to long for God above all else, then say you do. If you wish to be humble before the power of the Eucharist, then make a declaration of humility.
The statement we make, "Lord I am not worthy..." may not be what we experience. And because we don't experience it, it is even more true. We know that internally we don’t even come close to truly appreciating the incredible gift of the Eucharist. And so, we struggle to really conceive of how unworthy we are to be given such a gift and, therefore, we are unable to be as thankful for it as we should. Our ignorance and relative apathy is part of the unworthiness of our souls.
And yet, like the centurion, we put our trust in Jesus. We trust that he can cure our unworthiness. We trust that he has the power not only to cure our sinfulness but also to bring us deeper in our understanding and appreciation of the Eucharist. We trust that he can help us begin to truly appreciate this great gift. Like the centurion, we plead our unworthiness. We can rest, confident of Jesus’ response. It will be as we read in the Gospel. He has the power to cure our spiritual and moral ills, and he has the will to do so. If we ask him to heal us, he says the word and our souls “shall be healed.”