Domine, non sum dignus…
The Liturgy is a rich tapestry of Scriptural imagery and allusions, woven together by the Church’s venerable ritual tradition in such a way that the Scriptures ‘come to life’: during the liturgy we are, in a particular way, ‘praying the scriptures’. One place where the new translation of the Mass makes this intimate relationship between Scripture and Liturgy more explicit is in the exchange between the celebrant and congregation immediately before Holy Communion. The new translation makes clear that the priest’s words repeat John the Baptist’s acknowledgment of Christ as the promised Messiah (Jn 1:29), and the people’s response repeats the reverence shown to Jesus by the Centurion in Matthew’s gospel (Mt 8:8).
By placing these two scriptural phrases alongside each other we acknowledge Christ – uniquely present under the Eucharistic species – as the promised one of Israel, the redeemer of the world, who comes to us (unworthy as we are) in a most intimate way, as our friend: we recognise that Christ’s Eucharistic presence is of both cosmological and deeply personal significance.
The repetition of the Centurion’s words remind us that, although we do not live during the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, in the Eucharist we encounter the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in a much more intimate way. The ‘roof’ under which we welcome Christ is not the roof of a building, but of our hearts. The Eucharistic Jesus is, in the words of the popular hymn, “our saving guest”.
It may be a little surprising that we ask for ‘our souls’ to be healed rather than simply affirming that ‘I shall be healed’ as we used to. After all, human beings are a union of body and soul (as St Thomas said, “My Soul is not I”), and it seems entirely appropriate that we, like the centurion, ask God to heal physical ailments. There is, of course, no limit to the miracles God could work through the Eucharist (see Luke 5:23, for example) and I am sure many people have been healed and cured of physical ailments by devout reception of Holy Communion. Properly, however, the Sacrament of Holy Communion is one of ‘spiritual feeding’ – through the spiritual food of Christ’s Body and Blood, our spiritual lives are animated, our venial sins forgiven, our moral fortitude strengthened, and our union with Christ perfected. As the Council of Florence remarked,
“Every effect which bodily food and bodily drink produce in our corporeal life, by preserving this life, increasing this life, healing this life, and satisfying this life – is also produced by [Holy Communion] in the spiritual life.”