Hey, Father! When we say at Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” — what exactly does that mean?
We believe as Catholics that in the holy Eucharist the Lord is truly and substantially present. If we believe this, we also believe that we are unworthy to receive the most holy of gifts offered by Christ, the gift of himself; body, blood, soul and divinity.
This response at Mass comes after the priest, elevating the body of Christ in the sacred host and the chalice of the blood of Christ says, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to receive the supper of the Lamb” (the reference to John the Baptist’s words when he observes the coming of Jesus). When we respond, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” we are using the words of the centurion from St. Matthew’s Gospel when he asked Jesus to heal his servant who was paralyzed.
In the Gospel passage I just referenced, Matthew 8:8, the centurion refers to the word of Jesus as enough to heal his servant and not his soul as we respond. The responses we make at the liturgical celebration of the Mass refers to our individual response in faith to the power of Jesus and so “soul” was inserted in place of “servant.”
This does not change the words of sacred Scripture but strengthens it, because we are servants of Christ and therefore, called to serve in mastery over sin and embracing the spiritual nourishment of our souls.
It is only the body and blood of Jesus that can heal our souls. Our worthiness to receive the holy Eucharist is found in our disposition to receive what we believe and reflects our dependence upon Christ to help change our hearts to receive what is sacred and holy as nourishment for our souls. To receive the holy Eucharist in an unworthy manner is taken up by St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:27-29) when he says, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”
To acknowledge our unworthiness to receive the Eucharist is to embrace humility before the Blessed Sacrament and to prepare ourselves to be united more intimately to Christ in his passion and death and as a member of his body. Our mind, our heart, and our soul must be prepared to receive what the church says about the Eucharist in the document “Sacrosanctum Concilium” from the Second Vatican Council, that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian faith.
Father Stephen Thompson is pastor of Holy Family Parish in Mt. Sterling and St. Thomas Parish in Camp Point.