By now most of us Catholics have tripped over one part or another of the most recent English translation of the Mass. Even though most parishes provide helpful handouts in the pews highlighting the changes, Catholics who have been responding by rote for decades can be caught off-guard. For some of us, the changes are exasperating. We are used to knowing what to say and when to say it. We aren’t used to having to read our parts.
The prayer we now say just before approaching for the Eucharist is a case in point. The old one was short and concise: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” It’s a small confession, an act of humility, and a prayer for absolution moments before Communion. The new prayer, however, is more detailed, more metaphorical, and, to my mind, more poetic: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
The ‘roof’ part really bothers some Catholics. “I don’t have a roof,” said one friend. “I’m a person, not a house.” The roof imagery is taken from the account of the centurion that is found in the Gospels of both Matthew and Luke, who asks Jesus to say the word to heal his gravely ill servant, even as he acknowledges that he is not worthy to invite Jesus into his home, under his roof. (Mt 8:5-13 and Lk 7:1-10) Each week, I find that something about this new wording speaks to me in a deeply spiritual way. If we think of our physical selves, our bodies, as earthen vessels, we do provide a kind of shelter for the holy every time we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. Under our roof, we are in communion with God in a way that nurtures and sustains us, like a satisfying meal with friends. Even though he knows I am unworthy of his presence within me, Jesus enters under my roof anyway.
I am especially fond of the last line of the prayer. My mouth must take its time to form the unfamiliar words “my soul shall be healed.” The construction forces me to linger on the pronunciation. Lacking proper enunciation, the phrase could become a tongue-twister. It is much faster, and in a way more of a throwaway line, to say, “I shall be healed.” But upon reflection, I realize that the healing of my broken, imperfect soul is the reason I come to Mass. If my soul is healed, my body and mind will follow, even though they may experience temporal suffering. I am reminded of some lyrics from an old spiritual, “There is a balm in Gilead / That heals the sin-sick soul.” We find that balm in Jesus.
We are slowly adjusting to the reformed Mass. We still fumble with the unexpected changes in our ritual. But the spirit of the Mass is intact. Translations come and go, changing words in ways that those of us who love words may resist. Some of the new prayers that the presider must try to read in a way that makes sense are so awkward and unwieldy as to be downright unintelligible. But new words also have the power to make us think in new ways. No matter how we express ourselves, the healing that Jesus offers our sin-sick souls in the Eucharist is essential, is eternal, is ever open to us. We humbly ask him to say the word, and with that prayer, we have faith that, with the fantastic and improbable prospect of Jesus entering under our roof, our souls shall be healed.