Valerie SchultzSeptember 30, 2012

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.

Valerie Schultz


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Nathaniel Campbell
9 years ago
I would remind Mr. Blackburn that as they approached the communion rail, Anglicans have for centuries said (as Mr. Smith points out), "Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed."  As someone who grew up in that tradition, I can tell you that it is a relief not to have to mutter that under my breath any more (I never did learn the first ICEL version of that prayer, as the Anglican version was spoken from rote memory) - ditto with "And with your (thy) spirit", which I also defaulted to for years, and can do again without whispering.
Joseph O'Leary
9 years ago
the "reformed" Mass?

I have yet to notice any liturgical or spiritual benefit from the often nerveless new "translations". We used to "stand" in Your presence and serve You, now we merely "are" - passively, supinely, playing dead more than ever.
9 years ago
Not all new ways of thinking are necessarily good. Young folks, for whom the changed Mass will be normative, will learn that Jesus died for many, not all, of us. The Catechism will have to be changed, or the youngsters will have to live with inconsistency.

 And  maybe, in the reformed Creed, He didn't really die anyway. Where He used to have suffered, died and was buried, "suffer" has gone from an intransitive verb to a transitive verb (goodbye to the Stations of the Cross; there is no suffering in the Creed now before "died'). So now all He "suffered" is death, which could mean, one supposes, the death of other people.   I suffered, for example, from the death of my parents, and in Latglish "suffered death" and "suffered from death" may mean the same thing. Who among those for whom this porridge is normative will know the difference? When we said "died" everyone knew what we meant.

And I continue to lmaintain that "enter under my roof" has never, ever been used in English except in 19th Century melodramas. I say it, but I can't help it: I giggle.
David Smith
9 years ago
Thanks, Valerie. I like it, too.

But I miss the ''thou''. Having a pronoun reserved just for God was a very nice touch:
Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof; say but the word, and my soul shall be healed.
Is the ''you'' obligatory or optional?
9 years ago
Sometimes the only road to peace is through acceptance rooted in the axiom, “If you can’t lick “em, join ‘em!” That could be cowardly, but it may also be a manifestation of shrewdness in simplicity, akin to the Lord’s teaching, “Be wise as a serpent and as simple as a dove.” At first glance   seemingly a relationship doomed to fail, but actually pretty smart. It does work!
So, simply,   I’ve made peace with the liturgical changes that commenced  last Advent. Case closed. Well,  kinda,   considering that  at times I’m tempted to “feel” I’m praying to an unknown god in a foreign tongue! Come to think of it, I grew up that way, listening to liturgy in Latin and as an altar server praying with the priest in that foreign tongue which I didn’t  understand. Yet I did manage to grow in Faith and today   at 81, I’m none the worse for it.
So, my unsolicited advice is, JUST DO IT, even if you don’t feel like it. Try being a smart snake and a simple dove accepting the teaching of Augustine who said, “We must always FEEL with the Church!” Even if one doesn’t “feel” like it? Yes! Has my soul been healed? Yes, over and over again!
Leo Zanchettin
9 years ago
My literal minded nine-year-old likes the new version of this prayer. Why? "Because when I receive communion, I am taking Jesus under the roof of my mouth."

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