The Roman Rite offers this prayer for the lips of worshipers before the reception of the Eucharist:
Domine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea.
Substitute “servant” for the Latin “anima” and you get the original rendering from Mattthew’s Gospel from the centurion who showed faith in Jesus’ long distance abilities. (Or cultural distance.) This is what we’ll see in the Communion Rite in a year. Or two:
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,
but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
I will confess I’ve never particularly liked this text. People who like to psychoanalyze me might enjoy speculating about my arrogance. But you’re not telling me anything new. My skepticism on this text is based on two factors: the subjective experience of a homily I heard many years ago, and the theological emphasis of the Eucharist on the Paschal Mystery.
Despite Jesus’ praise for the faith of the centurion, I heard a very powerful homily once that suggested that the centurion was not at all the ideal model for faith. How much richer his experience of the Lord might have been if he had received Jesus as a guest? Christians, as I recall the preacher said, are pleased to keep God at a distance. Maybe we think God won’t notice our dirt and stains if we only worship on Christmas and Easter, if we are content then to sit in the back of church, or if we approach God only during a crisis like an illness or at the moment of death. Personally, I may be the most unworthy servant of all, but at some point, I must welcome God fully, completely, and extravagantly. Despite the clutter, the dust bunnies, and the dinginess under my roof. (And speaking of that, while some celebrate the connection of the roof of a communicant’s mouth, that metaphor just leaves me dry.)
The theme of that homily I’ve carried with me for well over two decades. In part, it’s why Bette Midler’s inspirational hit “From a Distance” has never inspired me one bit.
My theological reason for suggesting a search for better texts is the recovery of the connection of the Paschal Mystery with the celebration of the Eucharist. What is there in the Passion narratives that would be more suitable? What about these five passages:
Matthew 28:17, 20b:
When the disciples saw the Lord, they worshiped, but they doubted.
Lord, you are with us always, until the end of the age.
Jesus said to his disciples, I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father has conferred one on me
Lord, may we eat and drink at your table in the kingdom to come.
Or Luke 23: 41-42:
This is the Lamb of God, condemned unjustly, who suffered the punishment that corresponds to our crimes.
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
From Luke 24:32, 35:
Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us and opened the scriptures to us?
Lord, you make yourself known to us in the breaking of the bread.
Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.
My Lord and my God!
I also confess a liking for the response from Mark 9:24, though admittedly from another healing miracle, and not the Passion:
Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief!
Aware that the Prayer of Humble Access is old, and is shared with traditions outside of Catholicism, I’m content enough to implement it. I certainly would not propose substitutions without authorization. But if Pope Benedict is proposing alternate texts for the end of Mass, the framers and compilers of the fourth edition of the Roman Missal might consider acclamations that emphasize Eucharistic faith and a deeper connection with the Last Supper, the Passion, and Resurrection of Christ. After all, the Mass is not about our state of worthiness, but about Christ. Is it not?