Friday, December 30, 2011

Why the new translation of the Mass? part 10

The only major change in the responses left to talk about is the response, “Domine, non sum dignus...” (Lord I am not worthy) This is a direct quote from the New Testament:  (Matt.8:8 ) “The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.’” 

We have gone back to the centurion’s exact words instead of the words of some dynamically equivalent translator, because the picture of the humble centurion is an integral part of the Mass, an integral part of the Christian life. Centurions were the commanders of one hundred soldiers. They were the backbone of the Roman army. No one minded losing a general or two, good riddance! They were usually incompetent aristocrats. Centurions were another matter. They were indispensable.  

 I’m sure you’ve heard the story. The slave boy of a Roman centurion had fallen ill. The centurion knew all about Jesus. After all, he was in charge of the garrison in Capernaum, the town where Jesus was staying with Peter, Peter’s wife and her mother. The centurion also knew that no orthodox Jew would enter the home of a Roman. An observant Jew wouldn’t risk seeing the pagan idols which the Romans kept in their homes. It was forbidden even to look at such things and Jesus was, after all, a Rabbi. 

A centurion, the backbone of the army of the conquerors of the western world, a centurion, the pride of his unit, the power of Rome in the flesh, a centurion, feared and possibly despised by the conquered people of Capernaum and the district, a centurion bowed before the Jewish rabbi with the rough carpenter’s hands and said “LORD.”   

The Romans were masters of all the world. A crowned king was not allowed to enter the “pomerium” the sacred boundary of the city of Rome, because the poorest Roman citizen was better that the greatest king. Romans made and un-made kings. This man, the pride of the proudest, bowed low and said “LORD” to the Jewish peasant. Aware of the danger to Jesus’ reputation, this man, forgetting his high station, said “I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”  

 We are quoting that unnamed Roman every time we say “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.” I wonder what he would have thought to know that 2,000 years later, long after the Roman forum had crumbled to ruins, long after the names of emperors and senators and the great of the world were forgotten, an age when men had learned to fly, had walked on the moon and communicated over thousands of miles as if by magic, I wonder what he would have thought to know that his words to the Galilean rabbi would be remembered and repeated by billions of people. I wonder.      

We then say that my “soul shall be healed” instead of “I shall be healed.” What’s the difference? Simply this: the soul is a specific dimension of the self, and it’s the dimension that most needs healing. When Mary, pregnant and unmarried was fleeing for her life, she went bidden by an angel to see her cousin Elizabeth in Ain Karim near Jerusalem. 

Elizabeth had been acquainted with shame all her life. She, the wife of a cohen, a priest, had never born a child and the stupidity of the age deemed such a woman cursed by God. In her old age she had conceived and her gossipy  neighbors decided that God must have lifted her shame. Mary went to her, the one relative who might understand. Mary said “my soul (psyche) magnifies (megalunei) the Lord and my spirit (pneuma) rejoices in God my savior.” 

The soul, the psyche, is that part of the self that is self aware, the locus of the emotional and intellectual faculties of the human person. That’s what magnifies the Lord in our blessed Mother’s song of praise. Inside you, you have a magnifying glass. If you magnify the problem, the problem gets larger. If you magnify the Lord, the problem melts away before the faithfulness, love and power of God. It’s up to you. Will you focus on the problem, or on God’s power to save?   

If all we can see are life’s difficulties, then it is our soul that needs healing. We need to be able to see the truth  that God is in all and above all, that grace has brought us safe this far and grace will lead us home. Jesus says, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt.6:22,23) 

The soul is the eye of the inner man. Garbage in, as they say, garbage out! It is the sickness of the soul that needs healing even more than the sickness of the body. If our soul is blind to the love of God, we can’t begin to see and to receive the miracles of His love. “Speak but the word and my soul shall be healed”  

There is one more word to mention. It’s another Bible quote, this time from St. John the Baptist “This is the Lamb of God” is changed to the more accurate “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29) This is what John said to his disciples when he saw Jesus. In effect, he was saying “Stop following me. This is the guy who you should be following and studying.” 

What’s the difference? What’s so different about “Behold” and “This is?” Once again, there is a world of difference. No one says “behold” anymore. That’s the problem. We might say “look.” But “to behold” is different from “to look.” “To look” is to see and turn away, assuming that you’ve seen all there is to see in that brief moment of looking. To behold is to fix one’s gaze until the whole reality has been taken in. We moderns get tired of waiting ten seconds for our computers to boot up. Faster! Faster! Hurry! There’s not a lot of beholding going on in the world we live in and our lives slip away unnoticed. Our children grow up, our health fails, our friends move away or die. We grow old and die, barely having taken the time to live. We have to hurry and be on time for the next....?  Behold! The unchanging God appears before you in the form of a piece of bread. Behold!

Have you ever been in love?  Perhaps you have married the love of your heart. Perhaps once, when you were young and first married, on a clear and moonlit night, the moonbeams filled the room where you two lay asleep, and you awoke to see the gentle light play on her hair as it lay against the pillow, her shoulders softly moving with each breath. You stared and drank in the beauty of love. You beheld the beloved. You stared knowing that a lifetime was not enough to see her completely, to take in her beauty, to marvel at the gift of God that lay next to you in the moonlight. Behold!

The Jewish high priest would remove the bread that had been in the temple before the holy of holies and hold it up before the assembly gathered in the temple precincts and says “Behold, God’s love for you!” And so, at Mass, I hold up the Bread of Heaven, the person of Jesus incarnate in the appearance of bread and wine. I invite you to “Behold the Beloved!” 

When I was little, heaven seemed so boring. The nuns would try to tell us hyperactive six-year-olds about the “beatific vision” We would get to stare at God forever! Boy, did that sound boring. Now that I am an old man, and understand that the most beautiful thing in the world is to stare at one with whom you are totally in love, the words mean everything to me, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, ‘blessed’ (not just contented, amused and “happy”) are those who are called to His supper!”  Behold!


  1. Dear Father, I love this blog. However, I am dismayed by your take on the Second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary. The last time I heard that one, it came from a priest who quoted Marianne Williamson and decried the Church's teachings on divorce and remarriage from the pulpit.

  2. Where in the Scriptures or anywhere else does it say Mary was fleeing for her life? I would gather that for some time after the Annunciation, the only person who knew that our Lady was with Child would have been Joseph, depending on when she told him.