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Lord, I Am Not Worthy


Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I.

Editor’s Note: This concludes a series of seven articles on the Roman Missal in anticipation of the new English-language translation, which began in the United States Nov. 27.

John the Baptist, preaching repentance and the coming of God’s kingdom, saw Jesus approaching and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). Those who heard John would have collectively recalled the sacrifice of a lamb in every Jewish household on the night of the first Passover (cf. Ex 12:1-14). The blood of the lamb on the doorposts saved those houses from the angel of death, who passed over the homes of the Jews and struck down the first-born sons of all the Egyptian families. John’s hearers would have also thought of the lambs sacrificed on the altar of the Jerusalem temple and distributed to the Jewish faithful to celebrate the annual Passover meal, commemorating the Exodus from slavery to the Promised Land.

In the celebration of the Eucharist, we recall John’s greeting in light of Christ’s death on the cross, which is sacramentally present on the altar.

With only a few words, John the Baptist summarized God’s intervention in history and its annual recollection in the temple sacrifice. At the same time, he pointed to a new moment in the story of God’s actions to save his people.

In the celebration of the Eucharist, we recall John’s greeting in light of Christ’s death on the cross, which is sacramentally present on the altar. The saving merits of Jesus’ death are applied to all who eat his Body and drink his Blood, and who thereby become one with Christ and the Church. Christ becomes the new paschal lamb, who obediently accepted death to fulfill his Father’s desire for the salvation of the world.

In the new translation of the Roman Missal, the words of John the Baptist are more directly evoked by the priest before Communion: “Behold the Lamb of God….” The new translation also connects the Jewish Passover and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross with the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb, as declared by the angel of the Book of Revelation: “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb” (cf. Rev 19:9).

Hearing again who Christ is, and rejoicing in the invitation to be with him in this life and in the world to come, we respond in words again taken from Scripture. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus returns to Capernaum and meets a Roman centurion whose servant is paralyzed. The centurion asks Jesus to cure his servant, and Jesus says that he will come and do so. The centurion responds with the words that we also say: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word…” (8:8). Jesus marveled at the faith of this Gentile foreigner, and with a word, he cured the sick man.

In a similar way, we confess together that Jesus will heal our souls, which our sins have infected with spiritual sickness. Unworthy though we are, the Lord will heal our brokenness and make us whole. With confidence born of faith and love, we step forward to receive the Body of Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

In these few words, simply expressed in the new translation of the Roman Missal, many of the scriptural titles of Jesus are compactly announced. Jesus is the Lamb of God, the savior who takes away the sins of the world, the healer of souls, the bridegroom and head of his Church, and the one who invites us to the banquet in his house.

When we return to our places after receiving holy Communion, the Mass provides time for personal adoration and thanksgiving. These are privileged moments of sacramental and spiritual union with Christ, giving us the opportunity to bring our wills into conformity with his. This is the time to lay before Jesus our deepest desires and ask him to purify them; to bring to him all those who have asked us to pray for them; and to rest and listen and love.

After the priest’s blessing and dismissal, the people respond, “Thanks be to God.” The holy Eucharist is given in an act of thanksgiving, and when one receives a gift for which no proper recompense can be offered, all that is left to say is “Thank you.” This we say with our words and with our lives.

CARDINAL FRANCIS GEORGE, O.M.I., archbishop of Chicago, is a member of St. Cabrini Council 182. He served as a member of the Vox Clara Committee, which was formed to oversee the new English translation of the Roman Missal.