Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,
but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
Several months ago, I had the opportunity to travel to a far-off land, a land I had read about and imagined my whole life. “To Hogwarts you went?” some might ask. While Hogwarts would have been a magical experience, I went to a land that was home to a figure infinitely more awe-inspiring than that of Harry Potter. To the Holy Land I traveled, with my family and 40 parishioners from my hometown. I ventured on a pilgrimage through the cities where Jesus was born, grew up, ministered publicly, and died on the Cross. Through our visits to some of the holiest sites in the world, group reflections, and personal prayer, I grew closer to the Jesus who walked this Earth. As I journeyed from Jerusalem to Nazareth and from the Jordan River to the Sea of Galilee, I felt a consistent sense of unworthiness and gratitude for the blessing of this pilgrimage. I would like to share a particular experience I had during Mass on one day of the pilgrimage, an experience that has stayed with me ever since.
Close your eyes for a moment, and imagine the home into which Mary and Joseph were invited and the place where Mary gave birth to the Savior of the world. Take a moment . . . now open your eyes. If you imagined a dimly lit room with a dirt floor and low ceilings, you would not be far off from the caves that are thought today to be the birthplace of Jesus. The remains of this inn are a series of cave rooms preserved beneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. In one of these rooms, now the Church of Saint Jerome, we celebrated Mass on our first day of the pilgrimage. Just yards away from the actual ground where Jesus was born, we offered our prayers to the God who offered his only Son for the salvation of humanity. Here, where the Word became flesh, we dared to read the Word of God and eat of his flesh, the Body of Christ. I was moved, my heart and soul, to a state of wonder.
As the Mass proceeded, I considered how immensely fortunate I was to be one of perhaps 100 people at this holiest of sites, where the source of Christianity was born! Out of all Christians throughout the world, I was called to participate in the Eucharist in the place where my Savior came into the world. Needless to say, the words at the end of the Eucharistic prayer, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof . . .” have since taken on new meaning for me. Rather than focusing on how God was to enter under my roof, as this prayer expresses, I felt unworthy to be under HIS roof, for this was the first home of Jesus on Earth!
The fact that this prayer resonated so strongly with me during the Mass in Bethlehem, and rightly so, has led me to further reflection on the words’ meaning. This prayer comes after the words of the priest, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world, blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” I see these words as calling each person in the congregation to wake up (hopefully not from actual sleep, but perhaps a spiritual sleepiness) to acknowledge the unparalleled miracle in which we are about to partake. Behold! Look who is in our midst! The priest beckons us to see, not just with our eyes but with our hearts, that we are witnessing a sacrament in which not everyone is blessed to participate. But we have been called uniquely by God himself to gather around his table. At this time, each person is invited to vocalize for himself or herself the intentionality of his or her own participation. “Lord, I am not worthy . . .”
Perhaps one reason for my appreciation of this Mass response is the pure sentiment of the words. In the fabric of this prayer, “Lord, I am not worthy . . . but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” is a sense of peace and an urge to return to the heart of what it means to be Christian. I am reminded of the supremacy of God when I admit my unworthiness to be in his presence. I did nothing to deserve the saving love of Christ, and this line of the Eucharistic Prayer is for me an acknowledgement of the gift of Jesus’ sacrifice. Through faith and dependence on his Word, his mercy, I shall receive the peace that can only come through Christ, and “my soul shall be healed.”
When we speak the words “that you should enter under my roof,” in what form are we imagining God entering under our roof? Does God come in spirit to fill our hearts? Does he walk through the door and desire to know our flawed, human selves? I would say yes and yes; God enters under the roof as Christ, to be eaten in the form of the Eucharist so that he may live within us and know us deeply. Yet the strength of the Eucharist does not stop with a personal relationship with Jesus within us. Rather, we are called to spread the light of Christ to the world, considering it a privilege to serve him and know him. May our strength and hope come from God’s mercy even when we feel unworthy of his love. May we be reminded of his physical presence in the people who enter under our roofs today, and be filled with a sense of awe and wonder that our God knows what it is to be human.
Brooke Gensler (’17) is a pre-health and theology major at the University of Notre Dame.