Monday, December 7, 2009

I Remember It Well

I was born in 1957, which makes me, ummm, ehhh.... you do the math. I well remember the Mass in Latin, and also the first Mass in English. Growing up with the Tridentine Mass meant that like all Catholic kids of the day, I learned a lot of Latin. We didn't just know the sounds of the words, but the meanings of many. The missals had the English & Latin on facing pages, parents knew the Latin, no big deal.

One of my favorite lines of that Mass was, "Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo et sanabitur puer meus/ Lord, I am not worthy that thou should enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant (literally, my boy) shall be healed." Of course in English we say soul, not servant. I like servant better: it sticks to the know the story, right?

So when I read recently that the latest changes to the English Mass were approved, I eagerly checked here USCCB - Roman Missal Examples to see if the language of my childhood had been restored.

The only problem is, I remembered wrong. This is the actual Tridentine Mass line:

Dómine non sum dignus ut íntres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanábitur ánima mea/ Lord, I am not worthy that thou should enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed."

Oh. But I had been taught the story of Jesus and the Centurion. I remember the story and the original verse, which is stronger than the Mass version. So at every Mass, even though the Missal said in both Latin and English, "my soul shall be healed," I was thinking, I heard, "my servant shall be healed," while I imagined the scene at the top of the page.

I was truly surprised to learn that the Tridentine didn't say servant. In fact I didn't really believe it until I went home for lunch, where I could check in my father's old Missal: yep, ánima mea/ my soul it is, right there in print. I woulda swore it said servant. But even thinking servant didn't prevent me as a child from knowing that in the Mass the line referred to me, my soul, and not the soldier's servant. I'd been taught the story, how it applied in Mass, and recalled the whole thing each time I spoke/ read that single line.

This little episode makes a catechetical point: one of the best ways to teach is to tell a Bible story. Often the kids will already know all or part of a particular story, but have not learned how it can inform their faith. When a memorable story is connected to the specifics of Catholic faith, faith is strengthened.

When my class learns about the Mass, among other stories we discuss Jesus and the Centurion. Here's how we do it:

Y'all tell me, what's a centurion? A soldier. Yes, what flavor....Chinese? Ha, no a Roman soldier! Yes. Who knows the story of Jesus and the Centurion? Yes, honorary son, tell it. He came to Jesus because his daughter was sick and needed to be made better. Good, half right. It wasn't his daughter....who was sick? His servant! Right. By the way, how many soldiers does a centurion command? No guesses? How many years in a century? 100.... 100 men! Yes. How many cents in a dollar? 100! What language did Romans speak? Latin! So c-e-n-t is Latin for...100! Yes, geniuses!

So let's see: Was the centurion a Christian? No! Well, was he a Jew? No! Oh that's right, he was Russian. No he wasn't, he was Roman! We just said so! Oh yeah, I forgot. Russian, Roman.... aren't they about the same? No! Oh. Well, if he wasn't Christian or Jew or Russian, what did he believe in? He was a pagan. Yes, he believed in a bunch of made-up gods. So if he was a pagan, why was he bugging Jesus? Well, he believed Jesus could cure his servant. Yes. Even if he didn't have faith in Jesus the way the Apostles did, he still had faith, a kind of practical faith. Having faith that Jesus could heal his servant, did the soldier stay home with his servant and pray to Jesus? No, he went to see Jesus and talk to him in person. Yes, because the centurion was made of a...? Body'n'soul! Yes, so if he believed in his soul that Jesus could cure, his body would have to....? Do something! Yes, in this case his body....went to Jesus to ask in person. Yes. He acted on his faith. And this way he could see his faith, Jesus could, and everyone else saw it, too. Did people see his soul? No, but they saw what he did. Yes. Can you see anybody's soul? No, it's invisible. Right, but you can see what people do, including yourself.

So when he told Jesus about his servant, what did Jesus do? Yes, daughter? Jesus started to go to his house, but the soldier said Jesus didn't have to. Yes, what exactly did the soldier say? Nobody remembers? That's ok, y'all are doing fine so far, let me read from Matthew what he said:

"Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed." Oh that's like at Mass! You are right, we'll get to that in a minute, don't give it away yet! What's the first part mean: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof"? Well, he doesn't think he's good enough for Jesus to come to his house. Yes, is any of us that good? No.....Right, why not? No takers? It's because we all have something in common, we're all...? Sinners? Yes, so the Roman isn't just speaking about himself, he's speaking about us all. Now the last bit, "only say the word, and my servant shall be healed," what's that mean? He still trusts Jesus to fix the servant if Jesus says he will. Yes. Jesus will heal his servant even if both of them are sinners. And though he trusts Jesus, he still needs to hear Jesus say it out loud, because the soldier has a....body'n'soul! Yes, it helps him if his ears hear the words. His body'n'soul believe together. Just like ours do.

Now at Mass, as you noticed, right before communion we hear this: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you; but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed." Where's that come from? The story! Yes. At Mass what's this mean: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you"? It means we're not real good all the time. Yes, we sin like the centurion. And this: "only say the word, and my soul shall be healed"? Well, that Jesus can heal our souls? Yes, it's pretty clear. We hear this right before communion to remind us that we as Catholics should have at least as much faith as the pagan Roman, and that Jesus gives us not the body healing the servant received, but...? Ummm, soul healing? Yes, put it another way, please. Ummm, our sins are forgiven?

Yes, genuises, good work! Don't just remember the story; remember what it means.


For those too young to have seen "Gigi," I offer this dab of a song by Honore (Maurice Chevalier) & Mamita (Hermione Gingold). No man ever smiled with such radiance as Maurice Chevalier.

H: We met at nine....
M: We met at eight!
H: I was on time....
M: No, you were late!
H: Ah, yes, I remember it well! We dined with friends,
M: We dined alone!
H: A tenor sang,
M: A baritone!
H: Ah, yes, I remember it well!