Matthew tells this story:

When Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him 6and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go’, and he goes, and to another, ‘Come’, and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this’, and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 8:5-10 – May 21, 2012)

Stained Glass Window of Jesus and the CenturionThe words of the centurion are the root of a prayer spoken by many before receiving Holy Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” As an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian, recitation of this prayer used to be a part of my personal practice. But I have ceased to say it because I became uncomfortable about the change in emphasis from the biblical text to the liturgical text. A statement of faith in Christ’s power to heal another has been turned into a purely personal (and one is tempted to say “selfish”) prayer. ~ Paragraph 1386 of the catechism of the Roman Catholic Church explains the rational of the prayer: “Before so great a sacrament, the faithful can only echo humbly and with ardent faith the words of the Centurion: ‘Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea’ (‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed.’)” That’s great, except the quotation from the Centurion is inaccurate! In the Vulgate, the verse reads, “Tantum dic verbo et sanabitur puer meus.” (“Only say the word and my servant [or ‘child’] shall be healed.”) I am troubled reciting a prayer based on a misquotation of scripture. ~ The centurion in the story is about as far from self-centered as one can be. He seeks Jesus’ help not for himself but for his servant. He is unwilling for Jesus to be inconvenienced. It is in that spirit that he speaks these words, explaining that as a military officer he simply gives orders and things are done, so he has faith that One with the power of healing can simply do the same. It is for his selflessness that Jesus’ praises him and his faith. It seems somehow wrong to recite a prayer which turns that on its head! ~ I recall reading a few years ago about a medical brain-function study which demonstrated that selflessness is psychologically healthy and is the neuropsychological foundation of spiritual experience. Selfishness, on the other hand, is unhealthy: other scientific studies have demonstrated that it is impossible for a completely selfish individual to either survive or have a biological future. So I am unwilling to utter a prayer which turns a selfless intercession on behalf of another into a self-centered (one is tempted to say “selfish”) petition. “Lord, I am unworthy to receive you” … let’s just leave it at that.