Pope Paul VI to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey

"(B)y entering into our house, you are entering your own house, we are happy to open our door and heart to you." - Pope Paul VI to Dr Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Prayer of Humble Access and the Centurion's prayer

The Prayer of Humble Access is a traditional prayer in the Anglican Eucharistic celebration which was part of the early Books of Common Prayer. It was said after the Canon of the Mass. In later revisions in many Anglican provinces it was moved to after the Paternoster is said but before the Agnus Dei. It is said before the Body and Blood of the Lord is given to the people.

It is analogous to the Roman Rite's Centurion's prayer

"Domine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea"

Which is translated in the English Mass used in the Philippines as

"Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed"

This isn't really so accurate. The Eastern Churches (the Orthodox and those Churches in communion with Rome) view the Eucharist as a "medicine of the soul". It is a medicine that first cleanses before the healing comes.

In the new translation authorized for US dioceses it goes like this

"Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, my soul shall be healed"

Which is quite close to the Latin of the Mass but in my honest opinion still misses out on an earlier understanding closer to that understood by the Early Church.. "Sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea"  I translate with my rusty Latin as "Just say the word, and my soul shall be cleansed"

We must receive the gifts of the Altar as spotless as possible!

Nonetheless we should be glad that the new translation captures much of the old understanding a form of which is used in the Anglican Use Mass.

The Prayer of Humble Access in the American Anglican Use Mass follows the words found  in the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer.

"We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen."

In the Anglican Use,  After the Prayer of Humble Access is said by the priest, the Ecce Agnus Dei follows  and then the Centurion's Prayer.

The Prayer of Humble Access and the Centurion's Prayer are two of my favourite prayers in the Anglican Eucharist and Roman Mass. The two prayers remind us how so unworthy of us to receive the Lord, now truly present under the appearances of Bread and Wine. The reference to the 'crumbs under thy Table" is from the Gospel story of the Syrophoenician Woman whose daughter was healed. In our politically correct world, it is extremely offensive to call another person "like a dog". But because of our sinful nature, we might as well be even worse than dogs, but Jesus raises us up, even to the extent that we are worthy to receive Him in the Eucharist. And like the Centurion's servant, we shall be cleansed and healed.

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