The gospel reading is not by itself a Eucharistic passage, but the centurion’s words: “Lord... I am not worthy that you enter under my roof” are echoed at every Eucharistic celebration. Indeed the other two readings —Paul’s letter and the response to the Psalm— render the tone of today’s liturgy of the word clearly Eucharistic.
Even if the centurion’s words were not meant by him in a Eucharistic sense, they do reveal a depth of faith that, we are told, amazed Jesus. The man was a pagan and an officer of an army of occupation at that, yet as a gentile he had undertaken the building of a synagogue for the Jews. It is such a Roman officer that does not consider himself worthy to receive a Jew under his roof. As we transpose his setting to ours today, it raises two pertinent questions for us. One is about our own respect for people of other faiths and for the faith of other peoples (even if they are of our own faith), a respect that in the gospel passage went beyond tolerance into actually facilitating their —different— faith life. The other question is the way we approach God: as entitled to God’s action on our behalf, or aware that we have no real claim that would make us worthy? Do we let the centurion’s words, which we echo before communion, sink into us and help us approach communion more aware of our not being entitled to it? We do not partake in the Eucharist because we are so good, but because God is so good.
A second comment is about Paul’s letter. His words reveal a very different setting for the celebration of the Eucharist as one component of a getting together that included a regular meal, in fact one at which abuses were evident: unequal food provisions, not waiting for one another, and even drinking to excess. It is encouraging to recognize how much the situation has changed, at least in that one respect. But the disregard for others manifested in those no longer existing abuses was also a manifestation of approaching the gathering as “my celebration”, not as “our celebration”. And, as we take comfort in the disappearance of those concrete abuses, I am not sure we can say that we are always free from the “my celebration” syndrome. When I see people absorbed in their otherwise commendable private devotions during the celebration of the Eucharist, we have to wonder whether we are not still bringing our own food to the gathering. At my hospital Sunday masses I observe that, as I finish distributing communion and again make eye contact with the congregation, easily one fourth of them have already left —presumably to avoid the rush. Is this “not waiting for one another” yet a further sign that mass is taken by some as “my celebration” (or obligation?) and not as “our celebration”?
If, as the Psalm’s response challenges us, we “proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again”, then we have to respect —indeed facilitate— other people’s expression of their faith even when it diverges from our own. We also need to remain conscious that, as we attend the Eucharistic celebration with others of our own faith, we cannot act as if it were “my celebration”, instead of “our celebration”.
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