Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

Invitation to Communion inspired by a Roman soldier’s faith

Published: September 17, 2022

By Betsy Wiederkehr Huss
Blessed Sacrament Church, Jonesboro

Have you ever wondered in the Mass where our response to the “Invitation to Communion” in the Roman Missal comes from? Would you be surprised to find out a Roman military officer called a centurion spoke the words?

That this Gentile, non-Jew, was seeking Jesus’ healing for his ill slave? The story and words of Jesus and this centurion appear in Luke 7:1-10 and similarly in Matthew 8:5-13. In Luke’s Gospel, this starts a section giving us glimpses of Jesus’ Galilean ministry.

Jesus’ words and deeds, witnessed by the people of his time, have been passed on to and heard by us today, hoping we gain a fuller understanding of the truth.

Jesus is on his way to us. What will be our response? Will we humbly reply? “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”

So, what words did this governing officer in charge of a hundred Roman soldiers in Capernaum utter? Why did he say them? What was Jesus’ response? And why do we proclaim them in our present-day Liturgy of the Eucharist?

The centurion’s words: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed” (Luke 7:6-7).

Sound familiar? It turns out this particular centurion was not brutal to or despised by the Jews. He had heard of Jesus. Deacon J. Peter Nixon writes, “The centurion may have been a ‘God-fearer,’ a Gentile who was attracted to Judaism and observed certain Jewish customs and religious rituals without formally converting to the faith.”

In the Gospel of Luke, the centurion sends Jewish elders to Jesus, requesting him to come and save his slave’s life. The Jewish elders plead to Jesus, “He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he built the synagogue for us” (Luke 7:4- 5).

Jesus went, but the centurion’s friends stopped him short of the house. They relayed the centurion’s message. It is possible he did not want to create an awkward situation for Jesus, a Jew, either by going to Jesus or by having Jesus enter his home, which people might have looked down upon in both of their communities.

The centurion knew about power and authority and how commands worked. He gave orders. Soldiers obeyed. His verbal commands became reality. The centurion did not need Jesus to come to his home in order for Jesus to heal his slave. He believed Jesus was capable of healing just by saying a word.

He believed Jesus had authority and power to heal even without coming into his home or touching the person. Jesus was amazed by the centurion’s faith. Jesus granted the servant good health.

So, when we pray this short prayer at Mass during the “Invitation to Communion,” inspired by the centurion’s request for healing his servant, we are not disparaging or undervaluing ourselves but showing humility and trust.

We are human beings created in the image of God. Yes, we are sinners, and we confess that at the beginning of Mass in the Penitential Act, seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness.

This prayer before Communion helps orient us toward God. God created us. God loves us and because of God’s actions, on our behalf, we can approach the Eucharistic table. Jesus’ sacrifice makes us worthy. The Lord calls us to the supper of the Lamb.

Jesus is on his way to us. What will be our response? Will we humbly reply? “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”

Betsy Wiederkehr Huss, a member of Blessed Sacrament Church in Jonesboro, has a master’s degree in theology and has been involved in ministry to all ages for 40 years.

Understanding Our Church