Theology for Breakfast

One of the most concrete and therefore poetic moments – O blessed, incarnate faith! – in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is perhaps the prayer said immediately before reception of the Blessed Sacrament, often called the “Domine, non sum dignus.” It also happens to be taken almost verbatim (pace, Protestants) from Holy Scriptures –Matthew 8:8.

Thus, in the Vulgate:

Et respondens centurio, ait:
Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum:
sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur puer meus.

Or according to the Douay-Rheims translation (which St. Edmund Campion could very well have helped edit at the English College in Douai – it is also a happy thought to think that as a newly minted Jesuit he could have had an early draft tucked under his arm on his way back to England, death and glory):

And the Centurion making answer, said:
“Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof;
but only say the word and my servant shall be healed.”

(Imagine that! Catholics quoting Scripture!)

There is one change from the scriptural passage to the Mass prayer, however – and it’s a difference which makes all the difference, in a sense. “Puer meus” – literally means “my boy” but is translated idiomatically as “my servant.” (The same goes for the Greek – ὁ παῖς – which means literally “boy” but also has the secondary meaning of “servant.”) In the Mass, “servant” becomes “anima mea” – my soul.

For Triddywackers, the prayer is and ever will be (if St. Pope Pius V has anything to do with it) this:

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

For those who prefer the ordinary form of the Mass the prayer is currently and gratingly abridged in its English translation to this:

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

But upon the much anticipated coming of the new translation, the prayer will quite possibly become this:

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

And while I am by no means privy to what the Holy Spirit and the Holy Father do regarding the liturgy, I believe that, aside from being a gaff obvious to any first year Latin student, the reason “I” has the particular craw-sticking quality it does and will be sufficiently amended by “soul” is elucidated rather well by the early Christian writer Origen (Pace, Dr. Tom More, (“As I recall, we kicked his ass out.”)) in his commentary on The Canticle of Canticles. He is commenting on Canticles 1:6 (for those at home who want to follow along!).

“And then,” says she [The Bride], “tell me, O Though whom my sould has loved, where Thou feedest, where Thou has Thy couch in the midday, lest perchance I be made as one that is veiled above the flocks of thy companions.’ The Bride has not called the Bridegroom by a new name. For, knowing that He is the Son of Charity – nay, rather that He is Himself the Charity that is of God, she has made a sort of title for Him with the words: ‘Thou whom my soul has loved.’ Yet she has not said, ‘Thou whom I have loved,’ but ‘Thou whom my soul has loved.,’ knowing that one must not love the Bridegroom with just any sort of love, but with one’s whole soul, and one’s whole strength, and with all one’s heart (Book II: 4).

Coincidentally (?), St. Jerome uses the same word in the vulgate:

indica mihi quem diligit anima mea ubi pascas ubi cubes in meridie ne vagari incipiam per greges sodalium tuorum. (Songs: 1:6).


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    So, this here new (old) English Rite will use "my soul"?

  2. Jonathan Webb says

    Great stuff, thanks.

  3. Jonathan,

    Properly speaking it's the English translation of the Roman Missal of the Rite According to the Mass of 1970.

    In its original Latin form, it retains, as far as I can tell, the prayer as it appears in the Roman Missal of the Rite According to the Mass of 1962 (i.e. the Tridentine, etc.).

    "Soul" therefore will be found in the newly translated form of the prayer in the English translation of the Mass According to the Rite of 1970.

    Confused yet?

    The English or "Sarum" Rite (or Use – really a variant of the Roman Rite) – having orginated long before this business of dumbing down the translations immediately after VII – I would guess already had "soul" from the start.

    A good question to ask would be what influence the Sarum Rite (est. 12th Century) will have on the English translation of the Roman Rite.

    But we'll have to wait until Rome speaks…


  4. Jonathan Webb says

    Thanks Job.

  5. Dorian Speed says

    I am glad this post is here, because it is:
    a. edifying
    b. a nice break from the feature I shall refer to as "T.I.P."

Speak Your Mind