Under my roof
Posted by Justin Sengstock on February 8, 2012
I thought I was done talking about the liturgy. I really thought I was. There is a point where you move from “vibrant and ongoing conversation” to “dead horse of a thousand contusions,” especially when you’re blogging. I get that.
But one of my friends called me right before New Year’s, and we talked about the Mass changes. Suddenly I had a new perspective, one which still begins in my frustration over literal translation but definitely transcends it.
My friend works with the homeless. Actually, at his organization they prefer to say “folks experiencing homelessness.” Saying “the homeless” defines people by their state and carries a whiff of dehumanizing.
He is well-acquainted with an urban parish where much of the congregation experiences homelessness. The parish decided not to implement all the changes in the revised Missal. One phrase they took special care to excise: “under my roof.”
Before Communion we no longer say, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” In a nod to Latinate precision, as well as to the story of the centurion seeking his servant’s healing (see Matthew 8:8), we now say “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.”
At this particular parish, however, many worshipers have not had a roof for a long time. Many may never have one again. This gives them, and the parish as a whole, a very different perspective on both life and church. So the leadership made a pastoral decision. They simply refused to make congregants speak of roofs.
For me, “under my roof” was one of the less odious changes. But hearing this story made me realize something about homelessness and God’s relationship to those who endure it. God is one of those folks experiencing homelessness, and it’s not a metaphor. The homeless God, in the person of Jesus, is literal.
Jesus was not being poetic but matter-of-fact when he said, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Luke 9:58). His chosen homelessness, his life on the edge and on the run, was integral to the form and meaning of a mission principally carried out among outcasts. It should be an important factor in interpreting, continuing, and publicly celebrating his mission today.
But the ordinary Catholic Mass, the main contact most Catholics have with their faith and what it asks of them, easily sidesteps this reality. Liturgy prefers God the majestic and Christ the king. This has been true for centuries, ever since Christianity spread beyond its origins among fishermen and slaves, and the Third Edition of the Roman Missal just underlines the problem with a bit more pencil.
I am beginning to understand we have much bigger questions than whether the new English translation is good or bad, worse than or better than. Something about Jesus’ very Jesus-ness was already obscured before the consubstantiality, the prevenient grace, the precious chalice poured out for many, and our most grievous fault. It seems somewhat more obscured now. And those who lack roofs have already understood this for a long time.