A thought for the “Lord, I am not worthy” at your next Mass

No one is, in the strictest sense, “worthy” to receive Holy Communion.

Yet the Lord wished it to be so, and so, he makes us “worthy” in our membership in His Mystical Person by our membership in the Church, by baptism, and, for our part, our dispositions.

We must discern what it is to receive Communion.  Who am I?  What am I doing?  Who is IT?  What is He doing?

In times past, people addressed the problem of their clear unworthiness by only a rare reception of Holy Communion.  And yet it seemed that the Lord desired more for us.  Therefore St. Pius X worked to expand our view of receiving Communion, and the frequency of Communion.

But there is another excess now. Many people – dare I suggest most? – go to Holy Communion without a sense of discernment, or even a second thought.

Here is a thought for a striking point of Mass.  Striking, for we literally strike ourselves, or should.  Augustine speaks of how when the people of Hippo struck their breasts it sounded like thunder in the church.

It is striking also for what it may mean in our dispositions.

From a sermon of Ronald Knox:

[W]hen the priest, just before communion, says the threefold Domine non sum dignus in your name, you should imagine our Lord himself as holding back, keeping you waiting for a little, so as to test your dispositions.  He often did that, didn’t he, before consenting to perform a miracle; ….

But, when I speak of testing our dispositions, do I mean that he looks into our hearts and expets to find his own likeness already there?  Must we already be humble with a humility like his, already be unwearied in his service, already  be perfectly resigned to all the suffereing which may befall us, or be told that we are not fit to receive him?  If I meant that, if I meant that holy communion is a privilege reserved, at least commonly, for an élite of almost perfect souls, then I should be falling back into the error of the Jansenists, and I should be wronging the memory of that great Pope who has just been raised to the altars of the Church.  For whatever else St Pius the Tenth is remembered, he will be remembered for having thrown open the gates of the sanctuary to hesitating and struggling soul; to the unworthy who know themselves to be unworthy.

No, the dispositions I am speaking of are not those which quality us to receive holy communion; we go to holy communion in order that those dispositions may be formed in us.  Only, we must want them to be formed in us.  The trouble, you know, about you and me is not that we aren’t saints, but that we don’t want to be saints.  Lord, I am not worthy, because I am not humble; but I do want to be humble.  Lord, I am not worthy because I am backward and slothful in your service; but I hate my backwardness, I hate my sloth.  Lord, I am not worthy, because I am a bad sufferer;  but how I wish it were otherwise!  Let it be otherwise, Lord; speak the word only, and they servant shall be healed.

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  1. Girgadis says:

    I can’t add anything to what he said except “Amen”.

  2. catholicmidwest says:

    People have lost the sense of what it means to get in the line and partake of Holy Communion. It has become “something you do if you’re Catholic,” or “something you do if you’re in our family,” or “something you do to feel good,” or “something you have a birthright to.” It’s become sort of a “belonging ritual” for a lot of people. A habit of community in the base sense. Some of this is not all bad as far as it goes, but it’s deficient in content because people don’t have a sense that it’s connected to how they behave in their daily lives (ie birth control, abortion, evil involving money, etc), or what they believe about reality, or how they are connected to salvation history. The church hasn’t stressed these so much, particularly the last 2, for a long time.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    My grandmother, who died at 94, said that one of the wonderful things that happened in her lifetime, was the granting of Holy Communion to the young. Those in her generation had to wait until they were 14. Yet, we take this privilege for granted. Four people, including myself, rely on my car to get to Mass on Sundays. The old and infirm have been forgotten by the Church. These people cannot drive in the ice and snow. So many old people tell me that they do not get Communion, either in the hospital (there is no longer a Catholic priest on the staff) or in the nursing homes. My car will not start this morning. How many graces will be lost if this situation cannot be remedied? I am trying to re-arrange rides. Do not take the Sacrament for granted.

    By the way, the lay chaplain at the hospital is a lesbian Lutheran.There is no chapel there, as all the hospitals in the area are secular. Please remember and pay attention to our elderly who long to receive the grace of Holy Eucharist and to be made ready for their last days.

  4. John V says:

    “I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:24.

  5. Cath says:

    What a great post. Wish I had read it earlier as my ccd class had a discussion along those lines this morning. I asked them how many of them really wanted to be holy and all that entailed. I will read this post to them next week. Thanks Father!

  6. Sam Urfer says:

    “As the priest held up the Host and she {St. Catherine} was saying, “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof . . .” she heard His voice answering her: ‘But I, I am worthy of entering thee.’ And it seemed to her that as the fish which is in the sea is full of the sea, so her soul was in God and God in her soul.”

  7. TC says:

    Dare I venture that a little Jansenism wouldn’t hurt? [No. I daresay a venture into Jansenism would be dreadful. I think Msgr. Knox’s suggestions are pretty well balanced.]
    Forty-plus years ago the nuns drummed into us the importance of being “properly disposed” to receive Communion. Admittedly, they went somewhat overboard, including things that clearly weren’t mortal sins.
    But since then I haven’t heard a single sermon on the subject.

  8. Mike says:

    Yes, I would avoid Jansenism like the plague. However, properly placed, the phrases “state of grace”, “mortal sin”, and “sacramental confession” need to get more mileage in homilies. Love is the ultimate inspiration for all we do; fear, however, for times when temptation is strong, isn’t really anything but a mercy.

  9. michael-can says:

    Never worthy to receive, state of grace, common reception at the OF Mass, just too massive to be true that there are no mortal sin commited, last mission I attended, Rev. Father, made it clear to everyone that general absolution does NOT remove mortal sin and guess what? wa la, on the last day of his mission he proclaim, this mission I have caught many big fish, net full of medium size fish, fish as big as 40 years, 35 years to many 30 years and uncountable 10 years or less and this week they return to confession, why? because they thought general confession at the beginning of the OF Mass if all they need, what a blessing for those souls that were fortunate that week, but sad were those that loss main due to error!!!

  10. teaguytom says:

    Having only been taught of the old three breast strike( and now one) at the confiteor, I started seeing folks at the EF do it before communion during the “Lord I am not worthy…” I took up the practice and I continue striking my breast at least once during the OF confiteor and Lord I am not worthy. A humbling practice which should be restored in the OF to it’s EF roots of the threefold Lord I am not worthy as well as the threefold Mea Culpa’s.

  11. q7swallows says:

    It is this moment of the EF–along with the Consecration–that never fails to bring me to tears.

  12. joan ellen says:

    Oh, how I love this. Thank you, Fr.

  13. Tom A. says:

    I often contemplate on the Centurion who uttered those words to Christ 2000 years ago. Other than Christ’s words themselves, I do not think any other person in history has had their words repeated at every single Mass for the last 2000 years. Christ himself said that He found no greater faith in all of Israel other than this simple soldier.

  14. Amen I say with Gigardis. Thank you, Father, for posting this.

    @q7swallows, I am often in tears myself at the Consecration in adoration and thanksgiving, and I find it very, very difficult (spiritually and sometimes physically) to rise from my knees after the Agnus Dei and whip down the loft stairs and fall back onto my knees in time to say the Domine, non sum dignus; I cannot bear to be anywhere but on my knees then, with Our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and offered to us: Ecce, Agnus Dei…. At that point, what often slips into my mind is a line from a medieval poem in Britten’s Ceremony of Carols: “The knees of my heart s(h)all I bow…”

    @Tom A–likewise. Grant me even the tiniest measure of that faith, O Lord!

  15. THREEHEARTS says:

    What is missing is simple and reading this may help
    “Cardinal Camillo Mazzella SJ., wrote in his treatise, “De Virtutiblis infusis”, Dis.11, a3-12”
    “We do not intend to treat here of religion as a natural virtue (virtus accquisita), which can be acquired, at least in an imperfect degree, by frequent acts, but of religion as a supernatural virtue (virtus per se infusa) infused into the soul by means of grace. Religion is in the first place, an abiding disposition inclining us to render unto God, the worship due to Him. Ease and readiness in the performance of supernatural acts of religion are the fruits of faithful exercise and are obtainable by our own exertions assisted by Divine Grace. Charity and all the infused moral virtues are inseparably united with sanctifying grace, the two (other) theological virtues of faith and hope (bapitus fidei and spe”) can still exist after sanctifying grace has been lost.”
    The Cardinal Later on and so did a father Cornell SJ that name is a bit hazy but he said You cannot Have the Virtue of Charity without the virtue of religion. Think how that fits in with sanctifying grace????
    I am glad to read of those of you who seem to have acquired the Virtue of compunction. I often start to sob at the consecration, much I might add to the disgust of those around me. But one thing I have never done is not kneel for communion and say always, ” I am not worthy to receive , say but the word and my soul shall be healed” The other actions missing although one mentioned it is the Jewish actions from our ancient relatives in God the beating of the breast in sorrow. We did it at every “Lord have mercy” We did it at every response at the end of the Agnus Dei. We did it O Clement O loving O sweet Virgin Mary . We did at the Nobis Quoque Peccatoribus. The instructions to do so were in the missals at that time. The other action was at every mention of the Trinity we made the sign of the Cross. I think there were at least, sorry I cannot remember the number but we did it at the Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, at the end off the Gloria. Probably missed some but we did it and meant it.

    To sum up my feelings we have under instructions gone down below tepid to minimalism. Perhaps this might be along with Rationalization the two heresies of our times. I think we do it because we lack the fortitude to stand up and be counted.

    I write about the virtue of religion and confess to my confessor I do not have it. One day I was stood waiting for confession and a young man entered the Church/Abbey and knelt and kissed the floor. The act of compunction hit be so hard that day.

  16. Mariana says:

    THREEHEARTS – Thanks!

  17. To receive Communion is the closer we can get of Heaven on earth so, I don’t understand when some catholics change that privilege for some earthly pleasure, sometimes for years and, in the end, they still blame the Church because they can’t have Communion! We fall and we raise from sin, we never stay in the sin, I mean mortal sin. About the venial sins, we trust in the Mercy of God and promise ourselves to be better. And go to that Miracle that is we, so imperfect, being able to stay with God in that way. I always wanted so much that privilege when I was a child, before I had the age to have Communion. And it was so dificult for me to see other people go and not me. And I would ask my mother: I can’t go, can I? I knew the answer but even so… Until the day that I had age enough (I think I was 8) and I was prepared to go. Since then, I never stoped. And now, after all those years and years having my Lord every sunday – and sometimes on week days – I fel even more that is a miracle to have Communion. Sometimes I feel my hands tremble after having Communion because I feel that’s a miracle being able to be that close to God. I trust He cleans my sins and imperfections each time he is with me in those moments.
    I don’t take it for granted.

  18. Jbuntin says:

    Some days Father, I think you are speaking just to me. Thank you for this post.

  19. dominic1955 says:

    If one reads Sacra Tridentina Synodus, the conditions laid down by St. Pius X for frequent, even daily communion would seem “Jansenist” to many today. Actually, I question how much real influence actual Jansenism had over the frequency of communion back in the day. Infrequent communion was the rule of the day for a great while, so much so that the “Easter Duty” had to be imposed-and that was done long before Jansenism ever came up.

    The actual Jansenist theological reasons for infrequent communion are laid out in Arnauld’s “On Frequent Communion” and the main errors are those condemned by Pope Alexander VIII on Dec. 7, 1690. The main problem was the faulty idea of satisfaction and absolution held by Arnauld (which he erroneously proposed as a return to the ‘traditional’ practice of the Early Church and away from Jesuitical laxity) and the related ideas about reception of communion by those who hadn’t followed his ideas on this subject along with the assertion that a pure love of God was necessary for reception of communion.

    As such, people might have latched on to the populist reasons for infrequent communion, namely, wanting to avoid penance while maintaining a certain respectable veneer of piety but it wouldn’t seem that they actually latched on to Arnauld’s (and thus, Jansenist) reasons for it. The reasons for infrequent reception of Holy Communion, especially more extreme versions finds its source in a misguided sense of “reverence” for the Blessed Sacrament which is far older than Jansenism. The real Jansenist basis for infrequent communion was more of a speculative theological proposition rather than something which held popular sway or had any real influence, especially in the practice of administering penance.

    What was/is commonly attributed to “Jansenist rigorism” was actually usually the teaching of men like St. Alphonsus Liguori and other eminent saintly writers. For them, “frequent communion” was once a month-once a week and was still at the direction of the Confessor and not to be taken on your own authority. This sort of opinion was, of course, the accepted opinion until St. Pius X decided in favor of the minority opinion which held that the prerequisites for “frequent” (which he decided meant daily) were much more minimal than the common and received opinion of the last two centuries.

    Of course, that is the Pope’s prerogative to decide on theological opinions. However, it is misleading (and just sloppy, really) to attribute the previous less frequent communion to “Jansenism”. Jansenist influence survives much more acutely in the recent liturgical “reform” than in any other practices.

    The practice we have now in many (most?) places where “All are welcome” resembles the Spanish laxity which prevailed in some areas of that country in contemporary times to the Jansenist controversies. Reports of “hosts of unusual size” and the erroneous idea that daily communion was a divine precept seem familiar, but of course, the reason for this past error is considerably different than the current one which can be attributed to the adoption of liberal Protestant style errors concerning communion, confession, etc.

  20. Teresa-1962 says:


    What a good comment, thanks for the information.

  21. RichardT says:

    Ah, always good to see Mgr Knox quoted.

    Duffy quotes a medieval comment that monthly communion might be possible, but only for the very pious who were making regular confessions under close spiritual guidance.

  22. MichaelJ says:

    Perhaps it would help the faithful in discerning their disposition, if there were a gentle reminder inserted in the Liturgy? We could ask, for example that a second Confetior be inserted say just before the faithful receive. Doesn’t this sound reasonable and helpful?

  23. Rachel Pineda says:

    PaulaL said:
    “To receive Communion is the closer we can get of Heaven on earth so, I don’t understand when some catholics change that privilege for some earthly pleasure, sometimes for years and, in the end, they still blame the Church because they can’t have Communion!”

    Very sad. It is the opposite end of the spectrum that father is writing about but I think in the same vein. If you know Whom you are receiving, if you know God, you will love Him. This will remedy the effects of too bold of a reception of Holy Communion or the relinquishing of that blessing for anything else. Lord increase our Faith!

    Also, a bold and presumptuous reception of Holy Communion, like the example father gives, I’m pretty sure cuts your heart off from the blessings Our Lord wants you to receive. We make ourselves blind with pride. Especially in seeing the so-called “little” ways in which we offend God, which He wants to heal, even though these “little” ways do not cut us off from the life of grace through a grave & mortal wound.

    Father, very good post. A big help for busy parents,. Thank you.

  24. Gail F says:

    An excellent post, thank you.

  25. Jayna says:

    @teaguytom: I actually saw the striking of the breast at “Lord, I am not worthy” when I started attending weekday Masses. Just your standard OF weekday Mass. But the people who attend are the ones about whom you might say the priest is “preaching to the choir” during his homily. Anyway, I noticed the woman who usually sat next to me did it and I took up the practice myself. I find it adds a new depth to what I’m saying.

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