“Imagine our Lord himself as holding back, keeping you waiting for a little.”

Pat Archbold uses the opportunity of the implementation of the new translation to reflect on the three-fold “Domine non sum dignus” before Communion.


I have for years attended the Traditional Latin Mass when my schedule would permit and will admit that I am fond of it. I won’t get into the whys, but suffice it to say that certain elements appeal to me. One of the things that so grabbed my attention those years ago (back when we needed an indult? What’s that?) was the non sum dignus. What really got my attention was the fact that faithful said that prayer not once, not twice, but three times. When you say something three times in a row, you get the message, this is important.

Saying that prayer three times really focused me on the great gift I was about to receive and my complete unworthiness of it.

“Lord, I am not worthy…”

“Lord, I am not worthy…”

“Lord, I am not worthy…”

That recognition of my own unworthiness back then and the great gift bestowed upon me nevertheless stuck with me. Ever since then I have focused myself on saying it properly (in Latin) in the new mass as a way of keeping that focus. I am grateful that I can now say it properly in English.

But one thing I would really love to see restored in the mass is the triple repetition of this prayer as I am sure that it might then have the same effect on others as it had on me. Saying it just once seems like pauper’s gruel when there is really a great feast to be had.

Some time ago I posted about the three-fold Domine non sum dignus, saying:

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 expects 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 suffering 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. diazt says:

    Father, wonderful! Thanks for sharing this. I’ve only recently heard of Msgr. Knox and all of it quite wonderful. Would you recommend anything for one who wants to read him first hand?

    [His Pastoral and Occasional Sermons are excellent.]

  2. digdigby says:

    It just so happens I’m reading “The Layman and His Conscience: A Retreat by Ronald Knox”. It was written near the end of his life after he had a written a retreat for the Clergy. One of the first talks in the book is called ‘Spring Cleaning’ and considers the two year time-discrepancies of the ‘cleansing of the temple’ in different Gospels. Msgr. Knox suggests that Our Lord had to do the job more than once and that retreats need to be repeated likewise as a kind of ‘spring cleaning’ of our own ‘temples’. What a down to earth, loving Father he is in this book.

  3. mike cliffson says:

    Resonates with Peter,the first one, too. Do you love me? x 3.
    Tho for myself, merely thrice denied since last Sunday would be pretty good going.
    I’ve read, no available provenance, that thrice means a contract for Jews.

  4. JaneC says:

    I, too, would like to see this restored.

    I am very happy to see already restored the three-fold repetition “my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault” in the Confiteor, although it is rarely recited at Sunday Mass in my parish.

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