Venerable Bruno Lanteri recommends these sentiments in his Spiritual Directory, “At the Lamb of God, that of a guilty man.”
Background: Extraordinary Form of the Mass
Because Venerable Bruno wrote his preparation for the Tridentine Mass, it would be good to see what is going on at this point in the extraordinary form of the Mass.
After the Our Father, the priest breaks the host and prays to the Father for deliverance from evil. He adds a particle of the host into the chalice with its accompanying prayer. The choir sings the Agnus Dei with the congregation responding. The priest recites the Agnus Dei. Next, he recalls the peace Christ gives and beseeches the Father for peace for the Church. He gives the sign of peace to the deacon.
Lesson: Can we always turn to God, even when we feel unworthy?
During a summer program, I participated in a chess tournament. I was a decent player. In two games, I won once and tied once. My record was 1-0-1. Funny, that record was the best in all the competition.
I received a No. 1 trophy. I heard a snide comment from the crowd: “That’s a sham.” I felt that it was a sham, too. I had imagined that winning competition would require winning every game. My blind spot was the fact that I had no losses while everyone else suffered a loss. That was an achievement.
Similarly, we suffer blind spots during the liturgy. In this part of the Mass, we are drawing closer to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. Pause here. What are you thinking when we sing the “Lamb of God”? Don’t we realize that we are about to receive pure goodness and love in Holy Communion? Jesus, the answer to our heart’s deepest desire for love, is coming to us. Don’t we realize how unworthy we are for this opportunity? Often, we cluelessly sing the “Lamb of God” and cluelessly receive Jesus.
This point of the Mass calls us to put on the eyes of faith and see the beauty of the gift of the Eucharist. Venerable Bruno Lanteri offers one way to see that gift. He recommends that at the “Lamb of God,” we should foster the sentiments of the guilty man. Why the guilty person? Sometimes, we need to understand where we stand before we can appreciate the gift.
Venerable Bruno wants us to harken back to the repentant thief at Calvary. Jesus was hanging on the cross. The rulers derided him and the soldiers teased him with vinegar. One criminal blasphemed him. The crowd silently watched the spectacle. In the midst of such increasing negativity and hatred, a voice of goodness spoke. The other thief rebukes his blaspheming partner. He knew that he deserved the death penalty for his crimes. He recognized that he was a sham. But he saw that Jesus was no criminal. This repentant thief went beyond defending Jesus. He turned to Jesus and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power” (Lk 23:42).
Remember. Isn’t that what we want? To be remembered? To be noticed? To matter to someone? Unbeknownst to the good thief, he was talking to Jesus, who is God. When God remembers someone, that person lives forever. Earlier in Luke, Jesus had affirmed the resurrection and had declared, “Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him” (Lk 20:38).
The good thief was asking the one person who could remember him forever. Jesus answered, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). Nothing in the thief’s life recommended him for eternal life. He actually deserved death for his crimes. But he had one good thing. He kept turning to Jesus. Like me in not losing any chess games in that tournament, the good thief didn’t lose his opportunity. That achievement was rewarded.
Now in the Mass, Jesus is truly present in His Precious Body and Blood. We should see the goodness in Him and the brokenness in us. In the light of our sinfulness, we discover the free gift of Jesus. He still comes to us as we are, hurting and weakening. He still comes to bring spiritual medicine and strength to our bodies and souls. All we need to do is keep turning to Him, more likely stumbling toward him.
In the extraordinary form of the Mass, the sign of peace after Agnus Dei mirrors Jesus’ response to the good thief. We recognize our sinfulness and Jesus responses with peace like the peace he gave on the day of his resurrection. In the ordinary form of the Mass, although the sign of peace comes before the Agnus Dei, the showing of the host afterward mirrors Jesus’ response to the thief. We give our sinful selves; Jesus gives his whole self. We respond to the gift with the centurion’s words: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you. But only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
Scripture passages for prayer:
- Luke 23:26-49: In the midst of hostility, the good thief turns to Jesus.
- John 1:29-42: John the Baptist points out Jesus as the Lamb of God; two of John’s disciples follow Jesus.
- John 20:19-22: Jesus appears to disciples who are aware of their failings.
- Matthew 8:5-13: The centurion recognizes his unworthiness and asks Jesus to heal by his word.
- Have you experienced a moment of facing your own brokenness in the presence of pure love?
- How often have you admitted that you have done something wrong? How often do you admit that to God in confession?
- If someone points out Jesus to you, would you immediately follow him? What holds you back?