Picture: Mgsr. Gilles Wach during the Domine Non Sum Dignus
On the Domine Non Sum Dignus
The rite of communion includes a two fold ceremony. The communion of the priest solemnly precedes the one of the faithful. The reason could be just caused by the fact that the priest might have no people assisting at his Mass, but this does not seem to be the real reason. Priests indeed are only allowed to say private Masses without an altar server since a very recent time.
The motive of the double rite of communion is deeper than a pure practical reason. It first underlines the completion of the Sacrifice by the priest who receives communion under both species. Since immemorial time, the celebrant only communicates in this manner. It is a necessity to sacramentally represent the full communion to the Body and Blood of the offered Victim. We say “Sacramentally” id est “as a sign”, because in reality the reception of the consecrated Host is by itself communion to Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
The priest therefore receives the Blessed Sacrament first. Deacon and Subdeacon if present bow at this action. The priest publicly claims his indignity and the necessity to receive help from God to be purified. Domine non sum dignus sed tantum … He does so three times in a row because of the three Confessions of St. Peter. “Do you love me? ”
As he consumes the Host, the rubric says that the priest reflects ‘alinquantulum’, ‘for a little time’. It is the only moment during mass given to the celebrant for private prayer. The Mass being the Act of Jesus Christ is not a private devotion of the particular priest. This concession for a moment of solitude with God is not offered again after the consumption of the Precious Blood (since it is just a logical continuation of the first).
Then the Celebrant, takes the ciborium, consecrated at previous Masses, out of the Tabernacle for the distribution of Communion. As traditionally taught, the previously consecrated Hosts have the same value as the ones consecrated at this particular mass. They are the same Jesus offered at the same One Sacrifice.
He turns around, presents the Lamb of God, imitating John the Baptist on the shore of the Jordan River, reminding us of the sacrificial aspect of Christ’s mission: ‘Ecce Agnus Dei’….
Then he repeats the same rite that he used for himself: ‘Domine non sum dignus’…. ‘but this time he is inviting the faithful to join him. This is the only case where all the congregation is invited to join the priest. At all other times, the altar servers speak for them or the choir sings. It shows the importance that the Liturgy gives to this moment and the necessity for the communicants to prepare themselves with humility before receiving their Savior.
Saint Francis de Sales in 1612 goes as far as to even invite the faithful to say the words in their native language if Latin is too difficult for them.
Speaking of Latin, an amusing little grammatical difficulty appears here. In latin language the gender shows in the case of the word. A male person will say: ‘Dominus non sum dignus’, while a female should say: ‘non sum digna’. The Papal Bulls of Pius V and Paul IV however forbid to change any word of the Missal. Besides it is as unworthy members of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ that we receive communion…. ‘Non sum dignus’ fits.
The reception of the communion by the faithful is participation of the fullness of the sacrifice already offered by the celebrant