As the priest prepares to receive Holy Communion, he is instructed to pray one of two private prayers (nothing prohibits him from praying both of course!). According to Dom Gueranger, these prayers are “not very ancient; nevertheless, they are at least a thousand years old.” Thus they were prayed daily by many of our favorite priest saints (as far back as St. Peter Damian, St. Bernard, and St. Dominic, and certainly including later saints like Pope Pius V, John of the Cross, and Alphonsus Liguori). The content of both prayers is quite deep and invites repeated and lengthy reflection. In the present entry, we will examine the first option: Domine Jesu Christe:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who, by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your Death gave life to the world, free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood, from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.
The introductory descriptions of who God is and what he has done are theologically rich and impressive, but it is even more moving to see that richness building towards the central verb in the prayer which is the cry of a prisoner: “free me.” The priest cries out from his bondage for what he knows to be impossible for any power on this earth: to have the chains of sin broken and the sinner freed from his slavery. Why does the priest even ask for this? Because he knows he can ask through the power of the very miracle that lies before his eyes as he bows towards the altar and gazes upon the Body and Blood of Christ: “Free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood….”
Then the prayer describes the great chains that are personal to the priest himself. Every priest is drawn from among sinners (Hebrews 5:1-4). The priest is helped to remember his sinfulness throughout the Mass, but in a particular way he remembers his sins here immediately before he receives holy Communion, and so he prays to be freed from “all my sins.” The priest knows the way that sin brings bondage and weighs him down by turning him away from his God and his flock only to focus on himself. Even when sins have been absolved, the weight of sin, its lingering dullness of heart, the disordered habits of vice, and the tendency towards self-absorption still cause the priest innumerable obstacles in his prayer, ministry, and growth in holiness. “Free me…from all my sins!” The cry at the heart of this prayer is so beautifully childlike in its simplicity and its intensity.
The priest also acknowledges that there are forces outside of him that assault him, oppress him, and even bind him, and so he begs God: “Free me from every evil!” This evil comes at him from the devil working through the world and through the flesh. There is real evil in the world and some men actively cooperate with it. There are worldwide plots of evil intent that have caught up nations within their destructive force. The priest who hears confessions and who walks with the little and great actors on the world stage knows how much suffering is caused by evil and how easily even the greatest men can be led astray. The priest knows the wicked power of Satan and his determination to destroy all of the creatures made in God’s image. The man who knows the principalities and dark powers with which he battles in this fallen world rightly intercedes with the one who has conquered the world: “Free me by your most holy Body and Blood…from every evil!”
In addition to being free, the priest also wants to be holy, aligned with God’s will in such a deep and intimate way that it lives inside of him. He does not aim to live the commandments by way of imitation or merely external observance, but he wants them to be part of him like the way that his heart beats or his lungs take in air. He wants the commands of God always to “inhere” in him. So, he prays: “fac me tui semper inhaerere mandatis.” The English translation is “keep me always faithful,” but the Latin inhaerere is deeper. Its translations include “cling,” “adhere,” “haunt,” or “dwell in.” The priest wants the commandments of God always to be so deeply within him and a part of all he does that he desires from the bottom of his heart that these commandments dwell within him.
Using the word mandatis also calls to mind the mandatum novum or “new commandment” of love which our Lord gave to the apostles on Holy Thursday. The new commandment sums up and exceeds all the others, and it is the one that cannot be fulfilled unless Jesus himself inheres in us: “love one another as I love you” (John 13:34). As the priest prepares to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, he asks for the greatest effect of Holy Communion, namely to love as Jesus loves or, more accurately, to love with Jesus’ own love or even to let Jesus enter into him that Jesus may love from within him.
The last part of the prayer extends the petition in duration as the priest prepares to receive the Son of God into himself in holy Communion. He asks God for the grace that will never end: “let me never be separated from you.” It is the grace of constant presence to the point of final perseverance. It evokes a sentiment similar to the post-Communion prayer of Padre Pio in which he humbly begs: “Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have You present so that I do not forget You. You know how easily I abandon You.” It is a prayer for the Lord to stay with us so that we will stay with him.
We come now finally back to the beginning of this beautiful prayer to acknowledge the rich Trinitarian theology that is expressed in the first phrases. The will of the Father, the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, and the death of the living God in Jesus Christ vivify the whole world. The priest offers this prayer at the altar, before the consecrated Host and the Blood-filled chalice, in the midst of the white-hot furnace of divine love that explodes outward to make the world pulsate with life and glow with love. Without the Trinitarian conspiracy of salvation that led to the death of Christ everything is merely fading away; but with divine life poured out from the Cross into this dying world through baptized souls and Eucharistic renewal, the world begins to radiate again with the power of redemption, and the hope of a new heaven and a new earth enters into the darkness of this world and the shadow of death. It is precisely this living and life-giving power of Christ’s Body and Blood that we need to free us, inhere in us, and never be separated from us.
For previous instalments of Father Hicks’s The Quiet that Speaks series, see:
- Introduction to the series and the examination of the prayer Munda cor meum (“Cleanse my heart”)
- Per evangelica dicta (“Through the words of the Gospel”)
- Per huius aquae et vini mysterium (“By the mystery of this water and wine”)
- In spiritu humilitatis (“With humble spirit”)
- Lava me, Domine (“Wash me, O Lord”)
- Haec commixtio: (“May this mingling”)
- P. GUÉRANGER, Explanation of the Prayers and Ceremonies of Holy Mass, tr. L. Shepherd, Stanbrook Abbey (Worcestershire, 1885), 63.↑