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The Centurion’s Prayer lessons

August 05, 2015 | posted by



By Theresa Doyle-Nelson
For Today’s Catholic

One of my favorite CCD lessons to present is “The Centurion’s Prayer.” I start by bringing to class an illustration of a Roman Centurion (a Google Image search brings up a nice selection), and then proceed to explain some of the basic qualities of these ancient military officers.

For example, Roman Centurions were considered to be exceptionally bold soldiers, tough, and fearless of death — often taking dangerous lead positions in battle. They rose in rank due to their extraordinary courage, received high salaries for their work, and commanded about 100 legionary soldiers. I also remind the students that it was a Roman Centurion who oversaw the Crucifixion of Jesus. Then, I like to ask the kids to share some words that might describe a typical Roman Centurion. Words like strong and brave usually come out. With a bit of prompting, words like intimidating, confident, and proud might get suggested too. And all tend to agree that Roman Centurions were most likely not daunted by poor, humble carpenters or preachers.

Then, by reading from a picture Bible, or having older kids open up their Bibles or Bible Apps, and reviewing the narrative found in both Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10, the students are made aware (or reminded) that there was at least one Roman Centurion who felt humbled before Jesus. These passages share of the centurion who fretted over an ill servant and requested help from Jesus. The centurion, however, felt undeserving to have Jesus come to his home; but had great confidence that a healing could take place with a mere word. The students often begin to show signs of wonder over the story, and they often recognize some key words in the verses:

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” — Matthew 8:8

“Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed.” — Luke 7:6b-7

They usually recognize the slightly altered variation (“soul” substituted for “servant”) of these passages from Mass during the last prayer we pray before receiving the Eucharist: Lord, I am not worthy That you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

It doesn’t take too much discussion for the class to agree that this is a perfect prayer to say right before Holy Communion, right before we ingest the body and blood of Christ. For, truly, who is worthy of such a gift? Their homework for the week is to say “The Centurion’s Prayer” with more heart the next time they go to Mass; and it is my hope that they will remember the centurion story and embrace this prayer more deeply in all of their future masses.

A Little Extra …

Whether you teach Religious Education, or would simply like to ponder more on The Centurion’s Prayer, consider a few extension activities.

1) After reading the two narratives about The Healing of a Centurion’s Servant (Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10) look up footnotes to read and discuss.

2) Visit your church and look for any Stations of the Cross with a centurion in it.

3) The next time you say the Centurion’s Prayer at mass before communion, think about that biblical centurion’s humility and try to say the words with more thought and contemplation.

4) Explore stories of some other Christ-respecting centurions in the Bible:

Saint Longinus — The centurion believed to have pierced the side of Jesus (John 19:33-34) and who proclaimed the divinity of Jesus upon His death (Mark 15:39).

Saint Cornelius — A centurion with a deep respect for the Jewish Faith who met with Peter and then became one of the first Gentiles to embrace Christianity and be baptized (Acts 10).

Julius — A centurion who treated St. Paul with kindness during his journey to Rome (Acts 27).   

Theresa Doyle-Nelson is a parishioner at St. Stanislaus in Bandera. She can be contacted through