Thursday, April 1st, 2021

‘Quid retribuam Domino?’ A Sermon for Maundy Thursday

How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me? The cup of salvation I will take up (Psalm 115, 12-13).

Dear friends, this evening is about the uniqueness of a gift.

Think of all of the things that we handle in this life; all the things that we do and all the things we gather around. Think of all the things we talk about and hear about and read about. Think of all the things we see and experience.—Could any of it fit into the same category as, does any of it compare to the Most Blessed Sacrament? As we begin these three most sacred days, it is not out of place for us simply to stop and to wonder. This evening is about many things; but it is certainly about the uniqueness and the power of a gift.

We know that Our Blessed Lord did something totally unique on the night he was betrayed, as St Paul reminds us in the second lesson: “Brothers and sisters: I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread . . .” and so forth. Certainly the Jews already had prayers and ceremonies that sanctified their daily eating of common food; Our Lord did not need to change those. No, this was not simply about modifying the way you said grace before meals. Something powerfully new was going on during that first Holy Thursday.

The first Holy Mass was getting started; the offertory had begun.

There is an old axiom that comes out of canon law and liturgical theology; and it sheds light on this evening gift: Sacramenta propter homines; the Sacraments are for men, for mankind. And so they are. Which is why we heard the Psalmist ask this evening that most wonderful of rhetorical questions: Quid retribuam Domino? ‘How shall I make a return to the Lord?’ How, indeed?

This evening is about a gift given, the worth of which we will never be able to estimate in this life. The Most Blessed Sacrament is that most strange and mind-boggling gift—and this evening we could say much about the theology of this Sacrament: about its prefigurement in the Old Testament, about how the Church celebrates it with her liturgy, about the reverence we should have toward it, and so forth. But this evening, for now, I would rather make the simpler invitation to wonder: to wonder and appreciate in some measure the utter uniqueness of the gift. Because Catholics learn who they are by the gifts they have received.

For those of us who are going to keep watch beside the Altar of Repose, we have the words of our prayer: Quid retribuam Domino? We all have the words of our prayer, despite the trials of the past year and whatever may currently be afflicting us. How shall I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?    


{Art Credit: Ferdinando Cavalleri (1794-1865), Corpus Christi Procession with Pope Gregory XVI in the Vatican.}

Homilies & Sermons