Wednesday, May 11th, 2022

‘Accepi a Domino et tradidi’: A Sermon for Maundy Thursday

Brothers and sisters: I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you‘ (1 Corinthians 11).

It is probably fair to say that the priest is never more himself than on Maundy Thursday–more than on the day of his ordination, nor even on the day of his first Mass. The priest feels his origins on this night of all nights. Tonight is where he comes from. Because it was on this night, two millennia past, that the Most Holy Eucharist was given to the Church, a Sacrament we cannot even begin to understand. But our ignorance is part of the wonder.

But this evening is obviously not simply for priests. You might even say that it isn’t for priests at all, though it is about them. Rather, tonight reminds us of an essential truth: the Catholic people are a people of priests. We are baptized by priests; forgiven by priests; fed by priests; taught, encouraged, consoled, and guided by priests; married by priests, ordained by priests; and in the last moments of life, we are anointed, prayed for, and buried by priests.

In our times, sometimes this is forgotten. In our time, hardly anyone knows what a priest is; and his name is so often synonymous with evil insinuations. We should not be surprised by this. We heard about Judas in the Gospel; and sad to say, even in our time, people remember Judas, but forget the Eleven.

But the truth remains: Catholics are a people of priests. St Paul said it: ‘Brothers and sisters: I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.’ So it is, that there is no real Christianity without priests, because there is no Christianity without Christ. Tonight, we are reminded of it. Though in our weakness we forget; though in our weakness we priests will always fail to live up to it–Christ remains close to us by means of his priests. Unshakably, undeniably close. Please God we never forget.

So we will go in procession after Mass; we priests will carry the Treasure of the Church in the Most Blessed Sacrament. And as you watch us go, you will see us for who we are. In the world, you see us around the office, around town, in the hospital–in a word, wherever Christ wants to extend his presence. But this evening, when we go in procession, you will see us priests for who we really are: bearing up the Sacramental gifts like slaves and like princes.

Which puts me in mind of something I read earlier this year. The French writer Leon Bloy wrote a letter to some priest friends of his. He was going through a period of difficulty and he wrote to them these shining words: “Console me if you can, but above all, pray for me; pray for me like the princes of the Blood of God which you have the honor to be.” 1


[1] Quoted in Pilgrim of the Absolute, (Providence, Rhode Island: Cluny Media).

{Art Credit: St Peter Consecrates St Lawrence as Deacon, Fra Angelico; Vatican City, Niccoline Chapel.}

Homilies & Sermons