The Greek word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving. We would be pardoned if we thought it is a religious word only since that is how we use it. But it is an ancient concept vital to any relationship, human to God, spouse to spouse, child to parent, friend to friend. Once we become aware that we are indebted to someone because he or she has done something good for us, a natural desire pushes us to thank that person. It has to be cultivated in children since they enter the world curled up in a fetal position, squalling and bawling, thinking they are the world’s center. In our 2s, we start saying everything is mine, with a built-in sense of entitlement. Usually our parents help us get beyond this.
Go to a Greek restaurant, and if you like the dinner, say “Efkaristo” to the owner. Surprised, he or she might reply “Para kalo.” The owner tells us we are welcome, perhaps grateful to hear it in the native language. We have a natural wish to show appreciation with a Thank You. Hallmark and other companies are well aware.
The Eucharistic prayer at Mass starts with the priest calling for the congregation to show appreciation. He says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” Why? The Preface tells us why since it is geared to the current feast. There are over 84 of them in the Missal. In the old days we had just a few. While the feast varies, from Advent to Christ the King, we are thanking God for the same thing at every Mass: the unmerited gift of Christ’s redemptive life, death and resurrection. We never want to tire thanking God for deliverance from our sinfulness in a gratuitous act of goodness. If God were more like us, God would have wanted a pound of flesh for our part in crucifying his only son. Any of us who ever sinned is responsible.
Thank God, God is not like us, try as we might to remake him in our image and likeness with a gospel of prosperity. When the conspiratorial power of the Jerusalem high priest and the Roman procurator railroaded the Lord to die when all parties knew he was innocent, God could have been vindictive. When children ask parents why Jesus was crucified, often Mom and Dad don’t know how to answer. But there could not have been an Easter Sunday without a Good Friday. There could not have been a rising from the dead without a death. For an adult that is a lot to grasp, but children can know an all-loving, all-forgiving father, if at home they are lucky.
Our civic holiday here in the United States owes its origin to President Abraham Lincoln, who at perhaps the worst time of national slaughter, called for a religious gesture, and without fear of breaching the wall of separation between church and state. I think Lincoln would have laughed at the notion of hesitating for that reason. But with our great national diversity derived from centuries of waves of immigrants, Americans of any faith take a holiday to ritually gather at a table of turkey and/or many other delights and give thanks. Football and Black Friday loom in the wings, but we owe it to the cook to sit and enjoy both the food and the folks at the table. Maybe some help in cleaning up afterward would occasion some thanks.
I give thanks this fall for the unmerited gift of 50 years as a diocesan priest here in the diocese. As people usually say at such events, it does not seem possible that so much time could have slipped by so quickly. It is true but I don’t know why. God has brought many wonderful, supportive people into my life and ministry, and to them I am especially grateful. My classmates and I never anticipated the crisis of the abuse scandal, but may God make it a hidden blessing as it forces us to struggle to bring about systemic reform in the church. We need to do this. Our common priesthood, shared by classmates and by parishioners rejoicing in their Priesthood of the Faithful, was meant to benefit the People of God and all the world. Let us gratefully give thanks, laity, clergy and hierarchy, to God who loves us.
Disenchanted Catholics may complain that “Mass is always the same.” If it becomes anything less, we all lose. There is no way to say thanks too often.