“Do this in memory of me.” We are commanded to remember the supreme love of Christ for us that holds nothing back, that gives everything for our freedom. So naturally the sacrificial banquet of remembrance is called the Eucharist, or “thanksgiving.” The priest introduces the great central prayer of the celebration with these words: “let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” And we respond “it is right to give him thanks and praise.”
During the Eucharistic Prayer, I always silently add thanks for my personal blessings. I think of the natural blessings of home and work, of food on the table and the health of my family. I also thank God for my own salvation history, especially for plucking me out of the dangerous crowd I was running with as a teenager. I thank God for bringing me together with a woman who loves him and loves me, and for having kept us faithful to him and each other for many years and blessed us with wonderful children who love him. I thank him for our own family’s salvation history.
If you haven’t already established the habit of adding your personalized thank-you’s to the priest’s Eucharistic Prayer, try it next time you’re at Mass. It’s a very appropriate mode of participating in that part of the Eucharist.
But true thanksgiving is not just a matter of words and warm sentiments. Gratitude for a gift means offering a gift in return. He gave his whole, entire self to us–his body, blood, soul, divinity. The only adequate response would be to offer ourselves. Note what Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1).
So thanksgiving cannot be separated from sacrifice. The Mass is a celebration of his love and the freedom it won for us through his sacrifice. Through it, the love of God is poured into our hearts and enables us to love with his love. In the power of that love, we offer ourselves back to him and enter into that sacrifice which we celebrate.
True thanksgiving means self-giving. This is the meaning of eucharist.
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