Why Call It Eucharist (Thanksgiving)?

Jesus said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer”… And He took bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My Body which is given for you.”  And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:15, 19-20).

It is one of those realizations that leave you speechless.  There was something significantly more, qualitatively more, going on in Jesus’ prayer than the traditional, “Blessed are You, L-rd, our G-d, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth” (Passover Haggadah, translated into English).  Jesus gave thanks to His Father for the True Bread, His Body, that would be broken for us.  He thanked the Father that He was able to offer Himself for our redemption! We see how difficult this was for Him when, just a few hours later, we glimpse Him in the Garden of Gethsemane; and yet, almost paradoxically, it was an offering He “earnestly desired” to make.

Historically at Calvary, and sacramentally at Jesus’ final Passover, we see our Lord living out as a man, Who He is from all eternity — the Son of the Father.  For it is the Son Who receives all He is from the Father and reciprocates by pouring out Himself to the Father, in the Person of the Spirit.  This is the same Trinitarian movement we see in the Cross/Eucharist — but with the Son’s humanity now fully caught up into His outpouring of Love.  The Son, Who has received all He is, “gives thanks,” by pouring Himself out in a return of Love. And because He does this as man, His action overwhelmingly atones for — and superabundantly redeems — all sin, man and woman’s rejection of God.

By calling what we Christians “do” Eucharist (the Greek word for “thanksgiving”), we make a profound statement.  We have been made sons and daughters in the only Son, and we enter into His Gift of Self to the Father.  Like Him, we who have received all we are from the Father, give ourselves back to Him in a movement of thanksgiving/Love — the Holy Spirit pouring forth from Jesus, and carrying us into the arms of the Father.  It only makes sense that the Eucharist, what the Church calls “the source and summit of the Christian life,” should be a manifestation of its central Mystery — God’s own Trinitarian Life.

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  • eucharisted

    The Eucharist is objectively called Eucharist because it is the fulfillment of the prophecy that the Messiah would cease all sacrifices save one: the thank offering. This is the prophecy alluded to in Hebrews.

    The Eucharist is subjectively called Eucharist because by our initiation into the Body of Christ which is the Church we share in Christ’s Sacrifice by offering up ourselves to God in thanksgiving and praise.

  • eucharisted – thank you for the comment!

    The Mishnah (compiled in the 2nd century A.D., but reflecting older traditions)does record the rabbinic belief that the Todah, or thanksgiving sacrifice, would be the only one to continue after the time of the Messiah. It’s good that you raise that point because the Passover can be viewed as Israel’s annual, national Todah. And it is the Passover, with its integral giving of thanks, that Jesus selected to lift up and give its definitive meaning in the Sacrament.

    What puts me in awe is how all of this – from the rites of Israel, to the actions of Jesus, to those actions’ sacramental representation in the Church – manifests the Trinitarian dynamic. The Passover, the various todahs (sacrificial, thanksgiving meals) recounted in Israel’s history, Jesus’ ministry in the Holy Spirit, His sacrifice upon the Cross, ALL of these are a revelation and manifestation of our central mystery, the Trinity.

    The Trinity “is the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them” [CCC 234] – the sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise(Heb.13:15) not excluded. This truth of the Trinity – Jesus giving Himself to the Father in the Spirit – underlying our entire Faith, is what “forced” me to title the book “The God Who is Love: Explaining Christianity From Its Center.” Thank you for that follow-up, and letting me wax on a little more.