Why We Should Add The Mass to the List of What We Are Grateful For
‘Tis the season for large family dinners, pies, and elastic pants. Holidays are frequently celebrated with food. That pattern was not founded by people who love pies and Christmas cookies—scripturally, God has celebrated covenants with His people with a feast. There is no better example of this than the Holy Eucharist, instituted at the Last Supper. The seasonal tie-in is convenient, for the Greek origin of ‘eucharist’ means thanksgiving.
Despite the trials and craziness of our present time, we still have an overwhelming amount of reasons for gratitude. For Catholics, there is no better place to express that than in the Eucharist.
The Vital Virtue of Gratitude
For the week of Thanksgiving, the token question is, what are we thankful for? Sometimes that is a difficult question to answer without talking in clichés. Gratitude needs to be genuine, as well as come from a place of humility. St. Thomas Aquinas added another facet. He spoke of it in terms of something owed:
“The debt of gratitude flows from charity, which the more it is paid the more it is due, according to Romans 13:8, ‘Owe no man anything, but to love one another.’ Wherefore it is not unreasonable if the obligation of gratitude has no limit.” (Summa II-II, Q. 106, A. 6)
Gratitude rooted in charity has no limit—for true charity has to be freely given—because, as St. John teaches us, “God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 John 4:8-9). Our expressions of charity participate in the divine love that was gratuitously given to us.
That gratuitous love showered upon us should inspire our gratitude to God. We have a beautiful earth created specially to be our home: from the starry sky to the depths of the ocean, from the highest mountains to majestic waterfalls, to the sands of the beach to the trees of the forest. For scriptural expressions of this, check out Daniel 3:29-68 or Psalm 148.
On top of that, we should be grateful to God for salvation. He created humanity out of love and bound Himself to us through covenants. Jesus became incarnate to deliver us from sin and open the gates of heaven to us. God does not need us in heaven but wants us there to share in His perfect love.
It is in light of the created world and God’s plan for our salvation that we can cry out with a spirit of gratitude to the Holy Trinity. St. Paul’s exhortation to “rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances,” even in circumstances like the cross, does not sound crazy (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Jesus gave us a special way to give thanks in the Eucharist. What happens theologically is that there is only one Mass and one Eucharist. The Church does not grasp heaven and pull it down to us. Rather, we are brought up into heaven into the one eternal sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary. It’s like a divine thunderbolt that joined heaven and earth: Jesus offering Himself in the Eucharist and on the cross, simultaneously accomplishing something temporal and eternal in His Body and Blood. Put another way, there has been one Eucharist for the last 2,000 years. We enter into the sacrifice and the saving event of the Last Supper and Calvary.
When the priest offers the consecrated Precious Body and Blood of Jesus, he does so in the person of Christ. That is, it is not Fr. So-and-So; it is Jesus making the offering of Himself to the Father. In addition to the Eucharist, the entire mystical Body of Christ is part of the offering to the Father. That includes the communion of saints in heaven, who enjoy the fullness of union with Christ; those on earth, who have sacramental union with Christ; those in Purgatory, who await heaven after their purification is finished. (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church #1370-1371)
The sacrifice of the Mass has quite a wide reach with just that. But it does not stop there! The Catechism lays it out: “In the Eucharistic sacrifice the whole of creation loved by God is presented to the Father through the death and the Resurrection of Christ” (#1359). To recap: in the sacrifice of the Mass, it is the joining of heaven and earth when Jesus offers Himself; it is personal, that is, all of the members of the mystical Body of Christ offer their hearts; and it is cosmic in that the whole of creation is also offered back to the Father.
The glory of the Eucharist cannot be contained by time, death, or nature.
Thanks and Praise to God
St. Thomas Aquinas’ debt of gratitude then grows larger. Out of our list of everything to be grateful for, we need to add the Mass.
For this year’s Thanksgiving, it is a good practice to go to Mass on Thanksgiving Day. Reach throughout history, eternity, and the entire universe to give thanks and praise to God.
Although Thanksgiving Day commemorates a meal in 1621 shared by English Puritans and the Native Americans. Catholics have a one-up on that shared feast: the first Mass and meal shared between European explorers/colonists and Native Americans was in 1565 in what is now St. Augustine, Florida.
A Catholic spirit of gratitude naturally flows out into the sacraments, out to the world, and into daily life.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)