At Thanksgiving we can celebrate the Eucharist, ‘God’s greatest gift’

Published: November 20, 2004

By Father Erik Pohlmeier

In many ways Thanksgiving is the model holiday. It is a time of gathering with family and friends for good food and good memories, but without the commercial blitz of Christmas or the aisles and aisles of Halloween costumes and candy. There is not a lot of hype for Thanksgiving; it kind of sneaks in there as a day to catch our breath for the whirlwind of the next month. Of course, it does not have the religious significance of Easter or Christmas, but it fits easily into the routine of faithful Catholics. There is a sense of gratitude for the blessings we have in this country and for the closeness of family ties. There is a sense of peace, knowing how many people across the land are engaged in the same traditions, the same spirit of gratitude. As Catholic Americans we should enjoy such celebrations with our country, but we should also go a step deeper on this particular day, because giving thanks is central to our life of faith. The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. The Eucharist, the “source and summit of Christian life,” is God’s greatest gift and our celebration of that gift is an act of thanksgiving. In the Old Testament we see moments of spontaneous praise for the work of God among his people. On the lips of many we hear “Blessed be the Lord” (e.g. Gen 24:27) for his goodness and power. That cry of praise became a part of formal worship into the time of Jesus and was followed by prayers of thanksgiving and petition. At the Last Supper, while instituting the ritual of the Eucharist, Jesus gave thanks to his Father. (e.g. Matt 26:26-27) In Jesus’ words and actions we find the origin of this sacrament. At a general audience in 2000 Pope John Paul II put it this way, “United to the sacrifice of Christ, the Church in the Eucharist gives voice to the praise of the entire creation.” On the fourth Thursday of November each year our country unites in thanksgiving. At every Mass all of creation unites in thanksgiving for blessings that last through eternal life. At Mass we unite in thanksgiving for our very salvation. We are in the beginning of the Year of the Eucharist. For the next 11 months we are asked to commit more fully to the Eucharist, to discover new enthusiasm for this gift that is the source and summit of Christian life. Like the people of God in the Scriptures, we look to echo that spontaneous prayer, “Blessed be the Lord for his goodness and power.” For this year the Holy Father makes clear his desire for each of us. “May all of you, the Christian faithful, rediscover the gift of the Eucharist as light and strength for your daily lives in the world, in the exercise of your respective professions amid so many different situations. Rediscover this above all in order to experience fully the beauty and the mission of the family.” (Mane Nobiscum Domine, 30) As you gather with your family for the traditional day of Thanksgiving, don’t forget our greatest gift. Make every effort to include the Mass as part of your time together. Enjoy the day for all it represents. Be grateful for our country, for the freedom it offers, and do not neglect the Lord who is most generous with all his gifts. Father Erik Pohlmeier is the theological consultant for Arkansas Catholic and pastor at Our Lady of the Lake Church in Lake Village.