As we approach the feast of Thanksgiving in this country, it is helpful to reflect upon the fact the centrality of thanksgiving in Catholic thought and practice. In fact, the word Eucharist comes from the Greek work for thanksgiving. For when Jesus instituted the Mass and the Eucharist at the Last Supper, He gave thanks to God as He had done when performing miracles during His public ministry. See, e.g., Matt. 15:36, 26:27; Mark 8:6, 14:23; Luke 22:17-19; John 11:41. One may reasonably ask why the theme of thanksgiving is so connected to receiving the power of God and to the Eucharist in particular.
There are, among other things, three related reasons for this connection. First, when we give thanks to God, we become more open to His glory and thus more able to receive the good things that He wishes to give. If, by contrast, a person sees the good things of earth as mere random occurrences or benefits that he is entitled to, he will not look beyond those benefits to see the greater things that God wants to give; and there is also a sense of anger and frustration when those good things are taken away, instead of an openness to the doors God opens elsewhere. Connected to this openness to the will of God, thanksgiving gives us a mystical joy in the good things that He gives now because we see in them signs of the invisible love that endures as the events and benefits of this world come and go. Thus, St. Paul says, “Rejoice always; pray constantly; give thanks in all circumstances.” 1 Thess. 5:16-18. And then, building upon that greater vision, when we see the good things of this world as visible signs of God’s invisible goodness, we are more able to sense the sacraments for what they are, visible signs that truly confer invisible grace and friendship with God.
Thus, at every Mass, we join with Jesus Christ in giving thanks to God for the benefits He has given to us so far. And we ask God for the joy of knowing that an even greater realm joins with us as we praise God. With this great vision and joy, we are then able to see in what was mere bread and wine Jesus Christ Himself present to us in signs on earth and ready one day to welcome us into everlasting glory.