Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
November 23, 2017 10:30 AM
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Sirach 50:22-24 Psalm 45:2-11
I Corinthians 1:3-9 Luke 17:11-19
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
Secular authority in our country designated today to give thanks, to show our gratitude for all the blessings of life. For most people, that includes family, friends, and perhaps economic success. Those prone to American Exceptionalism give thanks for living in the United States rather than elsewhere. Christians, however, give thanks to God, first and foremost, for the simple gift of life itself, rather than gloat over whatever good fortunes life has brought us.
Common folklore tells us that the first thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims, who were anti-Catholic refugees from the Church of England, in Massachusetts in about the year 1621. However, it actually started earlier, and it was originated by Catholics, not protestants. On April thirty, in the year 1598, in Texas, Don Juan de Oñate declared a day of Thanksgiving, commemorated by a Mass.
How appropriate that was! Because when we Christians celebrate the Eucharist, we give thanks! The very word “Eucharist” comes from a Greek word that means giving thanks, or showing gratitude. Giving thanks is at the heart of the Mass. The Eucharistic Prayer is often called “The Great Thanksgiving.” The preface dialogue between the presider and assembly has the presider saying, or preferably, singing, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” to which the assembly responds, “It is right to give Him thanks and praise.” The presider then continues, “It is right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere, to give you thanks…” The preface concludes with an invitation to join the whole company of heaven in praising God, because when we praise God, we thank God. It’s so natural for us to say, thank you God, for everything you’ve done for us, and for that, we praise you.
But the Eucharistic Prayer is not the only part of the Mass where we give thanks. After the first and second readings, the reader ends with, “the word of the Lord,” to which we respond, “thanks be to God.” After communion is distributed and the Altar cleared, we sing or say a prayer after communion, thanking God for the gift of His Son in the sacrament. In fact, in the traditional Anglican rite, there is an unchanging post-communion prayer that begins, “Almighty and everliving God, we thank you for feeding us,” or other words to that effect. And when the Mass ends, the deacon or presider sings or says, “Go in peace” or in Lent, “Let us bless the Lord, to which the response is, “Thanks be to God.”
For Catholic Christians, the Eucharist is “the source and summit of Christian life,” according to Paragraph 11 in the Vatican II document known as “Lumen Gentium.” Given derivation of the word Eucharist, we can accurately say that gratitude, being thankful to God for who we are, where we are, and what we are, is at the center of what it really means to be a Christian. Despite whatever other troubles we may have in our lives, be it illness, poverty, natural disasters, or any other kind of distress or suffering, being Christian means giving thanks for the things in our life, few as they may be, that are going well for us. That is why, despite the fact that Thanksgiving Day is not a traditional liturgical feast on the church calendar, Mass on Thanksgiving Day is most appropriate and will always be celebrated here at Saint Cecilia Catholic Community.
We Catholic Christians are people known for giving thanks because we do it so much. For us, giving thanks is an ingrained habit not confined to one day a year. It is something we do all the time, every time we celebrate the Eucharist. Thanksgiving Day, and indeed every day, should be a time when we give thanks to Jesus for celebrating first Eucharist at the Last Supper. Indeed, the very words spoken by Jesus Himself, recall for us that he blessed the bread and blessed the wine, “when he had given thanks.”
The centrality of the Eucharist to Christian life is where the rubber meets the road in distinguishing catholic Christians from those of other Christian persuasions. I seriously doubt the pilgrims had anything resembling a Mass at their thanksgiving, simply because they did not have an ordained priest among them. Moreover, part of their program was getting rid of bishops and dissing the Apostolic Succession, and their church services did not include Holy Communion every Sunday; in fact they were known to have it only four times a year, or less, and for them, communions was a mere memorial, not a manifestation of the actual, real, physical presence of Jesus in the form of bread and wine.
Our secular sisters and brothers will celebrate Thanksgiving Day to honor the joys of everyday life by consuming large amounts of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, and other delicious things, as we ourselves will do today. But for Catholic Christians, the Eucharist, not turkey day, is, always has been, and always will be, the true “the source and summit of Christian Life.” Thanksgiving Day should be a day when we thank God that the Mass is the principal act of Sunday worship every Sunday celebrated by priests ordained in the succession of the Apostles, where we give thanks over and over again throughout the service, for the Word of God and for the real, actual, physical presence of Jesus among us.
But the meaning of the Mass for which we should be thankful is not confined to receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. At the end of Mass, we are sent out to do God’s work outside the walls of the church. That work can be as simple as holding a door open for those carrying something, giving directions to a lost person, or even saying hello and wishing someone a nice day. More likely than not, those for whom we do these things will say, “Thank you.” What an excellent way to start a conversation to invite someone to Mass here at St. Cecilia’s! Have you heard the saying, “what goes around comes around?” If that person shows up for Mass, thanksgiving will truly manifest itself as an circle that starts and ends with the gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, truly the Great Thanksgiving. AMEN.