During this time of National Eucharistic Revival, the season of Thanksgiving gives us a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon and be thankful for the sublime gift of the Eucharist. After all, the word Eucharist means “thanksgiving” and refers to the giving of thanks which our Lord offered at the Last Supper. The Eucharist also reminds us of that for which we should be thankful.
Every time we celebrate Mass, we recall that Jesus took bread and wine, gave thanks to His Father and then pronounced over the bread and wine that it was His Body and Blood. Our faith tells us that every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we transcend time and space and enter into this action of Jesus. His Passion, Death and Resurrection are before us, and the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. They are His Real Presence and only the appearance of bread and wine remain. As the Lord gave thanks in handing over Himself for us at the Last Supper, it is well for us to reflect upon that for which He was giving thanks. During this Thanksgiving season, Christ’s giving thanks should offer us the basis for our own.
First, Jesus gave thanks to God for the gift of food -- the bread and wine which He transformed into Himself as our food. At the Passover ritual, it was customary to pronounce a blessing of thanksgiving for the meal. This is precisely what Jesus did at that Passover supper. However, Jesus always showed great appreciation for the gift of daily food. So many times in the Gospels we encounter Him in the context of a meal. He often used a meal as the setting for His parables and He taught us to pray every day for our daily bread. Knowing that He would give Himself to us in the Eucharist as the Bread of Life, He many times referred to food and sustenance which goes beyond this life.
We thank God, like Christ, for the gift of our food which gives us nourishment and enjoyment. So many times, we can take our daily bread for granted. The best manner of giving thanks for food is to be aware of those in need who do not share the food that we have. Reaching out to the hungry, not only during the season of Thanksgiving, but throughout the year, should be a staple of our life. We should also give thanks for our sustenance by being aware and grateful to those who prepare our food and make it possible for us to eat. In Florida, where there are so many farmworkers who labor in different ways, we should be keenly aware of their work with the fruits of God’s earth which they provide for us. We should also be aware of the labors and sufferings, and the sometimes-unjust conditions they endure in order that we might have food. Let us thank God, not only for our food, but also for the unseen work of the farmworkers’ hands.
When Jesus gave thanks at the Last Supper, He also gave thanks for that present moment. While anticipating His Passion and Death on the next day, He was grateful for the present opportunity to be at the Last Supper with His apostles. His gratitude for that present moment was so intense that He brought His Passion and Death into it making it one with the bread and wine of His Sacrifice for us. He did not flee from the present but appreciated it and in that moment encountered His Father’s Presence.
We too need to be grateful for the present moment that is before us. It will never be repeated again. So many times, we can be so preoccupied with the past and concerned about the future that we miss what is before us. We not only miss it, but we do not appreciate it. The present is all we have, and it is in the present that God is to be found. At Thanksgiving, let us be grateful for where we are now, realizing that it is a gift from God. Let us be grateful for the gift of life which we now share. We most effectively show our gratitude for this great gift by our respect for the life and dignity of every person made in the image and likeness of God, from the moment of conception until natural death. With this type of gratitude, we are also grateful and hopeful for the gift of eternal life which is truly given to us through the Eucharist.
Finally, Jesus gave thanks for each and every one of us as He gave us His Body and Blood in that first Eucharist. As He gave thanks for food, for the present moment and for life, He gave supreme thanks for the intimate relationship He had with His Father which defined His very Being. In that relationship He gave thanks for each and every one of us, not as a group, but individually as we are. As He gave us the gift of Himself, He held each and every one of us before Him at the Last Supper. He gave thanks for us with all of the good that His Father put in us. He gave thanks for us even with our sins and our faults for which He would freely give His life on the Cross. In thanksgiving, He put us before Him and was able to say, "This is my Body which will be given up for you," and “This is the Chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” This aspect of Christ’s thanksgiving is at the core of the Eucharist.
At Thanksgiving, we need to be thankful for the most important gift that we have -- our relationship to God in Christ. God loves us and desires a real relationship with us. Only this relationship gives meaning and purpose to life. All else, including the present moment, will pass, but our relationship to God will not. It is this relationship which will take us into eternity where there will be no more time but only the experience of God’s enduring love in the eternal liturgy of the Eucharist. We are brought into that reality in the present moment when we celebrate the great gift of the Eucharist for which we are most grateful.
It is my privilege to wish you and your families a Happy Thanksgiving centered on Christ and His Real and enduring Eucharistic Presence!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
November 18, 2022