The Eucharist as thanksgiving

| Father Michael Van Sloun | November 20, 2018 | 0 Comments

You have no idea how many people have told me, “I don’t get anything out of Mass.” I am quick to reply, “You have it backwards. You don’t come to Mass to get something. You come to Mass to give something, and that something is your thanks to our good and gracious God for the blessings that you have received.”

Sometimes the person will add, “And Mass is boring, too.” So I will needle the grumbler, “Have you received any blessings this week?” Usually there is a blank stare and a long pause. After a brief uneasy silence, I pipe up, “What about each new day? You have your health, food on the table, clothes on your back, a roof over your head, money in your pocket, friends at your side and some happy experiences, too.”

This brief exchange is headed to two final questions. “Where did all of this come from?” For a person of faith, the correct answer is, “God.”

“And, what did you do to deserve it?” The correct answer is, “Nothing.” Everything that we receive over the course of a week is an undeserved gift from our benevolent and generous God, and if all is a gift, the least a person can do is set aside an hour a week to go to Mass to give God praise and thanks.

Actually, once a week is not enough. At the parish where I served on the South Side of Chicago, there was a spiritual hymn that was one of the congregation’s favorites: “Every day is a day of thanksgiving. God’s been so good to me. He’s been blessing me. Every day is a day of thanksgiving. Glorify the Lord today.”

When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he established it as an act of thanksgiving. The Words of Institution are: “He took the bread, and giving thanks, broke it,” and, “He took the chalice, and once more giving thanks, he gave it to his disciples” (see Lk 22:19, 17 and 1 Cor 11:24). The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes this as “consecratory thanksgiving” (No. 1346). The two substances, bread and wine, are signs of gratitude, as first seen when the priest Melchizedek offered bread and wine to thank God the Creator for the fruits of the earth (Gn 14:18-20).

The Greek word “eucharisteo” means “to give thanks.” The Catechism states that the Eucharist “is an act of thanksgiving to God” (No. 1329). The entire Mass is a prayer of thanksgiving, which is stated explicitly in some prayers and implied throughout. The priest says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” and the congregation replies, “It is right and just.” The Preface continues, “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father.” The Preface concludes with the “Holy, Holy,” a hymn of praise that gives thanks to God. Similarly, the words of the doxology are, “Through him and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever” — a joyful song of praise to offer thanks to God.

After we receive holy Communion and Christ is really present to us in an intensified sacramental way, it is a perfect time to have a chat with the Lord, to mention a few of the blessings we have received over the past week, and to tell Jesus just how grateful we are. All we have is from God, and without God we would have nothing. It is an empty argument to say, “I don’t get anything out of Mass.” We go because we owe God our praise and thanks.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. Read more of his writing at

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Category: Faith Fundamentals