The Eucharist: Our True Thanksgiving Meal
Each year, on the fourth Thursday of November, Americans gather with their people around the nation for feasts of thanksgiving. They break bread with their loved ones, and take time to express gratitude for the blessings of the year. For many Americans, the day is one of only a handful in the year when they can be reunited with their families.
Though the history of the Thanksgiving meal might be less charming than our stories suggest, the modern motivations behind the Thanksgiving meal are basically good. The urge to set aside sacred time for expressing gratitude in a society that encourages self-involvement is good. The urge to gather with loved ones and break bread is good. But for Catholics, the Thanksgiving meal always falls short of the Kingdom living to which we are called.
Catholics are a Thanksgiving people, and their feast is celebrated almost every day, in almost every place in the world. It’s called the Eucharist (from Greek eukharistia, ‘thanksgiving’), and it goes beyond Thanksgiving Day in two very important ways:
1. It’s a lifestyle, not a holiday
The Thanksgiving feast of the world is, like the world, stained by sin. For one thing, it is stained by gluttony and consumerism. For another, it is compartmentalized away from our daily living. By its very existence, we are encouraged not to adopt an attitude of thanksgiving into every moment, and to associate the giving of thanks with infrequency, excess, and self-reward.
The Eucharistic Celebration, on the other hand, is totally absent of any gluttony or consumerism and is celebrated daily. The reward we receive from participation in the Eucharist is not material. It doesn’t taste particularly good. It doesn’t physically satiate us (or over-satiate us, as does Thanksgiving). It doesn’t make us laugh, or make us drunk, or show us a particularly good time. It’s quiet and unassuming, as is Jesus. It is, to all appearances, a small, simple thing. But it is part of a discipline of faith. Regular receipt of the Eucharist in faith does not allow for the compartmentalization of gratitude. It converts our hearts to be Eucharistic Hearts. It makes our lives an act of thanks.
2. It heals every division
The gathering together of friends and family is, as was already mentioned, a good thing. And yet, Jesus calls us beyond divisions of nation, culture, and family. While Thanksgiving Day is associated with togetherness, it in some ways enforces division: it’s a National Holiday, so it evokes national pride, and it is characterized by gathering with groups of close friends and family. Thanksgiving gatherings with strangers are the exception, and are typically associated with acts of charity (which are good, and yet still bring to light our divisions with one another).
The Eucharistic Celebration, on the other hand, erases every division. When we come to the Lord’s table for the Communion meal, we receive side by side with strangers, or friends, or family, with no real knowledge of economic or national divide. We receive the same Eucharistic meal that is received in every place, in every country in the world, by every race. And so, in this act of Communion with the Universal Church, we broaden our family boundaries to include the entire human family. Together, our act of Thanksgiving is not an act of national pride, or an opportunity for family reunion. Instead, it is a proclamation of fraternity with every Christian person.
We hope you had a very happy Thanksgiving, however you may have celebrated it this year. And we encourage the giving of thanks and the gathering with loved ones. But consider this: Thanksgiving doesn’t need to be only an annual event. The next time you attend a Eucharistic Celebration, remember that this is the Thanksgiving meal we have been gifted by God – that He has given us everything, and as our act of thanks He asks only that we receive Him.