The Greek root of the word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” Every celebration of the Eucharist is a thanksgiving for the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ as the priest consecrates bread and wine, transforming them into Christ’s Body and Blood. We should, indeed, be grateful for this greatest of all gifts.
In the American vocabulary, however, the word “thanksgiving” usually conjures up images of family gathered around a table sharing turkey and all that goes with it every year on the fourth Thursday of November. This feast has a history rooted in the celebration of the newly arrived pilgrims’ first autumn harvest in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621. All kinds of meats, fruits and vegetables were shared by pilgrim families and members of the native Wampanoag Indian tribe, who helped the first settlers learn to farm and hunt in this new land. Their “thanksgiving meal” probably bears little resemblance to the holiday we have come to know, but both have thanksgiving to God for his abundant blessings as their motivation.
Although clearly different in purpose and content, our Eucharist and our Thanksgiving celebration are not entirely dissimilar. Both reflect gratitude to God for his gifts and blessings: the Eucharist, for the gift of Jesus Christ and the redemption he brought; Thanksgiving, for the gift of abundance God’s creation provides. Both involve a table and a meal: the Eucharistic altar and the food of Christ’s Body and Blood which nourishes the soul; the Thanksgiving table overflowing with food for the body. Both include a family and community: the Eucharistic family of grateful believers in the Lord Jesus; the participants at Thanksgiving united in their desire to express gratitude for the the gifts of plenty they enjoy and share. Both are occasions for shared memories, stories and joy: the Eucharist recalling the story of salvation; Thanksgiving for the stories of the things that brought the pilgrims here and the legends of the Native Americans who welcomed them.
The divine and the human, while distinct, often blend together in human history, like the water and the wine mingled at Mass, forming one unity of God’s goodness and love for which gratitude and celebration are surely the appropriate response. This Thanksgiving, consider beginning your holiday at the Eucharistic table surrounded by the community of faith and, then, bring that grace gratefully to your own table, wherever that may be.