I am back at my desk after a week away in Rome. It was a good trip and I will share more about the meeting the bishops of New York had with Pope Francis as we enter into the holy season of Advent.
This week I want to focus on the coming national feast of Thanksgiving and its connection to the Church’s great prayer of Thanksgiving, the Holy Eucharist. Thanksgiving Day is one of my favorite holidays. I was excited today when my twin brother David called just to say welcome back from Rome, as well as to talk about our gathering as a family next week at my parents’ home. He was pleased to tell me that both of my nephews and their spouses would be joining us this year. We talked then about what needed to be prepared and how it was going to get done so that my parents would not have to lift a finger.
Why do I cherish Thanksgiving so much? I like being with family. I like the sharing of the meal and the recipes that have been part of the occasion for many years now. I like that the table is set in a festive manner and yet shorts and sweatshirts are acceptable. I like the storytelling and the banter and the memories. I like the comfort of the couch and a lazy afternoon of football. But most of all for me, it is the LOVE that is the center of it all. No presents are needed or expected, just PRESENCE!
Why do I treasure the Holy Eucharist so much? In essence, for the very same reasons! It is about family sharing a meal together using a “recipe” that has been part of the occasion for centuries. It is about a table set in a festive manner (hopefully) and to which we are invited to come as we are. It is about storytelling and breaking open the word and observing again the race being run. And yet, most of all, it is LOVE that is the center of it all… the PRESENCE OF GOD inviting us to be PRESENT… TO BE THE FOOD WE EAT… THE REAL PRESENCE OF CHRIST WHERE WE DWELL.
The above description of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ is not meant to be an exercise in irreverence. Rather, for me, it situates the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in its lived context. That just as the first Mass found its origins in the Jewish Passover meal, so each time we join together for Holy Mass (Eucharist), you and I are being invited to “Pass-over” ever more deeply into the life of God in Jesus’ sharing His very self with us under the appearance of bread and wine. Just as we know there is a difference between raw and cooked food, so through the fire of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine at Eucharist is transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a labor of love done through the actions of the priest in persona Christi capitiis (in the person of Christ) and shared in by all who have gathered at the altar table.
Why, then, according to a recent survey, do people find it so hard to believe in the Real Presence? Well, if we were on a game show like “Family Feud,” you and I might hear, “Survey says: (1) See no difference in people; (2) Lack of participation; (3) Lack of reverence; (4) Don’t need to change; (5) Time is not convenient.” And the list could go on with the excuses people use to choose not to go to Mass. On the flip side, these responses challenge each Church family to make the Eucharist truly “the source and summit” of its life: (1) What does it mean to become what we eat and drink? (2) How can a person participate more in the Mass? Are there opportunities to get involved? (3) Are our houses of worship places where people can enter into prayer? (4) Do I feel the need for greater conversion to grow as a child of God? (5) Does Mass time convenience make or break whether I go to Mass?
Just some food for thought as we digest our Thanksgiving meal next week. Yet I hope that in the process we might come to hold ever dearer the precious gift of the Holy Eucharist. St. Thomas Aquinas would say of the Eucharist, “O precious and wonderful banquet, that brings us salvation and contains all sweetness! Could anything be of more intrinsic value? Under the old law it was the flesh of calves and goats that was offered, but here Christ himself, the true God is set before us as our food. What could be more wonderful than this?”
As we prepare to enter into this most wonderful time of the year, let it be with hearts full of thanksgiving — full of Eucharist! As St. Thomas Aquinas would also write, “It was to impress the vastness of this love more firmly upon the hearts of the faithful that our Lord instituted this sacrament at the Last Supper.”
I pray that you and your families will know this love not only at Thanksgiving, but in the coming sacred seasons of Advent and Christmas. Together, as family, let us make it a most wonderful time of the year!
A happy and blessed Thanksgiving to all!