Liturgy Matters — Eucharist is an act of thanksgiving

Dr. Judy Bullock
Dr. Judy Bullock

By Dr. Judy Bullock

The “Celebration of the Eucharist” is the more formal name for the liturgy we commonly call the Mass. The word Eucharist originates from the Greek word eucharistia, which means to give thanks. This title is most fitting since there is a strong emphasis throughout the Mass on giving praise and honor to God.

Gratitude — a
countercultural trait

It certainly is not because God needs or requires our praise and gratitude that we do it. We, on the other hand, are most in need of constant reminders of all that God has done for us. We Americans are some of the most fortunate persons on this earth.

Compared to a vast number of countries in the world, the standard of living in the U.S. is at a much higher level.

Most of us don’t have to worry about clean water, shelter from the elements, and at least basic nourishment. Health care and access to power and light are services most enjoy. We have the opportunity for education for ourselves and for our children. We have the benefit of a long list of freedoms: religious preference, free speech, etc.

Not since the time of the Civil War have we had a war on our own soil. With all this and more, you would think gratitude would overwhelm us, that thanksgiving would be an every day event, not just one day a year. Yet taking it all for granted, sometimes the more we have the more we expect.

When patients have been told that their days on earth are nearing an end, they frequently experience a heightened appreciation of each day, each hour and each minute they have left. Priorities come into focus. With this increased awareness, they are able to see beauty in the most mundane things in their everyday lives. It is as if God is giving them a foretaste of the kingdom to come. In many ways the celebration of the liturgy is like this anticipation.

Why this emphasis
on “thanksgiving”
in the Mass?

In the prayer texts of the Mass and in the hymns and songs that we sing, we name some of the many reasons we have to be thankful to God.

In the Act of Penitence we express our gratitude for God’s mercy and forgiveness; in the Glory to God, gathered together in the Spirit, we praise God the Father and the Lamb of God.

In the acclamation before the Gospel, we honor Christ’s presence in the proclamation of the Gospel. In the preface or first part of each Eucharistic Prayer, we name some of the most important things for which we give thanks: creation, the Incarnation, our salvation, the resurrection, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and so on. In the texts of each Eucharistic Prayer we express our gratitude for the gift of Christ’s presence in his body and blood and his ongoing saving acts in our lives.

This attitude of gratitude that permeates the liturgy brings us closer to the ultimate experience of God’s presence, helping us to distance ourselves from society’s focus on bigger and better products, instant gratification and dissatisfaction with what we have.

An appreciation of God’s gifts helps us delve into the mystery of his unconditional love. From this, a relationship of trust develops that enables us to perceive God’s greatest desire for each one of us.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

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