Gratias Agamus – Let us give thanks

Fr. Vincent Tobin, OSB
Thursday, November 28, 2019

The Didache is a church order document going back to the first 100 years of the Church's existence. It's in our family history and parts of it have come down to us in the familiar Eucharistic liturgy. It tells us a great deal about how the earliest Christians worshiped God. We listen in to this earliest form of beginning the great Eucharist prayer.

The Lord be with you. And with your spirit.  A clear sign to all that it is the Lord's business that we are about, that He is the heart and center of our gathering. It assumes and prays that we are in ecclesial communion, that is, that we love each other, a necessity before we approach the altar and Eucharistic communion.

Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord. We are urged to give our total attention to what we are doing here. Heart, in the Hebrew sense: the place where all thought, feeling and decision-making come together. Yes, we bring our problems and anxieties with us, but we focus on the Lord and ask Him to take all our cares to Himself. That way we can give full attention to what we are about.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right and just. We could just as well and with full understanding say, Let us do Eucharist. Eu-xara-istia: the state of recognizing that we have received a magnificent gift. And so the word means "Thank you." So simple, so often on the tongue. Let's put it under a magnifying glass.

Thank you relieves us of the heavy burden of thinking that 1.) I deserve everything I get, with no thanks to you or anyone else; 2.) I have an absolute right and am entitled to what you call gift and what I call something I have worked for and deserve; 3.) I am totally free and independent of any obligation to anybody; 4.) I am dependent on nothing and no one. I am self-sufficient, autonomous. I don't need you. I don't need community, because community is so unpredictable, so unreliable, so messy and demanding. I choose to be free of all that.

How seemingly easy it is to live in a world without giving or receiving gifts. Welcome to the underside of contemporary America and its public, narcissistic cultural face!

The Carmelites have the happy custom of saying so often, "God reward you." A simple prayer that the Lord God, from whom all blessings flow, all that is good and holy and truly human, that He, the source, guide and goal of all that is, may, out of sheer goodness, remember the good you have done and bless you for it.

The prayer takes for granted that the Lord is with me and will hear my prayer for you. This invites the Lord to guide our inner self, no matter how mundane our daily comings and goings, and to remind others that it is God alone who is the ultimate cause of the good.

How often we say that the Eucharist is the center of everything that we do, think and say. And so we relate the smallest daily good things to the thanks that is Eucharist, recognizing that without Jesus we can do nothing (John 15:5), that in Him we live and move and have our being.

After Lift up your hearts,the ancient text continues: It is truly right and just: it is morally good, justified, factually correct, most appropriate, to the farthest, most complete degree, a moral and legal entitlement. The Lord God alone has the absolute, unique right to entitlement. Everything and everyone else is radically dependent, aware of that dependence or not.

It is our duty and our salvation: there is nothing optional about our thanks. It is an essential part of our creatureliness. Our very salvation depends on it. We neglect it to our peril.

Always and everywhere to give you thanks, holy Father, Lord of heaven and earth, through Christ our Lord,  The introduction to the Preface ends in awe before the majesty of God, striving to find words beyond words to express the delight of creatures in having such an almighty, all holy God, who is at the same time close to us in an affectionate, intimate way in his Son Jesus, a member of our own human family, the one mediator between us and the Father.

As we come together to celebrate the feast of Thanksgiving, which is far more than a national holiday, but an expression of something deep and timeless in our inmost being, Let us lift up our hearts and give thanks to the Lord our God. It is truly right and just.