The Gospel today is part of the famous passage in John 6 where Jesus talks of himself as the Bread of Life. He then explains that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. We continue to do so today in the Eucharist. The bread and wine retain their appearance and external characteristics while changing substantially into Jesus’ Body and Blood.
We find the Eucharist prefigured in Genesis 14. After Abram (whose name God later changed to Abraham in Genesis 17) won a great victory, he met the king and priest Melchizedek, who brought a thanksgiving offering of bread and wine and blessed Abram.
We find the Greek word root eucharisteō used in the miracle of the loaves and fish when Jesus gives thanks. We also find it in Saint Paul’s account of the Last Supper in First Corinthians. Our word Eucharist finds its origin in the Greek verb meaning “to give thanks” or the Greek noun meaning “thanksgiving.”
While there are many dimensions to the Mass and the Eucharist, including sacred meal, sacrifice, and the Real Presence, we should not overlook the dimension of thanksgiving. To whom do we give thanks? One example is in the description of the Last Supper in Eucharistic Prayer I, or the Roman Canon, that says: “he took bread in his holy and venerable hands, and with eyes raised to heaven, to you, O God, his almighty Father, giving you thanks, he said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples saying…”
This brief passage describes the act of giving thanks. But it also says something about our orientation and attitude at Mass. We come together and join our prayers to those of Jesus Christ, with the priest acting “in persona Christi capitis” (in the person of Christ, the head), and offer those prayers to the Father through the work of the Holy Spirit.
We do not come together solely for ourselves. In the Mass, we do not celebrate ourselves. We are not turned inward on ourselves. We are turned outward and upward as we join with Christ, the Head of the Body of the Christ. “With eyes raised to heaven.” Through the Holy Spirit, we offer to the Father those prayers that are joined with Christ’s prayers. We give thanks to the Father…not to each other.
Do I recognize the need for this orientation? What is keeping me from having this orientation at Mass, whether it be occasionally or even often? Am I able to give thanks?