1 CORINTHIANS 1:3-9; JOHN 15:9-17

I ALWAYS GIVE THANKS TO GOD FOR YOU.   Saint Paul, after opening his first letter to the Corinthians with a prayer to God, begins to address his audience directly with these words of thanksgiving.   His message carries a more forcible impact in the original Greek as we hear it at our celebration on this national Thanksgiving Day.  For the first word he pronounces in the original text is Eucharisto (the root of "Eucharist") which is Greek for "I give thanks".  In fact, were we to explain the title of our celebration today for a visitor from the country of Greece we might say today is Eucharistia.

The designation of the sacrament of the Lord's body and blood by the word Eucharist has a venerable history.  Knowing its roots and history can enhance our appreciation of the meaning and grace of this holiest of sacraments.  It also serves to add a dimension of appreciation to our national feast day when we realize that the impulse to give thanks to God takes us in spirit to the Last Supper with its explicit associations to the long history of the Jewish Passover celebration.

The prayer that Jesus pronounced at the last Supper followed the form of the ancient Jewish beraka that is, "blessing."  This form of prayer was appropriately used in a variety of situation.  An instance is supplied by Abraham's chief steward.  When he found the appropriate young lady to marry Isaac he spontaneously expressed a beraka that is recorded in Genesis 24:27: "Blessed be the Lord, God of my master Abraham." When it was translated into the Greek of the Septuagint the expression was rendered "eulogetos Kurios." Jethro used it as a confession of God's glory and power (Exodus 18:9-11) Another word "eksomologein" (to "praise" and "to confess") was used later by Mark.   Mark in fact employs both terms in connection with Jesus who first blessed God as he spoke over the bread, then thanked Him over the wine.  In doing so he associates Jesus' prayer with the history of his people.  Matthew followed Mark's lead in employing eulogesan, "he said the blessing", or "he gave thanks".

After beginning his letter to the Corinthians with the word Eucharisto, Paul, adds the word pantote, always, he informs us that the fitting attitude habitually maintained by a follower of Christ is precisely one of gratitude.  Later in this same epistle he goes on to give the earliest account of the institution of the sacrament, using the term that was to become its name, "Eucharist".  The Latin canon translated it as "benedixit", i.e. "bless".

These linguistic remarks serve to call to our attention the fact that the offering of mass, the Eucharist, is the most appropriate way of celebrating this national holiday.   The men and women who first held such a day of thanksgiving in the country that was to become the USA, in the year 1621 at Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts, being Protestant, had no Sacrament of the Eucharist, yet they did share the sentiments that saint Paul gave expression to in the first reading today.  They directed their gratitude primarily to God and ascribed to His Providence, the blessings they had received in the year since their arrival at this new land.  They were grateful not only for the abundant harvest that enabled their survival, but also for the freedom of religion that they had found and for the sake of which they had undertaken the perilous journey that brought them to these shores. Today, as we continue that tradition of keeping a special day of Thanksgiving for God's benefits, we find ourselves as a nation in a situation that threatens our religious freedom.   Let us accompany our Eucharist of thanksgiving with the petition for the freedom to follow the truths of our faith in practice.  And may we prove worthy of the great gift of this holy sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus that we call Eucharist, that is,Thanksgiving.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger