Thursday is ‘Mass Day’ at this blog – we are going through the Mass, bit by bit, to see how it is the very pattern of Christian life, how everything we need to know about how to live the Gospel is found within the liturgy and its rites.
The last two weeks we talked about the core symbols of the Mass – bread and wine taken to the altar and given to the priest. We have established that ‘bread and wine’ symbolically encompass the entirety of human life, and that the altar and the priest symbolically mean Christ in the Paschal Mystery, Christ offering Himself to the Father for the world. So we bring all of ourselves and give it to Him in His great act of love and redemption.
How do we do that? The Mass shows us how. The first thing the priest does with the gifts of bread and wine is to thank God for them. ‘Blessed are you, Lord God…’ The form of these two prayers of thanksgiving over the bread and wine is the Jewish table grace, the berakah prayer. Before anything has happened to the bread and wine to make them no longer bread and wine but Something More, we give thanks to God for what they are – fruit of earth and vine, work of human hands.
As in liturgy, so in life. We too are to become Something More than what we are; we too are to become in a sense Eucharist for the world. In fact, in baptism and confirmation and in the life of grace we who are in Christ already are becoming that. But antecedent to that transformation into the supernatural, before we turn our attention to what is becoming and what will be, we must give thanks for what is.
This little berakah rite which is so familiar to regular Mass attendees highlights the one practice that (in my view) above all others opens us up to the action of grace, to the work of God to make us into all that He desires us to be. And that is, simply, gratitude.
Whatever there is in our life that is painful and burdensome, unjust and afflicting, every last one of us reading this has so very much to be thankful for. Life itself, whatever degree of health we possess, the presence of food and shelter, clothing. The people we have in our lives—yes, nobody is perfect and if we really want to we can dwell continually on just what is wrong with each one of them… if that brings us joy and peace. Does it? Or we can thank God for all that is good and true and beautiful in each person in our lives.
And… well, so much. I am truly blessed to live in the wilderness where we are surrounded by God’s created beauty on all sides. Birch trees and fir trees, deer and streams and fields. But hopefully everyone has some amount of that natural beauty of earth, water, and sky somewhere around them. A daily reminder to give thanks at the inexhaustible bounty of God expressed in the fruitfulness of the earth.
And then… oh little things. Like Jesus. The Eucharist. The Bible. Salvation. Forgiveness of sins. Eternal Life. The Church. The ability we all have to love to some degree anyhow, to choose what is good at least some of the time. You know – little trivial things like that. Maybe we could remember to thank God for all that stuff from time to time!
When we talk about thanksgiving and gratitude it is so easy to shy away from it somehow – ‘yes, but I have a lot of trouble in my life. I have problems. You don’t know how hard my life is!’ No doubt. And gratitude is the door—it’s almost like a magical door, truly, like the wardrobe in Narnia or one of those sorts of tales—that opens up the action of God, releases the power of the Spirit to strengthen and heal, guide and direct, correct and raise up, show the way through and give the grace for whatever those troubles and sorrows are. Ushers us into a world where all things are possible and beauty indescibable awaits us around every corner.
And if you really want to get wild with it, thank God for the troubles and sorrows themselves. Not for the actual evil being done (that would be silly and heretical), but for the distress and burdens it causes you. Because somehow in all of that God’s permissive will is working something you cannot see right now, but that is bringing you to a deeper good, a deeper blessing and joy than you could have attained through a life of ease and bliss.
We bring our bread and wine—the good, the bad, the ugly of our life—to Christ the Great High Priest. And the first thing we do to enter into his transforming grace is to thank Him for every bit of it, for all He has already done, already given, already worked in us. This sets the stage, then, for the work He will do in the Eucharist itself and in us, to complete this good work of His according to His perfect and merciful will.