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Meals are sacred moments

2022 Thanksgiving dinner at the home of Jay and Michelle Wonacott. (Courtesy photo/Jay Wonacott)

The English word “Thanksgiving” derives its meaning from the Greek word “Eucharistia.” How appropriate to know this as we celebrate next week’s Thanksgiving holiday. We see in these words the connection between the celebratory meal we offer in our domestic churches and the gift of God’s life given to us at every Mass. We might ponder the question: What are the similarities between this annual sacred meal in our domestic churches and the sacred meal that is the Mass?

To help with this reflection, I direct our thoughts to Pope St. John Paul II’s apostolic letter, Dies Domini (The Lord’s Day), written in 1998. I highly recommend this teaching for every Catholic to understand the importance of the Eucharist, reclaim the sabbath rest, and grow in communion

and love with one another in our families.

Dies Domini is a rich and rewarding letter that reminds me of a more recent book by John Mark Comer, “The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.” Comer spends a portion of the book helping us all understand the deep roots and value of the sabbath rest and the need for recreation (“re-creation”) in our frenetic world. The Thanksgiving holiday is about remembering our dependence upon God

as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all we need. The holiday offers a chance to gather, rest and reflect on God’s gracious gifts with gratitude. The foundational expression of the human soul should be one of gratitude.

John Paul II writes:

As the whole community gathers to celebrate ‘the Lord’s Day,’ the Eucharist appears more clearly than on other days as the great “thanksgiving” in which the Spirit-filled Church turns to the Father, becoming one with Christ and speaking in the name of all humanity. The rhythm of the week prompts us to gather up in grateful memory the events of the days which have just passed, to review them in the light of God and to thank Him for His countless gifts, glorifying Him “through Christ, with Christ and in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.”

Every day, the Church offers the Holy Mass as the primary sacred meal where God’s children are fed by God’s Word broken open in Scripture and the Eucharist offered at the altar. This truth impacted me recently when someone I know told me he was coming into the Catholic Church. He wrote me an email saying, “This journey back has been a few years in the making, but the thing that really pushed me was beginning to attend daily Mass a few months ago. I just wanted a place to pray and worship with fellow believers, and the Catholic Church appears to be the only church that still has daily services.” Clearly, even as a catechumen, there is a hunger in this man’s heart to be fed by the Holy Eucharist and fully share in the Thanksgiving feast.

Recently, my uncle, now in his mid-80s and in Ohio, traveled to Idaho with two adult children (my cousins) for a family visit. In my family, I have older cousins on my mom’s side of the family whom I rarely see. We all get along just fine when we are together, but the circumstances of life have made it such that we don’t see each other that often. However, during this last trip, I was able to experience two meals together with my uncle and cousins. It was a wonderful opportunity to gather as a family, get to know one another better, and have open and honest conversations about our lives. This family meal was really a sacred moment for me. As a Catholic, it should be more than obvious that meals are sacred moments.

Bishop Peter Christensen celebrates Mass at the October 2023 ‘Conferencia de Hombres’ at St. Paul’s in Nampa. (ICR photo/Vero Gutiérrez)

Like the Scripture that is broken open and consumed at Mass, I consumed the words of my cousins as they shared their stories filled with wisdom and insight. I was struck by the ability of this ‘sacred meal’ to reveal the depth of their personhood to me. Instead of just being my cousins who live in Ohio, their stories, challenges, and real-life issues sculpted a fuller, three-dimensional picture of the fullness, depth, and breadth of their lives. These were moments of authentic communication about the realities of life, but also how they felt, what they believed, dreamed, and valued. Wouldn’t it be great if our Thanksgiving celebration with family and friends could be a similar experience? Often, holidays are filled with drama and dread at the prospect of hosting a meal or getting too close or personal with others. This makes it most important to pray for peace in our hearts before we take part in the banquet placed before us.

John Paul II writes:

The sign of peace — in the Roman Rite significantly placed before Eucharistic communion — is a particularly expressive gesture that the faithful are invited to make as a manifestation of the People of God’s acceptance of all that has been accomplished in the celebration and of the commitment to mutual love which is made in sharing the one bread, with the demanding words of Christ in mind: “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23-24).

May this Thanksgiving holiday be one of joy for you and your family, filled with gratitude for all the gifts of God. May we stop to rest, “re-create,” and contemplate in our homes the goodness of the banquet that gathers a people around a sacred meal of Thanksgiving.

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