We call it “saying grace.” We mean that we give thanks for the food.But it’s an interesting turn of phrase that puts you on the trail to the center of the earth.
Begin with this. The Eucharist is, of course, the center of our faith and life as Christians. Eucharist means “thanksgiving” in Greek, the source of the word. When you take apart the Greek original, it consists of two words, ευ and Χαριs. Eu means “good,” so for example a “good word” is a “eulogy,” euthansia means “good death,” “evangelos” means “good message” and eugenics means “well born.” Xaris (charis) means “grace.” Thus, Eucharist literally means “good grace.”
“To say grace” means essentially the same as “to say Mass” when you analyse the language. The important point about the usage is to remember that it is much more accurate to speak of “doing” your Eucharistic liturgy than saying it, since it is the action of offering your life to Christ who has offered his for you, and returns your offering filled with his Presence in the eucharistic process. Likewise, when you offer grace at mealtime, it is an action of identifying and thanking the ultimate provider more than saying some words of prayer. It is interesting to note the Spanish for Thanksgiving Day is el dia de accion de gracias, literally the day of the action of grace. It is more directly to the eucharistic point. Nevertheless, we do call it “thanks-giving,” giving thanks, an action. That action means doing your life as an act of grace, specifically God’s grace, received and passed forward.
As we live life doing our liturgy throughout the week, every meal becomes a shadow of the remembered community Eucharist celebrated together on Sunday, just as every action becomes an expression of your liturgy. For those avoiding the community Eucharist, it means doing a bad liturgy. Since the earth is the Lord’s, you cannot live in neutral, as if you could avoid doing any liturgy. There is only good action or bad action. The latter is ultimately “without form and void,” as Genesis describes the state of the earth before God’s work of creation.
Or, as Shakespeare phrased it, “much ado about nothing.” It doesn’t make for much of an epitaph at the end, but it is quite a popular lifestyle. Since there is no Eucharistic center, life is without the focus of grace effectively received and then effectively distributed. And the point that is being missed is not so much in the saying of grace as the doing of it.
The Gospel for Thanksgiving Day, from Matthew 6, comes at this from an interesting angle. “Do not be anxious” it reports Jesus telling us. He points out the futility of anxiety, mentioning how plants, which do not appear to worry or work hard, nevertheless manage to be healthy and indeed gorgeous. Anxiety is, of course, big business. Big Pharma, your local pusher and many preachers and gurus, big and small, turn a profit from people’s attempts to cure their anxieties in various ways. Politicians play on the anxieties of insecure folks worried about outsiders and enemies, real or imagined. If there were no anxious people, it would cause major economic and political disruptions.
But that is what Jesus suggests, although he doesn’t simply leave it at “don’t worry, be happy.” He proposes as an alternative that we seek first the kingdom of God. Having done that as priority number one, the rest will fall into perspective. Obviously, you will not seek the kingdom of God with success at any of the entities mentioned in the previous paragraph. We return as a result full circle. You will find the kingdom of God quite specifically at the place and time where the celebrant and people begin with “Blessed is the kingdom of God,” and proceed to do the Eucharist. If you want to continue to be anxious after you are absorbed into the eucharistic process, you are free to do so. But when you are receiving God’s complete grace and doing your own in return, being thankful may seem more appropriate and needful than being anxious. You cannot achieve anything, says Jesus, by being anxious. But you can achieve great things by seeking God’s kingdom and doing grace, as you have received it from him.
It means giving thanks, thanksgiving, Eucharist, the action of grace, is not simply a day but a way of life. With that in mind, Happy Thanksgiving.