Easter has eggs, Christmas presents, Halloween candy, and the Fourth of July fireworks. These are so tied to their celebration that leaving out the “has” of the preceding clauses might make one think that the names of the holidays were adjectives rather than nouns. What Thanksgiving has, however, is Thanksgiving dinner. And what is it that ties the idea of thanksgiving to a meal? After all, St. Paul says to the Colossians, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). Yet, while there is always the need to give thanks, it seems most proper to do so at a meal. This is easily recognized in the liturgical life of Christians in that the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving” in Greek) is a meal shared by the faithful.
The graces of that Eucharist are not limited to the hour or so we are in the building of the church, but rather extend to the whole of our lives. The many pious practices of our faith help us to frequently recall the gifts and blessings that God bestows on us through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. One such practice that I recommend to you today is the prayer of thanksgiving after meals:
We give thanks for all your benefits,
almighty God, who lives and reigns forever.
May the souls of the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
This prayer complements well the saying of grace before meals; after having asked God to bless us and the gifts He will give us, we then thank Him once we have received those same gifts. What’s more, we do not limit our thanksgiving to the meal we have just eaten but give thanks for all the benefits we receive to God. In particular, we can remember the gift of the Eucharist as we pray, and we can be renewed in the graces we have received in the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. So while this prayer is a great practice year-round, it is signally appropriate on this day we call Thanksgiving. For through this prayer we are reminded as to whom we give thanks on this day.
Last of all, we include a prayer for the faithful departed, who remain united to us in the body of Christ. In this month of November especially, as the Church remembers liturgically those who have died and the year comes to an end, we should remember all of our beloved family and friends with whom we have shared our meals, and we should pray for God’s mercy upon them.
Image: Jan Steen, Prayer Before Meal