The Son Lives to Give Thanks to the Father

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 29 July 1987, the Holy Father reflects on Jesus' prayer of thanksgiving, which continues the biblical tradition of praise and perfects it in the Prayer of the Eucharist.

1. The prayer of Jesus as the Son "come out of the Father" expresses in a special way the fact that He "goes to the Father" (cf. Jn 16, 28). He “goes”, and he leads to the Father all those whom the Father “has given him” (cf. Jn 17). In addition, he leaves to all the lasting heritage of his filial prayer From him: “When you pray, say: ' Our Father '...” ( Mt 6, 9; cf. Lk11, 2). As it appears in this formula that Jesus taught, his prayer to the Father is characterized by some fundamental notes: it is a prayer full of praise, full of unlimited abandonment to the will of the Father, and, as far as we are concerned, full of supplication and request for forgiveness. The prayer of thanksgiving is situated in this context in a special way.

2. Jesus says: “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and discreet and revealed them to little ones...” ( Mt 11:5). With the expression “I praise you”, Jesus means gratitude for the gift of God's revelation , because “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him” ( Mt 11, 27). Also the priestly prayer (which we have analyzed in the last catechesis), although it has the character of a great request that the Son makes to the Father at the end of his earthly mission, at the same time is also imbued with a profound sense of thanksgiving. One can even say that thanksgiving constitutes the essential content not only of Christ's prayer, but of his own existential intimacy with the Father. At the center of everything that Jesus does and says is the awareness of the gift: everything is a gift from God , creator and Father; and a proper response to the gift is gratitude, thanksgiving .

3. We must pay attention to the Gospel passages, especially those of Saint John, where this thanksgiving is clearly highlighted. Such is, for example, the prayer on the occasion of the resurrection of Lazarus : "Father, I thank you that you have heard me" ( Jn 11, 41). At the multiplication of the loaves (next to Capernaum) “Jesus took the loaves and, giving thanks, gave to those who were reclining, and also to the fish...” ( Jn 6, 11). Finally , in the institution of the Eucharist , Jesus, before pronouncing the words of the institution over the bread and wine, "gave thanks" ( Lk 22, 17; cf., also Mk 14, 23; Mt26, 27). He uses this expression with respect to the chalice of wine, while with reference to the bread he also speaks of the "blessing". However, according to the Old Testament, "blessing God" also means giving thanks , in addition to "praise God", "confess the Lord".

4. In the prayer of thanksgiving the biblical tradition is prolonged, which is expressed in a special way in the Psalms. "It is good to praise Yahweh and sing for your name, O Most High... For you have made me happy, O Yahweh, with your deeds, and I rejoice in the works of your hands" ( Ps 91/92, 2-5). “Praise Yahweh, because he is good , because his mercy on him is eternal . So say the ransomed of Yahweh... Give thanks to God for his mercy and for the wonderful favors he does to the sons of men. And offer him sacrifices of praise (zebah todah) ( Salt 106/197, 1.2.21-22). “Praise Yahweh because he is good, because his mercy is eternal... I praise you because you heard me and were my salvation... You are my God, I will praise you; my God, I will exalt you” ( Ps 117/118, 1. 21. 28). “ What can I give Yahweh for all the benefits he has done me? I will offer you sacrifices of praise and I will invoke the name of Yahweh” ( Ps 115/116, 12. 17). “ I will praise you for the wonderful way you made me ; admirable are your works, you know my soul completely” ( Ps 138/139, 14). "I want to praise you, my God, King, and bless your name forever" ( Ps 144/145, 1).

5. In the Book of Ecclesiasticus we also read: “Bless the Lord in all his works. Lift up his name, and join in confessing his praises to him." "Praise him thus with a loud voice: The works of the Lord are all good, his orders are fulfilled in time, for they all make themselves desired in his time... There is no room to say: What is this, why this? All things were created for the ends of him ”( Eclo 39, 19-21. 26). Ecclesiasticus' exhortation to “bless the Lord” has a didactic tone.

6. Jesus accepted this legacy that is so significant for the Old Testament, explaining in the vein of the blessing —confession— praise the dimension of thanksgiving. That is why it can be said that the culminating moment of this biblical tradition took place at the Last Supper when Christ instituted the sacrament of his Body and of his Blood the day before offering that Body and that Blood in the Sacrifice of the cross. As Saint Paul writes: “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread and, after giving thanks , broke it and said: “This is my Body, which is given for you; do this in memory of me” ( 1 Cor 11, 23-24). In the same way, the synoptic evangelists also speak of thanksgiving over the chalice: “Taking the chalice, after giving thanks , he handed it to them, and they all drank from it. And he told them. 'This is my Blood of the Covenant, which is shed for many'” ( Mk 14, 23-24; cf. Mt 26. 27; Lk 22, 17).

7. The Greek original of the expression “give thanks” is “εύχαριστήσας” (from “eucharistein”), whence Eucharist. Thus, the Sacrifice of Body and Blood, instituted as the Most Holy Sacrament of the Church, constitutes the fulfillment and at the same time the surpassing of the sacrifices of blessing and praise, which are spoken of in the Psalms ( zebah todah ) . Christian communities, from the earliest times, linked the celebration of the Eucharist to thanksgiving , as the text of the " Didache " (written and composed between the end of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd century, probably in Syria, perhaps in in Antioch itself):

We give you thanks, our Father , for the holy life of David your Servant, which you have made us keep awake through Jesus your Servant...”.

We thank you , our Father, for the life and knowledge that you have made us unveil through Jesus Christ, your Servant...”.

" We thank you , holy Father, for your holy name , which you have caused to dwell in our hearts, and for the knowledge, faith and immortality that you have made us unveil through Jesus Christ your Servant" ( Didaché 9, 2-3; 10 , two).

8. The Church's song of thanksgiving that accompanies the celebration of the Eucharist is born from the depths of her heart, and from the very Heart of the Son, who lived in thanksgiving. That is why we can say that his prayer, and his entire earthly existence, became a revelation of this fundamental truth enunciated by the Letter of Santiago: “Every good gift and every perfect gift comes from above, descending from the Father of lights... ” ( Sant 1, 17). By living in thanksgiving, Christ, the Son of man, the new “Adam ”, defeated sin at its very root which, under the influence of the “father of lies” had been conceived in the spirit “of the first Adam” (cf. Gen.3) Thanksgiving restores to man the awareness of the gift given by God "from the beginning" and at the same time expresses the willingness to exchange the gift : to give oneself to God, with all one's heart, and to give him everything else. It is like a restitution, because everything has in Him its beginning and its source.

“ Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro”: it is the invitation that the Church places at the center of the Eucharistic liturgy. Also in this exhortation the echo of thanksgiving resounds strongly, from the one who lived on earth the Son of God. And the voice of the People of God responds with a humble and great choral testimony: “Dignum et iustum est”, “it is just and necessary”.

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