There are a few different times during the Liturgy that the congregation responds, “Thanks be to God,” after a prompt from a minister. First, after each of the first two readings, the congregation says it following the reader pronouncing, “The Word of the Lord.” The congregation also uses this response at the end of Mass following the Deacon or priest announcing one of a few different options of ‘sending forth.’
It is such a simple phrase. So, there can’t be much to it, right? Well, sort of. The first important thing to note is that it is not your everyday, run of the mill, ‘thank you very much.’ If someone opens a door for me and I neglect to say thank you, the person might think, “rude!” and then go on with their life. Our response of thanking God is not a simple pleasantry. It is a matter of Christian duty, flowing out of the very nature of our existence as creations of God. The Bible gives us many very deliberate cues, including 1 Thess. 5:18, 1 Chronicles 16:34, Psalm 35:18, and 1 Corinthians 15:57. Over and over, we are told that thanksgiving is a critical aspect of how we relate to God.
We should note that the word “Eucharist” is derived from the Greek word “Eucharistia” which means “Thanksgiving.” So, giving thanks is a rather integral part of what we are doing at Mass. Rather than being a simple sentiment that we feel or we don’t, the thanksgiving of the Mass is an action we take, a choice we make, a turning of our inward selves towards the Lord to acknowledge all He has done for us in creating us, redeeming us, and sanctifying us.
The more we come to that humble recognition of the mercy and love of God in all that He has done, and continues to do, for us, the more we should be compelled to give thanks to God. And what thanks is appropriate to offer to God? There is no thanks more appropriate than the sacrifice of praise we give at Mass, which is all done in, with, and through Christ. (There is more on this in the Catechism paragraphs 1359-1361.)
Scripture is the inspired Word of God. Through it, God has revealed Himself to the world in a broad and on-going way. However, in a particular way when it is proclaimed at Mass, God speaks through Scripture to us. We are not just hearing what God wanted written a few thousand years ago. “The Word of God is LIVING and EFFECTIVE…” (Hebrews 4:12a). And so, God continues to speak to us (to each of you) through Scripture today. Our response (Thanks be to God) should be a deliberate turning of our inward selves to receive the Word and ponder it and its implications in our lives. Even when we don’t feel like we ‘got anything out of it,’ we still open ourselves to the seed planted by His word and trust that it will come to fruition someday.
At the end of Mass, when the minister announces, “Go in peace,” or, “Go forth, glorifying the Lord by you lives,” or one of other options, the congregation also responds, “Thanks be to God.” And why is that? Because that small child has been squirming in your arms and yelling in your ear for an hour? Because now we can finally go home and watch the football game or eat at Bob Evans?
I am being silly, of course, and yet sometimes it can ‘feel’ a little bit like those words of thanks mean something along those lines.
Simply put, the Mass is meant to ‘flow out’ into our daily lives. If what we do on Sunday has no effect on the rest of our lives….well, we will probably have a rude awakening on judgment day. At the Mass, we are nourished in mind and soul and heart to better live out our Christian identity in our homes, in our prayer, in our decisions, in our friendships, etc etc. We have been given so much by God. As we conclude our celebration of the Eucharist (thankgiving) and have received the greatest gift, which is the body of Christ himself, we are then “sent forth” into the world to live out the peace of God, to announce the Gospel, and to glorify God. Our “Thanks be to God” is both an exclamation and a promise. We exclaim in thankfulness for the work of salvation accomplished at Mass and the gift of divine life in the Eucharist. We also promise to respond to this gift appropriately: by being true disciples of Christ. Our central act of thanksgiving at Mass flows out into the thanksgiving of lives visibly transformed by God’s Grace.