“I thank you, Lord, with all my heart; in the presence of the angels to you I sing” (Psalm 138:1).

Expressing gratitude to God is our way of acknowledging that God is the source of everything. Prayer of thanksgiving can be a spontaneous “Thank God!” after hearing good news after a difficult time, or a formal prayer such as Grace before Meals. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that “every event and need can become an offering of thanksgiving” (No. 2638).

Prayers of thanksgiving can be specifically related to an answered prayer or an unexpected good outcome. They can also be born of a mindset of gratitude, where we come to recognize everything as God’s gift. Finding the good in every situation, and thanking God for it, can fortify those suffering challenging times.

When it’s tough to be thankful inside of our own situations, we can still look beyond ourselves and find ways to thank God. We can thank him for something good that has happened to another person or for the beauty we see in the created world.

In the prefaces to the Eucharistic prayer in the Roman Missal, the celebrant prays: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.” Thanksgiving is our obligation to God (just as writing those thank-you notes is our obligation when we’ve received a wedding gift), but it’s more than an obligation — it’s good for us. Prayers of gratitude strengthen us in humility, reminding us again and again that we can’t (and don’t) get through life without God’s help. Similarly, looking for the good in all circumstances and offering thanks to God for it helps us persevere through difficult times.

It’s in our human nature sometimes to neglect giving thanks, as we see in the Parable of the Ten Lepers (Lk 17:11-19), in which only one of the 10 lepers who were healed returned to thank Jesus. Maybe the nine who neglected to say “thank you” were too caught up in their excitement — we don’t know for sure. But we do know that Jesus was dismayed that only one of the lepers returned to thank him. It’s not that he needs to be thanked, but we need the fruits of our own gratitude: strengthening of virtues. Expressing our gratitude to God reinforces our relationship to him, in the same way expressing our thanks to someone for giving us a gift or helping us can strengthen our friendship or family bond.

Thanksgiving is easy when we receive something we want, and much less so when we don’t receive what we’d been hoping for. But St. Paul writes, “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 5:18). We need to look for, and be grateful for, God’s gifts even in difficult times or when we’re dealing with something unexpected. Gratitude must be more than a feeling, so we can take steps to building grateful hearts. We can start by deliberately listing things for which we can be thankful, making us aware of God’s Providence in our lives. And we can bring that gratitude into our prayer.

Blessed Solanus Casey was famous for saying, “Thank God ahead of time.” This was evidence of his great trust that God would hear and answer his prayers. Of course, that did not mean that Bl. Solanus believed that God would give him everything he wanted — but that he trusted that God knew his needs and would provide what was best for him. Thanking God ahead of time is an expression of both trust and gratitude.

Where do we see this in the Mass?

Prayers of thanksgiving make up a large part of the Mass, which is called “Eucharist, because it is an action of thanksgiving to God” (CCC, No. 1328). During Mass, we thank God in the Gloria: “We give you thanks for your great glory” and the response after readings and dismissal rite: “Thanks be to God.” In the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, the celebrant directs us, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.”

3 Practical Ways to Pray This Way:

  1. Say Grace before Meals, even when you are eating alone or when you’re at a restaurant.
  2. Count your blessings. In your journal or planner, write down one thing you’re grateful for at the end of each day, then offer a short prayer, such as “Thanks be to God” or a verse of thanksgiving from one of the psalms.
  3. Write a letter to God, describing your gratitude for an answer to prayer that was not what you had expected.

What do the saints say about prayer of thanksgiving?

“The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness” (St. Gianna Beretta Molla).

Barb Szyszkiewicz, a Secular Franciscan, is editor at CatholicMom.com and author of “The Handy Little Guide to Prayer” (OSV, $5.95). Read more from the prayer series here.