Few days seem more wholesome in the United States as Thanksgiving. It is a day that means universally family, generosity and gratitude. From an early age, we listen to the folkloric origins of the celebration and in school we dress up as Pilgrims or Indians to remember its historic origins.
Clearly, Thanksgiving has Protestant origins. The Pilgrims were a group or Puritans that were fleeing religious persecution in the Old World. This may cause some to raise the question whether it is correct for Catholics to celebrate Thanksgiving.
However, there is even a Mass for Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated the fourth Sunday of November in the dioceses of the United States. This makes it clear that it can be proudly celebrated by American Catholics.
1. Remember the “First” Thanksgiving
One objection to a Catholic celebrating Thanksgiving could be that the celebration of the Mass is already a celebration of thanksgiving. The very word “Eucharist” means “to give thanks.” So, long before the Pilgrims broke bread with the native inhabitants of New England, Jesus Christ began the feast of Thanksgiving with his own body and blood. Each time we celebrate Mass, we are giving thanks to God for all of his blessings present in our lives.
2. Go to Mass
Following on that same thought, no amount of turkey or pumpkin pie is going to outdo the tremendous gesture of thanksgiving present at every Eucharistic Celebration. It might seem impractical to some to go to Mass on Thanksgiving, but it is actually a cool way to start off the day. Plus, there are also the knowing winks with other Catholics who are “on the in.” Catholics at Mass on Thanksgiving are the ones who really know what it is all about.
3. Invest in service
Jesus told his disciples: “I have come to serve, not to be served.” (Mt. 20:28) The leader models the way for his followers. As Catholics, we should resist the temptation to just sit back and relax on Thanksgiving. In first place, we should serve our family with whom we gather for the celebration. But we should also think about serving those beyond our family who perhaps are in need of a hand up. Many families create a beautiful tradition of serving in soup kitchens on the big holidays and thus ensure that their family values of generosity and self-giving are passed on to the younger generation.
4. Be thankful for real
Secular representations of the Thanksgiving table are often used for comic effect. It is always interesting to see the spirit of gratitude that is directed to no one in particular. As Catholics, we are able to direct our gratitude towards the living God who has given us life, shelter, clothing, food family and health. Thank God when you are being thankful before the Thanksgiving meal. This helps to preserve the true meaning of the festivity and allows all to be fully engaged.
5. Be thankful for religious freedom
In the same way that the Pilgrims were experiencing religious persecution in Europe, remember that many Catholics had to fight with bigotry and exclusion both in the Old and New World. Though society is still far from perfect, Catholics should be very thankful for the huge grace of being able to live out their faith in a country that does not have a Catholic majority.
6. Be thankful to belong to Christ’s mystical body
There are so many special graces that we live as Catholics that our fellow Americans cannot even imagine. With humility, we should be grateful to God for this as well. Going back to the very word of the day, Thanksgiving can be celebrated more fully by someone who can receive the Eucharist. Perhaps the next time you go up to receive communion, think that your “Amen” stands in some way for “Thanks.”
7. Don’t forget the stuffing
As Catholics, we believe in celebration. Live the day fully! Be thankful. Spend your time with family and friends. It only comes around once a year and is always well worth the effort. Christ’s victory over death on the Cross is the greatest gift any of us can received and is something we commemorate at each Eucharistic celebration. But we also enjoy our turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie.
Like all good things in life, Thanksgiving is better for Catholics. Through the grace of God, we are better equipped to get the most out of life and appreciate the very special gifts that God gives us. The Church is able to “baptize” secular celebrations, as can be seen with the feast of Christmas. Something already celebrated by pagan people was converted into the celebration of the birth of Our Lord. Thanksgiving offers more to work with, as eventually all gratitude has to lead back to God. In the Mass for Thanksgiving Day, we pray in the Collect: “Father all-powerful, your gifts of love are countless and your goodness infinite; as we come before you on Thanksgiving Day with gratitude for your kindness, open our hearts to have concern for every man, woman and child, so that we may share your gifts in loving service.”