The term “Thanksgiving” conjures up images of turkey and cranberry sauce, parades and bowl games. These “traditions” have come to mark an event made a perpetual institution of American life by President Abraham Lincoln during the War Between the States.
But why did Lincoln proclaim the last Thursday in November as a national holiday? Because it was clear to him that the blessings of food, land, family, and freedom enjoyed by Americans are all gifts from God. But Americans, he realized, had forgotten this. (Sound familiar?) A special day was needed for us to forget our differences and remember our blessings. And remembering naturally leads to giving thanks to the Source of those blessings.
The Israelites had an annual Thanksgiving Feast, as well. It was actually a combination of two feasts, Passover and Unleavened bread, and occurred in early spring. This is when the first grain began to be harvested and when the ewes gave birth to their lambs.
The ancients did not need divine revelation to know that God brought about the world and all its creatures. That’s just plain common sense. That we owe a debt of gratitude is justice, pure and simple.
On the night before he died, Jesus celebrated this solemn memorial by deepening its meaning yet further. Liberation from Pharaoh’s oppression was certainly something to sing about. But there was a crueler slavery that a change of geography and regime could not alter.
But true thanksgiving is not just a matter of words and warm sentiments. Gratitude for a gift means offering a gift in return. He gave his whole, entire self to us: his body, blood, soul, and divinity. The only adequate response would be to offer ourselves.
Thanksgiving cannot be separated from sacrifice. The Mass is a celebration of Jesus’ love and the freedom it won for us through his sacrifice. Through it, the love of God is poured into our hearts and enables us to love with his love. True thanksgiving means self-giving. This is the meaning of eucharist.
From the St. Anne Shrine Preservation Society, we wish you and your families a happy, healthy, and blessed Thanksgiving Day 2020.