Perfect Thanksgiving Has Nothing to Do with Turkey

Thanksgiving Day, for all of its traditional hustle and bustle, meal planning, family visiting, church services, grade-school re-enactments, parades, and football games, remains a very poignant holiday for me. Its occasion is a great national holiday to go to Mass, even though it is not a holy day of obligation.

Many Catholics I know, and their parishes, treat it with quite a bit of reverence as if it were part of the liturgical calendar. And I can't blame them.  They do so with good reason.

For Catholics, "thanksgiving" is another word for "Eucharist." The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says it this way:

The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption, and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all "thanksgiving." (CCC, 1360)

Imagine that; every single offering of the Eucharist is a time to count our blessings and to praise and thank God for his gifts.

It really defines Catholics as a thanksgiving people. The Eucharist perfects our expression of it, as a kind of gratitude par excellence.

Thanksgiving itself has held a few watershed events for me, moments that have been intensely personal, and yet full of God's bounty for me, for which I have returned the gift of my gratitude many times over through the years.

One Thanksgiving morning in the mid-90s, I learned what it means to be a walking answer to someone else's prayer. In the aftermath of surviving breast cancer and a veritable rebuilding of my torso and my life, a friend looked me in the eye through happy tears saying she was thanking God for my life that day. Her words reminded me that God is still in the business of answering prayers. Every. Single. Day. And so it must be with our thanks. Every. Single. Day.

Another Thanksgiving, I received the delightful news that my husband and I were expecting a child.

And still another, I attended a very large dinner celebration with our extended family, celebrating my in-laws' 50th wedding anniversary. How wonderful that they were married on Thanksgiving! Their love is a happy reminder each year that thanksgiving in marriage ought to be a way of life.

And that brings me to this Thanksgiving, and every Thanksgiving, really, because when you have faith in God in the One True God, as the Catechism explains, that faith by implication translates into "living in thanksgiving." (See CCC 224.)

If God is the only One, everything we are and have comes from him. (CCC 224)

That knowledge means we have an answer to St. Paul's query: "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7).

And that the Eucharist renders the perfect response to the cry of the psalmist:

"What shall I render to the LORD for all his bounty to me?" (Ps. 116:12)

The Catechism also explains that the anaphora, the Eucharistic prayer of thanksgiving and celebration, is "the heart and summit" of our celebration.  (See CCC 1352).

So this Sunday, and every Mass you attend, recall that as the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus -- when the heart of Jesus pours his life into the Eucharist -- pause and prayerfully make your own personal thanksgiving in that holiest of moments.

Remember: Thanksgiving Day is great, but living in thanksgiving and gratefully attending to the Eucharist is, indeed, greater.

This originally appeared at The Catholic Exchange, and is reprinted with permission.

11/24/2010 5:00:00 AM
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  • Pat Gohn
    About Pat Gohn
    Pat Gohn is a Catholic writer, speaker, and the host of the Among Women Podcast and blog. Her book Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood is published by Ave Maria Press.