Thanksgiving: An Act of Worship

The following is my monthly column for November, which appears in Faith: West Tennessee. If you want great monthly content to help you grow in your faith, visit the Catholic Diocese of Memphis website to subscribe.

That great American holiday, Thanksgiving, happens at the end of this month.  The first celebrants of this ritual gathered at table during their harvest season because of the gratitude in their hearts.  They were grateful for God’s grace that allowed them to survive their first harsh winter in the New World; and for the assistance of their fellow man (native American Indians, specifically) in cultivating the crops and produce.  These were reasons for gratitude, indeed.

The ritual has changed slightly since the seventeenth century.  Now, we pack up for brief cross-country trips, watch lots of football, and participate in “Door Buster” sales on the very night of the holiday. Despite all of this, and despite the encroachments of modern culture, it is basically true that Americans still reserve Thanksgiving Day to be grateful for something.  Most Americans are grateful for the presence of family and friends, for homes and employment, and for the abundance of material blessings that God grants.  Moreover, we find even greater blessings in reaching out and sharing with others who haven’t received in such measure.

It is a wonderful thing that we share the tradition of gathering in homes to express our gratitude with food, socializing, and relaxing. Yet, it is important to remember that such a ritual falls short of the most perfect response to our deep gratitude.  The fruits of the harvest, the communal relations that we keep, and the comforts of home are all for naught without the assistance of our Divine Provider. Thus, the most proper and perfect response to our gratitude is worship.

There is one act of worship that is appropriate and fitting above all: the Eucharist.  In fact, the word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving” in Greek.  The Eucharist, that communal banquet table at which Catholics share, is the perfect ritual celebration of our gratitude for what God has done for us and provided to us.  We celebrate a thanksgiving meal every time we worship at Mass. After engaging in the perfect act of worship, the Mass, we then have the ability to perform a further act of worship simply by being grateful in the normal settings of our lives, even the “normal” Thanksgiving setting.  In both settings, we gratefully recognize that all gifts flow from God’s providential hand.

Our Catholic Church teaches us about the priority of place that must be given to the Eucharist:“Everything aims at this; besides this there is nothing greater that one could attain” (YouCat #208).  The blessing of the Eucharist and our salvation supersede all of the other blessings for which we are thankful, even during this wonderful season of the year.  Thus, it is important for all of us to reprioritize, and be thankful first for the ability to relate to God in such an intimate way.  That single recognition will allow all the other blessings to be seen in their proper light, in their right priority.

So, during this month of Thanksgiving, we should make every effort to prioritize so that our thanksgiving worship of God, the Eucharist, takes first place.  After we have done that, we can move on to the wonderful ritual celebration of Thanksgiving, including turkey, decadent desserts, football, and preparation for Christmas shopping.  Focusing on the Eucharist first will allow Jesus, our Savior, to infiltrate all those other activities so that we can reveal His face to others that we meet during the rest of the season.

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