Although President George Washington proclaimed the first national day of Thanksgiving in 1789, it didn't become a regular holiday in the United States until 1863. At the height of the American Civil War, one of the most turbulent times in our nation's history, President Abraham Lincoln declared that the last Thursday in November should be celebrated as Thanksgiving Day.
Steeped in our own contentious times, the approach of Thanksgiving and the time to consider what we are grateful for gives us an opportunity for a time out. Thanksgiving Day and the days which surround it, give us cause to be united by our common gratitude, rather than focusing on what divides us.
A simple truth upon which most people agree is that we live in a nation which is touched by God's abundant blessings. In some measure everyone would say that there is something or someone for whom they are thankful.
Through the teachings and miracles of Christ, Scripture and our Catholic faith give us sublime expressions of gratitude. In the Gospel of John, Jesus took the loaves and the fish, and after he had given thanks, fed the multitude (John 6:1-15). Jesus' action of giving thanks was etched on the minds and hearts of the apostles who witnessed this miracle.
In another act of feeding his people, Jesus took bread and gave thanks, and as he gave it to the apostles proclaimed, "This is my body which will be given up for you." When the meal was ended he took a cup filled with wine, gave thanks and invited all to drink of it. Through Jesus, the very act of expressing gratitude to God was transmitted to the apostles, and given to the Church as a means to express love and affection to our generous God. Thus the Last Supper became the First Eucharist.
The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word, "eucharisteo," meaning "let us give thanks." The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the "Eucharist is an act of thanksgiving to God" (CCC #1329). A part of every Eucharistic celebration that can go unnoticed is the preface dialogue where the celebrant says, "Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God," and the gathered assembly responds, "It is right and just." By these simple words, we are invited to a distinctive posture of the heart that acknowledges God's greatness and magnanimity.
The early Church's understanding of Eucharist was permeated by a sense of gathering to give thanks for the bountiful blessings of God. In today's culture of instant fulfillment and gratification, self-centeredness and entitlement tend to drown a sense of appreciation that flows from God's benevolence
Unfortunately, there are many who stay away from the Eucharist or sporadically come because they say they don't get anything out of it. On the contrary, the Eucharist gives us an opportunity to give something to God, our thanks for his goodness throughout our week.
At Thanksgiving and at every Eucharist, our prayer echoes the prayer of the psalmist who prayed, "How can I make a return to the Lord, for all the good He has done for me?" One simple answer to this age old question is, come and give thanks.