Saint Ignatius High School

Giving Thanks

On our annual day of gratitude and celebration, let us set aside time to thank God for all he has done for us. Jim Brennan dives into the historical and biblical truths of thanksgiving and remind us to give thanks every day for God's many blessings.

Giving Thanks

On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, noting a number of agricultural and economic advances over the previous year, as well as the maintenance of relations with foreign powers, signed an order setting aside the last Thursday of November as a “Day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Amid the carnage and division of the Civil War, Lincoln was able to find bright spots--things for which to be thankful--and invited his countrymen and women to set aside a day to join him. In doing so, he created perhaps the most important of American holidays.

In establishing the celebration, the President reminded us of the gift that is the United States, however flawed it might be. In his order establishing the holiday, he noted the economic, political, and population gains made by the nation, which was still in its adolescence. But he also encouraged his compatriots to pray for an end to the bloodshed of the war and the “widows and orphans” left in its wake.  

But most importantly, he reminded us that even in the midst of uncertainty, there are things for which we can be grateful.

Days of thanksgiving were nothing new to humanity when Lincoln put pen to paper that day. Most cultures have had some celebrations set aside to thank God for the bounty of their harvests. Lincoln wasn’t even the first in what would be the United States to call for a formal act of gratitude. As they craft their hand turkeys, kindergarteners throughout the country hear the story of the Pilgrims, and how they invited members of local native tribes to join them in their celebration, as an act of thanksgiving to God and their neighbors, for helping them survive their first brutal year in North America.  

Modern historians point out, however, evidence of a 1565 Mass of Thanksgiving in St. Augustine, Florida. The liturgy, offered by Fr Francisco Lopez, chaplain to explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés--and the subsequent meal shared with the Timucua people--may well be the first Thanksgiving by Europeans and native peoples in what would become the United States. 

While there is something to this earlier dating of Thanksgiving and a certain justice to acknowledging the often-overlooked contributions of Latinos and Catholics to our nation’s history, it is the fact that the first Thanksgiving involved a Mass, which is especially instructive to us today.

The Mass is many things:

  • It is, first and foremost, a participation in Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.
  • It is a Holy Communion with the Lord and our neighbor.
  • It is a participation in the Lord’s Supper.

But it is also a sacred meal--a thanksgiving meal--where we gather around a table, tell the family story, eat together, and thank the Lord for all He has done for us.

St. Paul exhorted the Thessalonians, and by extension us, to “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. [And] in all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5: 16-18). Paul’s attitude was that of a believer: he knew well that all we have, from our very lives to our talents, to our friends and family, are gifts from the “beneficent Father” Abraham Lincoln would later invoke. Moreover, it is at Mass that we at once rejoice, pray, and give thanks. And giving Him thanks, as we say at the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer, is “right and just.”

It is right and just that we set aside a day to thank God. But it is not enough. As Christians, we have eyes to “find God in all things.” In doing so, we see His presence in all the moments of our lives. It is no coincidence that as Catholics, we show gratitude for and celebrate the key moments of our lives--births, deaths, weddings, even the simple act of growing up--with Mass, as we baptize, bury, marry, share Communion with, and confirm our loved ones. We go to Mass weekly or daily to thank God for even the ordinariness of life. 

Not just Thursday, but every day, may we as Christians always be people of what the Greeks called eucharistia, the Eucharist:


A.M.D.G. / B.V.M.H.