Many of us will celebrate the annual tradition of this coming Thursday as Thanksgiving Day. Our national tradition goes back to 1621 to the giving of thanks by pilgrims and their Native American neighbors at Plymouth (although history argues that many of the details of the first Thanksgiving are more myth than anything else). The tradition continued through the years finally being fixed by President Lincoln by decree in 1863 that a national fay of thanksgiving should occur on the last Thursday of November. The date was fixed again in 1941 by an Act of Congress declaring that the fourth Thursday of November would be the date for Thanksgiving each year. This was a compromise between Republicans and Democrats. President Roosevelt had wanted Thanksgiving on the second to the last Thursday of November to provide for a longer Christmas shopping season to help the American economy. Republicans wanted to keep Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November, as Lincoln had declared, as an honor to the former present. The compromise allowed for both sides to get what they wanted, depending on how many Thursdays were in November in a given year.
No matter what Thursday the holiday is celebrate on, what is important is why the day is celebrated. This is the one federal holiday that is designated as a day of offering thanks to God for the gifts and blessings that he has bestowed on the nation. While many of us will gather with family and friends to give thanks in the afternoon or evening, I invite you to first come to Mass at the Cathedral at 9:00AM as there is no better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than with thanksgiving. It is through the prayer of the Mass that we are given the Eucharist and the Mass is sometimes referred to as the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The word Eucharist in Greek means “thanksgiving.” Every time we gather for the Mass, we are gathering to offer thanksgiving to God for his goodness, his mercy, and his love.
Long before the pilgrims at Plymouth gathered for the “first” Thanksgiving, thanksgiving had already been offered on these American shores in the Mass. When that happened exactly, no one is quite sure. If you ask the Irish they will tell you it was by St. Brendan all the way back around the year 512 (one of the windows on the south side of the Cathedral commemorates this tradition). We know that Mass was offered on Epiphany on the island of Hispaniola as a part of Columbus’s second voyage in 1494. Finally, most likely by 1498, Henry Cabot’s expedition was exploring Newfoundland and Augustinian friars were among those in his party so Mass was surely offered on the continent.
What is important for us is the need for our lives to be marked by thanksgiving. Thanksgiving must be a way of life for the Christian and not simply a day on the calendar. Acknowledging that God is the giver of all good gifts and that our talents and resourcefulness emanate from him keeps us humble and open to receiving the continued graces that he wants to bestow on us. On behalf of Bishop Paprocki, Father Maher, Father Stock, Deacon Smith, Deacon Keen, and all of the Cathedral Parish and School staff, I wish you and yours a blessed and happy Thanksgiving. God bless you!