Both the United States and Canada have a tradition of celebrating a day set aside for offering thanks during the end of the harvest season. Canadian Thanksgiving is the same day as the US “Columbus Day” holiday. The US Thanksgiving Day is today.
Many people go to Mass with their family, a tradition common for many Roman Catholics (I will celebrate Mass with my extended family up in the Adirondacks this afternoon). It is both curious and laudable to gather in the celebration of the Eucharist to mark this day of gratitude, even though the feast itself is entirely secular. From a liturgical perspective there is no obligation or need for a Mass to commemorate the holiday, yet there is indeed a eucharistic and pneumatological crossover that makes this secular holiday the most liturgically appropriate of all the US national celebrations.
Unlike Independence Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day and others, thanksgiving has a ‘secularly’ liturgical cast to it. The entire assembly (ecclesia) of the US population (and in October, the Canadian population) pauses to “call to mind” those many blessings and gifts that God has freely offered. The very definition of the Eucharist (eucharistia) literally means “thanksgiving,” a celebration of the life-giving gifts of the Triune God. In that weekly memorial, we gather as an assembly (ecclesia) of believers in the Lord to offer again our entire lives in response to the generous and entirely contingent address of God and the promise of all creation being brought back to the Creator through the Son in the Spirit (salvation) that has been revealed to us in the Incarnation and Scripture.
The Church’s celebration of the Eucharist doesn’t just stop at the celebration of thanksgiving in response to God’s gifts, but we are renewed in our baptismal relationship to one another in Christ and strengthened in that communion to go forward from the Liturgy to life the Gospel life in service of our brothers and sisters (see, for example, Matt 25).
In this sense, I believe that we might look to the ‘secular’ holiday of Thanksgiving in the US as a form of eucharist in the public square. Eucharist, that is, with a little ‘e’ to distinguish it from the Liturgical celebration we commonly associate with this word meaning thanksgiving.
Like the Liturgical celebration of the Eucharist, the eucharist in the public square — Thanksgiving Day — is a time of gathering communities to recall the many blessings that have been freely bestowed to us and to become strengthened in our familial bonds of relationship. But it also doesn’t stop there.
Thanksgiving Day in the US is a time when we are called to move beyond our families’ dining-room tables to return to our places whence we came renewed in gratitude for what we have been given in order to bless those who go without. It is a time for us to be more aware of the systems in our communities, nation and world that promote injustice and an imbalance of resources, thereby prohibiting certain populations from fully participating in the joy of a holiday of gratitude amid abjection.
A happy Thanksgiving Day to all! May the Spirit move you to share in the gratitude that comes with an awareness of God’s gifts in your life and move you to share your blessings with others, working to change structures of injustice in our world.
Peace and good!
An slightly difference version of this post originally appeared on DatingGod.org on November 25, 2010.