With perhaps the exception of Christmas, it seems no holiday has as much tradition as Thanksgiving. It's clear, however, that those traditions vary widely from house to house.
One family may have unique ethnic foods at their meal while another has an afternoon game of touch football. One family may start a 5K run. Some families center the celebration around food and football, while others draw out conversations in the dining room. Some parishes offer free community meals, with parishioners volunteering to serve the food first before going to their own homes to celebrate.
Thanksgiving Day also holds a special place for pastors. Father Herb Weber, pastor of St. John XXIII Parish in Perrysville, Ohio, said the day is a legal holiday that can also easily be experienced as a holy day — a day in which a holy spirit pervades.
That holiness is found in the elements of giving thanks, discovering unity and reaching out to others. Father Weber explained that it's not that hard to infuse the Christian element of these qualities into a day already special in many people's minds. Holiday traditions easily become holy traditions.
Beginning with giving thanks, people already know that this harvest festival has roots in appreciation for the bounty of the earth. At the same time, many 21st-century people struggle to associate the food on the table with its agricultural source.
Thanking God for food is just the tip of the iceberg of showing appreciation on Thanksgiving Day. Father Weber encouraged reminders that let churches help people learn the goodness of expressing gratitude. People can be reminded to set aside time for prayers of gratitude, especially before the big meal. This easily draws attention to the many blessings received every day and throughout the year.
For most Catholic parishes, a morning Mass has become essential for Thanksgiving Day. Many churches consciously work to make this eucharistic celebration a focal point. The Mass emphasizes all the blessings of the year. Furthermore, parish staff works to provide a warm setting where people have a feeling of family.
Father Weber said that celebrating the Eucharist itself makes sense since that very act is all about giving thanks. The Thanksgiving Day Mass flows from a faith that is filled with gratitude, connecting with every Mass celebrated throughout the year. Giving thanks becomes a prayer of admission of our dependence on a gracious and loving God, a major step of spirituality. The act of prayerfully giving thanks also helps us celebrate unity. Although private prayer is good, communal prayer in church or at the dinner table draws people together. We not only thank God for each other, we thank God with each other.
One of the traditions of Thanksgiving Day for many people is to reach out to others, sharing and including those alone or overlooked. Sharing is always an expression of gratitude for what we have. Besides serving free meals at church or community centers, many have found other ways to share.
By expressing gratitude in prayer, by finding expressions of unity and by sharing with and including others, Father Weber said, we help people create new traditions as we find this holiday becomes even more holy to us.
The Psalms serve as models for gratitude
By Nancy de Flon | Catholic News Service
A wise person once observed that "gratitude is the aristocrat of attitudes." Gratitude not only shows consideration for the one who gave a gift or did a favor — it also promotes mental health if we cultivate the habit of gratefulness for things great and small.
In giving thanks, we mustn't overlook God. Gratefulness to God is at the heart of this attitude, for God has created everything for which we are grateful.
Several psalms offer invaluable guidance for cultivating this "aristocratic attitude." In modeling how to pray our gratitude, the psalms suggest two major reasons for doing so.
First, in several psalms of petition the psalmist promises to tell others of the favors received — to thank the Lord "before the assembly." In voicing our thanks to God for His goodness, we evangelize others.
Psalm 69, a cry from the depths of distress that became a source for the account of Christ's passion, promises to praise God in song and adds, "The poor when they see it will be glad and God-seeking hearts will revive." The author of Psalm 142, begging for rescue from perfidious friends, says: "Around me the just will assemble because of your goodness to me."
This theme is reflected in a reading from Mark's Gospel. The man from whom Jesus had driven out many demons begs to be allowed to follow Him. Instead Jesus, who prayed the psalms regularly, tells him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you." The man does so, and "everyone was amazed."
Gratitude psalms range from those composed for a king's victory to psalms of private individuals for unspecified favors. Psalm 18 rings out King David's praise for God, who snatched him from a powerful enemy whose strength he could not match. It closes with the promise: "I will praise you, Lord, among the nations."
Second, expressing gratitude to God increases our confidence that He will hear our prayers again. Psalms of petition often recall God's previous favors and thank Him.
Even Psalm 22 — "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" — is suffused with confidence based on God's favors to Israel and on the fact that God has always "heard the poor when they cried." Whatever the person's present trials, the Lord is greater still.
Communal laments, too, juxtapose the memory of God's favors with pleas for help. Psalm 44 recalls how God "uprooted the nations" to settle the Israelites in the Promised Land. Faced now with new disaster, the people invoke the memories of God's love and beg: "Redeem us!"
A prayer for Thanksgiving or any time: "God, giver of all that is good, unite us in our gratitude to you, to one another and for your countless gifts."
Thanksgiving Day Prayer:
Lord, we thank you for the goodness of our people and for the spirit of justice that fills this nation.
We thank you for the beauty and fullness of the land and the challenge of the cities. We thank you for our work and our rest, for one another, and for our homes.
We thank you, Lord: accept our thanksgiving on this day.
We pray and give thanks through Jesus Christ our Lord.
From "Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers"