Our first Thanksgiving in San Antonio was in 2008 – here’s an article from our diocesan newspaper from way back then, by then-Archbishop Gomez (now archbishop of Los Angeles).
For most Americans, Thanksgiving Day is a special day, where we celebrate family unity. In fact, families get together on Thanksgiving more often than on any other holiday, including Christmas, and according to retailers’ statistics, this is the day when the most food is consumed in the country.
But besides the traditional family get-together and the big meal, there is also the religious meaning of this holiday, that is present since its origins. According to tradition, the pilgrims celebrated the first meal of thanksgiving in 1621, together with a group of natives to give thanks to God for the abundance of the harvests in the new world.
With time, this celebration became a national event, finally sanctioned by President George Washington himself. Today, we Catholics, celebrate Thanksgiving not only as a national holiday, but also as an authentically Catholic holiday.
I say that this is a truly Catholic celebration because even before the “first” Thanksgiving celebration on U.S. soil in 1621, on April 30, 1598, in Texas, Don Juan de Oñate had already declared officially a “Day of Thanksgiving,” commemorated with the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
Oñate did what is essentially Catholic: to celebrate the Eucharist, a word which comes from the Greek term Eukaristein, and which means, precisely, “thanksgiving.”
In fact the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “Believing in God, the only One, and loving him with all our being has enormous consequences for our whole life,” (CCC 222); and then it adds that this involves, “living in thanksgiving: if God is the only One, everything we are and have comes from him: ‘What have you that you did not receive?’ ‘What shall I render to the Lord for all his bounty to me?’”(CCC 224).
This is the reason why, although Thanksgiving is not a day of obligation on the Catholic calendar, the liturgical calendar of the church in the United States celebrates it with the solemnity of two readings — one from the Old and another from the New Testament — and with a symbolic reading of the Gospel of Luke: the passage of the “Magnificat” proclaimed by the Most Holy Virgin Mary, in which she recites one of the most beautiful and profound thanksgivings to the infinite love of God: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness… The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Lk 1:41-55)
Although the Virgin Mary experienced it in a unique and privileged way, we can offer our thanksgiving to God, because he has given us more than we imagine or deserve, simply because, as our Holy Mother tells us, he has done great things for us, and holy is his name.
That is why we Catholics should not only celebrate Thanksgiving with a deep sense of prayer, gratitude and joy, but the celebration this day should lead us to remember that our lives as Catholics are a constant act of thanksgiving, through our daily activities, all of which should give glory to God, especially through the celebration of the Eucharist, which, as the Catechism says, “The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all ‘thanksgiving.’” (CCC 1360)
This weekend we begin the special season of Advent. Through it, we prepare to receive the supreme gift from God: his own Son, who became one of us to reconcile humanity.
I pray with all my heart to our Mother, who was always grateful to the Lord, to fill our hearts with thanksgiving, in preparation for the great mysteries of Christmas.