The Origins of Thanksgiving

The very heart of Christian worship takes its name from the Greek word expressing thanks. Eucharist means thanksgiving. It goes without saying, then, that thanksgiving is a rather significant aspect of what the Mass is all about. And there is no real separation of church and state where the celebration of Thanksgiving is considered. Citizens of the United States have celebrated Thanksgiving, at least informally, since before the country’s inception. Both the Mass and the celebration of Thanksgiving Day call to mind the very necessary reality that, as human beings, we are made to give thanks.

What is the reason for our thanksgiving? The late archbishop of Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I., put it best: “Recognizing that none of us is self-made and unwilling to declare ourselves a cosmic accident, we turn to the Author of all that is and say thanks. In the face of a gift that cannot be matched in return, all one can do is be grateful.”

And our last words at Mass is our response: “Thanks be to God.” Cardinal George explained their significance, saying that “Gratitude to God shapes our lives, at their beginning and their end. Each moment is a gift; each event unfolds under God’s loving providence.” The challenge for Christians is to live each day in recognition that all is gift — chief among which is our salvation. As St. Paul exhorts us, “in all circumstances give thanks” (1 Thes 5:18).

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