By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
As we celebrate the cherished national holiday of Thanksgiving, it is a time to recall the foundations of this long weekend that breathes life into the heart and soul of our nation. George Washington, our nation’s first president, with the backing of Congress in 1789, declared the last Thursday of November as a day set apart for Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the blessings of liberty, the harvest and much more. President Abraham Lincoln in 1861 called for the renewal of this day set apart for Thanksgiving to inspire greater unity in our nation in the midst of the Civil War. This many years later our national time of thanksgiving can soften and heal the divisions that plague our nation in 2023.
As Catholics, we are inherently by God’s grace a people of thanksgiving, most notably whenever we gather at the altar to celebrate the Eucharist, the great prayer of gratitude for the love of God poured out in Jesus Christ for the gift of salvation. An abiding spirit of thanksgiving is at the center of the current Eucharistic revival, a permanent disposition that allows us to live in a manner worthy of our calling within and beyond the hallowed walls of our churches.
The prayers that are proclaimed at each Eucharistic celebration embrace the reality of thanksgiving from hearts and minds that are open to God’s transforming grace. At the beginning of the Preface, the portal of the Eucharistic prayer and Consecration, the priest declares. “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Father most holy, through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, your Word through whom you made all things.”
This marvelous expression of gratitude is already unfolding at the Preparation of the Gifts when the priest proclaims, “Blessed are you Lord God of all creation for through your goodness we have received this bread and wine which we offer to you, fruit of the earth and of the vine, and the work of human hands, they will become for us the bread of life and spiritual drink.” The prayers over the bread and wine are offered separately at the altar and after each, the congregation responds, “Blessed be God forever.” What a heartfelt expression of thanksgiving!
One of the most powerful expressions of thanksgiving at the center of worship is Psalm 100. You can feel the joy and read how it captures the spirit of the faithful people of Israel so many centuries ago.
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his, we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
May the Holy Spirit bestow upon us this marvelous spirit of praise and thanksgiving as we funnel into our churches and gather around our family tables for Thanksgiving.
The national holiday of Thanksgiving has deep roots in our Judaic Christian tradition. As we give thanks to the Lord on the day itself and throughout the weekend, which is the feast of Christ the King, the culminating celebration of the church year, may the prayer for unity, and a greater spirit of loving generosity be at the center of our intentions.
“But now in Christ Jesus, you who once were far off have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made the two into one by breaking down the barrier of hostility…As a result, you are no longer strangers and foreigners. Rather, you are fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:13-14, 19-20)