By Fr. Bob Hoffman
Next Thursday, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Most people trace the roots of this celebration to the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. The national celebration of this day was put in place with a proclamation from President Lincoln in October of 1863…on the heels of the Battle of Gettysburg that July. Even amid such great tragedy, he called on us to focus on that for which we could give thanks.
The Greek word meaning “thanksgiving” is actually “Eucharist.” Or, in their alphabet – “ευχαριστία.” This is the same word that Catholics use to describe what is also called Holy Communion. We sometimes call the Catholic Mass the “celebration of the Eucharist.”
This understanding of the Greek word for thanksgiving leads us to understand that the first Thanksgiving celebration in what is now the United States was not the Pilgrims in 1621. Rather, it was the Catholic Mass that was celebrated in Saint Augustine, Florida in 1565. The Spanish explorer, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, came ashore on the birthday of the Blessed Mother (September 8) after first seeing land on the feast of Saint Augustine (August 28).
The Spanish explorers traveled with a Catholic priest, Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales. One of the first acts of the landing party was to reverence a cross that was brought ashore with them. One of the next things that they did was to celebrate a Catholic Mass.
I suspect that nearly all of us fail to give the proper amount of thanks for all that we have received. But I also suspect that too many of us lose sight of to whom we should give this thanks.
President Lincoln wrote in his proclamation, “Now, therefore, I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may then be, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe.”
It is God to whom we should give thanks.
I pray for a safe and enjoyable thanksgiving for all of you. Most of all, I pray that you will give thanks to God for your many blessings. And that you will allow yourself to be drawn into a deeper relationship with God.