Let Us Give Thanks to the Lord
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Most people equate Thanksgiving with a once a year tradition involving a family gathering, a shared meal, and prayers of thanks, begun by the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in 1621. Would you be surprised to know that other states claim the first Thanksgiving, and there are at least two Catholic Thanksgivings that took place decades prior to the pilgrims’ arrival to the New World?
On the Feast of the birth of our Blessed Mother, September 8, 1565 Spanish settlers and indigenous people in St. Augustine, Florida celebrated Mass and feasted together. The second such thanksgiving took place in Texas, April 30, 1598. Don Juan de Oñate, a Spanish explorer, requested a Mass of Thanksgiving, which was followed by a celebration with the native people who had their own tradition of thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest.
Fortunately, as Catholic Christians, our tradition of a family gathering, a shared meal, and prayers of thanks happens not just once a year but rather daily in churches around the world. Begun nearly 2000 years ago, Jesus, in the presence of the apostles, instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
The Greek word for Eucharist, Eukharistia, means Thanksgiving. This sacrificial banquet begins with the priest introducing the Eucharistic prayer with the words “let us give thanks to the Lord our God.” And we respond, “it is right and just.” To which the priest says, “it is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks.”
We are called to give thanks to God “always and everywhere.” Not just sometimes and not just in church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 1328) informs us that the Holy Eucharist is “an action of Thanksgiving”. The Catechism also states that (CCC 1373) Christ Jesus is present in many ways to His Church, but “He is present . . . most especially in the Eucharistic species”.
He is Present.
I take the time to mention this because a recent Pew survey published in the late summer, reported that seven in ten U.S. Catholics believe that the bread and wine used in communion are symbolic.
Closer examination of the survey result indicates that 63% of weekly Mass-goers believe in transubstantiation, that is that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ and are NOT merely symbols.
Believing that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist is a gift of faith. Saint Cyril says, “Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since He is the truth, He cannot lie.”
Many young people are discovering the sense of the Holy in the Blessed Sacrament. Our vocations director, Fr. Greg Galvin, reports that for the past 10 years, every Thursday evening on the UCONN campus, 50 to 60 students gather for a Holy Hour in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
While it is not a scientific survey, it is important to note, seven out of ten of our current seminarians have come out of UCONN. It is a sign of the Spirit at work. The Spirit is alive and touches the hearts of many, many people. We should all be encouraged by this outpouring of faith.
I pray that you take some time to further study what the church has taught for centuries since Christ instituted this great gift. Enjoy the season and feast of Thanksgiving.
Sincerely Yours in Christ,