How much like a national eucharist is Thanksgiving? Other national holidays celebrate events or people that shaped the nation—Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, etc. This holiday is based on an event that shaped the nation, yes, but not an isolated event like a battle or the signing of a document. This is the only holiday that is a participation in the event rather than a remembrance.
The Pilgrims instituted this annual post-harvest feast as an occasion to give thanks for the many great blessings they enjoyed. It has carried through nearly 5 centuries as an annual opportunity for all to gather with family and friends at a common table, with a common food, and a common purpose. Some families go around the table and each person enumerates a few items they are especially thankful for. My family does not do anything that formal, but after the conventional grace before meals, Dad says a few words of special thanks, and then others (and we usually have at least 16 at these gatherings) volunteer their own words of thanks if they feel so compelled. And then we share the common meal.
(Heck, if we want to extend the comparison, there is even a procession at the outset, if we count the Macy’s parade up in Manhattan.)
How much like a secular eucharist is this? In the Mass we participate in, not merely remember and think about, the Last Supper, the passion, and resurrection of Christ. In receiving Communion we eat the spotless lamb, the common food for all believing souls who come to the gathering. We gather as the one family of God, even while in our several churches.
And the words themselves mean the same thing. “Eucharist” comes from the Greek εὐχαριστέω (eucharisteo), which literally means, “to be grateful; give thanks.”
I wonder how many of us go to Mass and present ourselves for Communion with less of a sense of thanks than we have when we sit around the Thanksgiving table today? The Mass is the ultimate Thanksgiving meal. At the same time it is so much more than just a meal, so it behooves us never to reduce it to just a meal and reduce the altar to just a table, but there is a meal aspect to it.
In a very real sense, we Catholics are blessed to have the ultimate Thanksgiving Day event every single day, or at least every Sunday.
So have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving everyone. And thank God that we have a national moment set aside to do what we all ought to do every day.