By FATHER PAUL KEENAN

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. His mercy endures forever.” The words of the psalmist provide a wonderful introduction to one of the great themes of the month of November. It is time for Thanksgiving Day. Once again we invite the family around the table, roast the turkey, put out the cranberry, whip up the mashed potatoes and fill the gravy boat. The wonderful smells of Thanksgiving Day permeate the house. It is a remarkable day.

Thanksgiving Day can come and go with lots of celebration, but with very little attention to what the day is really all about. It is entirely possible to have a wonderful family celebration and to miss the point of the day.

Now, don’t get me wrong: there is nothing wrong with the aforementioned celebrations.

They bring families together and create a warm domestic atmosphere. But if we have that and do not have the true meaning of the feast we have missed something very important.

We celebrate Thanksgiving in November, but it is celebrated in different ways at different times in other parts of the world. One of the central themes of Thanksgiving is to give thanks to God for the bounty of the harvest. It is primarily a day to express gratitude to God.

This meaning of the feast may escape us, since we may not relate to the word “harvest.” Most of us have never lived on a farm or in a rural area or experienced the harvesting of the crops. How can we relate to this idea? Fortunately for us Catholics, our celebration of the Eucharist gives us a solution to this problem. At the Offertory, we offer gifts of bread and wine which become the Body and the Blood of Christ. The prayers of the Mass at the Offertory give us just the perspective we need. The bread and wine are “the fruit of the earth and the work of human hands,” which “become our spiritual food (and drink).” This means that the bread and wine that we offer at Mass are not just bread and wine; they also represent our entire lives—our work, our prayer, our families, our relationships, everything that is a part of our lives. We take everything and offer it to God. And in offering it we give thanks by saying, “Blessed be God forever.” In this way, the Eucharist (the word means “thanks”) gives us the essence of what Thanksgiving Day is really all about. We may not think in terms of “harvest,” but we can take everything in our lives and give thanks to God for it.

There’s a fundamental principle beneath this practice of thankfulness, and it is this: everything we have comes to us from God. We sometimes think that it is due to our blood, sweat and tears, but remember: we would not be able to work if the ability to do so were not given us by God. And much of what we have, when you stop to think about it, is not something that we work for. For example, we do not work for the trees, the sky, the sunrises and sunsets, the lilies of the field. We enjoy them and yet we don’t work to get them: they are God’s wonderful gift. True thanksgiving means giving glory to God for all that he has given us.

Happy Thanksgiving! May you and I remember the true meaning of this feast and bring its spirit into our daily lives.