Some days just seem like they ought to be holy days of obligation that require us to attend Mass, but they are not holy days of obligation. Our national Thanksgiving Day is a secular holiday with strong religious overtones to be sure, but it is not a holy day of obligation for Catholics. It comes so close to being a religious holiday, but it is not.  Many folks do go to Mass on Thanksgiving because it just seems to be the right thing to do on such an occasion when our hearts are so filled with gratitude and when we openly acknowledge how generous God has been to us as a nation and through and in our families and communities.

The heart of Thanksgiving ought to be a sense of gratitude and we all have so many things for which we need to be grateful. This gracious and bountiful land itself is a blessing for which we all should express our thanks and of which we should take much better care. Our families and loved ones fill our lives with joy, and we should praise God for those that we hold dear and for all those who love us. The list of the motives for which we should be thankful seems limitless and includes personal, spiritual, and national reasons. Yet Thanksgiving Day is not a holy day of obligation for Catholics.

Our traditional foods capture much of our attention as first-time cooks sometimes seek help on preparing a turkey, others attempt to replicate grandma’s famous pumpkin pies and savory dressing. In addition, what’s the secret to making non-lumpy gravy? Yet Thanksgiving is so much more than the seasonal food. It is a moment to acknowledge how truly blessed we are as a people and as a nation.

Many people allow their sense of gratitude to express itself in acts of kindness toward others – especially the poor, the lonely, and our military personnel away from their families and homes. Spontaneously, many people will open up their hearts to help others as a way of sharing the good fortune that is theirs. That too is a deeply religious sign of our appreciation of the blessings that we have – we freely share them with others who lack our good fortune.

There is a lazy quality about Thanksgiving Day that affords us more time to think about and to reflect on the many blessings that we have received. Such thoughts should usher in a spirit of deep gratitude and intense generosity toward others. Families who may rarely share a common meal together, will dine around a communal table on that day. 

Thanksgiving Day is so much more than the prelude to “Black Friday” or the intense shopping period for Christmas. It is a day to praise God for His bounteous generosity and goodness. It isn’t a holy day of obligation, but it should stir the heart to offer prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude. How perfect an occasion it is to offer the Eucharist – perhaps even as a family – and even without the obligation to attend Mass but with all of the reasons necessary to offer the Gift which is the perfect way of saying thanks to Almighty God by using the very words of Christ Himself in the Church’s most perfect prayer of Thanksgiving.