As of 2010, there were 1.1 billion Catholics in the world, and the number continues to grow. This is a lot of people celebrating Mass each Sunday, as well as holy days of obligation. But what about a Mass of Thanksgiving? Is that even a thing, and if so, is it about Thanksgiving holiday? Is it just for Americans or people everywhere?
There isn’t a Mass of Thanksgiving for Thanksgiving Day especially, but parishes have Mass everyday, usually more than once. During all Masses, priests say “It is our duty and salvation always and everywhere to give You [God] thanks.” And the Eucharist, central to Mass, means to give thanks.
As a Catholic adult convert, I am constantly learning something new about Catholicism, from Catholic theologians and priests, as well as from books like The Incredible Catholic Mass by Martin Von Cochem. But I must say it surprises me how many people raised in the Catholic faith aren’t sure about its traditions and customs.
This includes understanding the Mass.
Well, this article sheds light on this topic and some other things related. Read on!
Is There A Mass of Thanksgiving for Thanksgiving Day?
Thanksgiving Day is a special day for many where people come together to give thanks. As important as this day is, it is a tradition for many Catholics to come together and celebrate Mass to mark this important event. But there are doubts on whether this is a Catholic Mass of Thanksgiving.
There’s Mass on Thanksgiving Day, but Catholic churches have multiples Masses every day. It’s common though to offer a special holiday intention, keeping in mind thanksgiving to God is literal in each Mass. The first Mass of newly ordained priests are called a Mass of Thanksgiving too.
For Catholics, every day is a thanksgiving day, so the Church normally holds Mass every day. This was one of the first surprising things I learned about being Catholic, as Protestants don’t typically have a ‘service’ daily. Most Protestants have Sunday (or Saturday) main service, and one other service mid-week.
Many parishes hold several Masses per day too.
Even though you may not consider them as thanksgiving day masses, they all have something in common: the Eucharist. The Eucharist actually means ‘to give thanks’ so essentially this is every single Mass, giving thanks to God.
Another thing that shows how each Mass is a ‘thanksgiving Mass’ is what’s said. Here are the many ‘thanks’ given during each and every Mass no matter where you attend Mass in the world:
- Thanks be to God.
- We give You [God] thanks for Your great glory.
- Let us give thanks to the Lord our God (It is right and just.)
After the priest says, ‘let us give thanks to the Lord’ at Mass, for example, the parishioners respond with ‘it is right and just.’ Then the priest says, ‘it is truly right and just. It is our duty and salvation always and everywhere to give You thanks.”
Something that differentiates Catholics from practitioners of other religions is that they can celebrate something special almost any day of the month. This is because most days have a low or high feast assigned to it, connected to a Saint. There’s special prayers for that Saint, special foods to cook, and so on. And every day has special readings just for that day. Thus, Catholics can celebrate something every day if they wish, just like attending Mass every day.
When United States citizens celebrate Thanksgiving Day, it does not mean that it is a thanksgiving day for Catholics necessarily. Thanksgiving Day in the United States context means a celebration after harvest and it’s history is tied to Puritans and Native Americans in the early days of the settling of the ‘New World’.
Some Catholics strongly oppose the American holiday of Thanksgiving due to its marred history, but certainly no Catholic opposes giving thanks to God on any day including the fourth Thursday of November (i.e. Thanksgiving Day).
But individual churches may actually hold a Mass on Thanksgiving with the special intention of the holiday. I did just a bit of research and found many parishes around the country that does this. Here are just a few that promoted as such on a particular Thanksgiving Day:
- Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Portland, Oregon
- St. Michael Catholic Church, Bedford, Texas
- St. Cyril of Jerusalem Parish, Encino, California
- Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Pass Christian, MS
Even though the credited ‘first’ American Thanksgiving was at Plymouth in 1621, there are claims to Catholic roots to a similar ‘thanksgiving’. From Juan Ponce de Leon and more, there are other explorers and expeditions that were Catholic. St. Augustine is one that has a strong claim, being in 1565.
The Catholics who first came to the United States held their first mass of thanksgiving, some as soon as their feet touched land. Thus, many Catholics look to these early settlers who gave thanks, and thing of Thanksgiving Mass as a time to honor and remember them. It has been the trend now for years.
Even after Thanksgiving Day was declared officially a national holiday, commemorating the Puritans, Catholics have been at the forefront, leading others in the celebration of the holiday.
So Catholics may attend Thanksgiving Mass to honor Catholic roots like those in St. Augustine; as a special intention for the American holiday of Thanksgiving like the one given at St. Michael the Archangel parish; or just as another day in the middle of the week when Mass is offered, there’s no question that Catholics give thanks!
For more Catholic-related holiday articles like this one, try these:
- Good Friday Drinking: Alcohol On Good Friday For Catholics?
- Is Breaking Lent Okay Or Is It A Bad Thing? (Catholic View)
- What Do You Say When You Receive Ashes on Ash Wednesday?
A Different Mass of Thanksgiving
Now to be clear, there is another kind of ‘Mass of Thanksgiving’. This is one referring to newly ordained priests.
There’s a tradition of new priests holding their first Mass at their home parish or parish where they grew up. This first Mass is indeed a Mass of thanks and praise to God. Thus, it’s been called a Mass of Thanksgiving, though it has nothing to do with the American (or Canadian) Thanksgiving holiday.
The priest Mass of Thanksgiving can occur just about anytime of the year (with exceptions of Lent, Advent, and Holy Days of obligation) and aren’t limited to the fourth Thursday of November, such as these: at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Annandale, VA, June 2018; at Our Lady of Mercy August 2019 in East Greenwich, Rhode Island; and at Holy Name of Jesus in Indianapolis, May 2022.
So, while Americans designate a holiday for Thanksgiving, Catholics also designate a priestly ordination as a Mass of Thanksgiving.
Summary Note: Thanksgiving is something Catholics take very seriously as it’s in every single Mass. Some parishes have a special intention Mass for the holiday, but others have regular Mass that holiday like they do every Thursday of the year.
What Is A Mass of Thanksgiving?
Father Mike Schmitz says that giving thanks is necessary. Does this mean that celebrating Thanksgiving is necessary then?
A Mass of Thanksgiving is the name for the first designated Mass of newly ordained priests. However, Catholics give thanks at every Mass because it’s actually part of the Mass, thus required. Some parishes also have a special Mass intention on Thanksgiving Day, while others just have regular Mass.
If a parish offers a special intention of thanksgiving at Thanksgiving Day Mass, it just means the priest acknowledges the intention at the start of Mass or during his homily. And the homily probably will include a connection or reference to giving thanks. He may also offer a specially crafted thanksgiving prayer at this Mass.
Homily is a “short sermon” given by the priest (Source: Merriam-Webster).
During such a Mass, the protocol is the same, and it carries all the elements of a regular Mass. Even though the Mass is for thanksgiving, the readings and liturgy will not be changed from any other Mass given that day (as Catholics around the world follow the same readings).
But remember, all Masses are for thanksgiving.
It means that no matter the kind of Mass taking place during that day or the kind of event happening, you should consider it a thanksgiving Mass. What makes it such is the presence of the Eucharist, the body of Christ, at every Mass. So this is the case on Thanksgiving Day, too.
So whether people attend Mass on Thanksgiving, a Mass of Thanksgiving, or a Thanksgiving intentioned Mass, they will be giving thanks to God.
Why Celebrate Thanksgiving Mass?
So if Thanksgiving isn’t a day of obligation for Catholics, or you believe it’s a ‘bad holiday’, should Catholics, or anyone for that matter, attend Mass on Thanksgiving?
It’s prudential to celebrate Thanksgiving Mass, whether it’s a newly ordained priest’s first Mass or a Mass with the special intention of for the holiday. Giving thanks is never a bad thing. Odds are you’ll walk away from Mass better than you were walking in.
Going to church on Thanksgiving Day is one of the best ways you can mark this day.
Well, this does not mean that you can’t also spend time with family, watch football, and enjoy a great meal also. Mass will only take about 1-2 hours of your time depending on whether you attend an ordinary Mass (a.k.a. ‘the Novus Ordo’) or the Extraordinary Form , known as TLM (‘the Latin Mass’), which is the longer form.
For Catholics, giving thanks is a part of every day, so it makes sense to add celebrating a Thanksgiving Mass, too.
However, some people may prickle at honoring anything that has to do with the Puritan-referenced holiday. But, remember there is reliable claim that Catholics gave similar ‘thanks giving’ much earlier than the Puritans. So if you balk at celebrating the Plymouth version, think of this reference for a reason to celebrate the Thanksgiving Day holiday with a Mass.
Wrapping Up Thanksgiving Mass
To wrap it up, there’s not a Thanksgiving Mass obligation for Catholics. Therefore, there isn’t a mandated, official Thanksgiving Mass related to the American holiday, Thanksgiving.
However, most parishes hold Mass on Thanksgiving Day around the world, simply because parishes have Mass everyday. Some will offer a special intention for giving thanks on this fourth Thursday in November, while others will hold Mass as usual.
And there is a Mass of Thanksgiving that has nothing at all to do with the Thanksgiving holiday. This Mass is connected to the ordination of new priests.
Extra Sources: New Liturgical Movement; St. Michael Catholic Church; The Compass News
For further reading about Catholic-related holidays, try these: