The steaming, tender turkey has almost been entirely devoured. Can you smell the aroma of mashed potatoes and gravy? And, oh, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce, the hot rolls with melting butter! Is there any more sumptuous feast in the whole year?
On every Thanksgiving Day we are proud to be Americans. We show our gratitude to God for giving us the unmerited grace of being born in the United States, of living in the twenty-first century, of being baptized and educated. Little effort is required for us to be thankful when we are in a good mood, and who couldn’t be at the beginning of a four-day weekend?
Although we all know that Thanksgiving is called a secular holiday, inspired by the Pilgrims but first celebrated as a holiday under Abraham Lincoln, gratitude is a virtue and an attitude we ought to have towards God. There are even liturgical prayers specifically for Thanksgiving Day Masses. There is no problem with delving into its religious significance. By all means, we have a lot to be grateful for, and Thanksgiving Day reminds all of us to give thanks to the one who deserves it.
Nevertheless, we tend to give this holiday the place other countries reserve for their patrons. Italy calls upon St. Francis of Assisi. Ireland invokes St. Patrick. Each country remembers its own saints that stood as pillars of faith against the wayward currents of their day. Americans, however, unite at table on the occasion of Thanksgiving, as if this were our patron saint.
So who is our patron saint? More than a saint, we stand under the mantle of the Immaculate Conception. Because the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is a holy day of obligation, we are prone to forget that Mary is also our mighty patroness. The good news is we haven’t missed it yet this year. It’s coming up on December 8, right around the corner.
Why December 8? It’s nine months before we celebrate her nativity. For the same reason we celebrate the Annunciation to Mary (when Jesus was conceived in her womb) on March 25, nine months before Christmas.
The title of Immaculate Conception means that she was never stained by sin, even from the moment she was conceived. That is why the archangel Gabriel was able to call her “full of grace.”
Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December 1854, eight years after she was named our patroness in the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore (1846). Devotion precedes dogma. In fact, devotion to Mary under the title of Immaculate Conception goes back to the 8th century.
On 16 April 2008 Pope Benedict XVI visited the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. and implored Mary to watch over the Church in America: “I commend the Church in your country most particularly to the maternal care and intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States. May she who carried within her womb the hope of all the nations intercede for the people of this country, so that all may be made new in Jesus Christ her Son.”
As we approach these two holidays, Thanksgiving and the Immaculate Conception, let us take a step back and see them in more light. There is no need to deprive Thanksgiving of its traditional elements of family, food, and football. What is important, however, is that we go one step further and cultivate a sincere spirit of gratitude. If it is sincere, it will not expire with the dawn of the next day. We will begin to realize how little we deserve and how much we are given. By the time the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we will be aware of plenty to thank Mary for, as she continues to look after our country, our faith, and our souls.
Joseph A'Hearn, LC studies for the priesthood in Rome.
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