Many parishes in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend offer a blessing of Easter baskets at that time of year, but St. Vincent de Paul Parish is among those that also offer a blessing of food at the Thanksgiving Day Mass. St. Vincent has been inviting parishioners to bring the bread and wine that they will later share with family and friends for a special blessing to the 9 a.m. Mass on Thanksgiving Day for decades. It has grown in popularity over the years; now, Thanksgiving Day Mass attendance resembles that of a Mass celebrated on Sunday.
In the United States, Thanksgiving Day is a holiday with special religious ties. Originally, Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Pilgrims and Native Americans, who gave thanks to God after the harvest of 1621. Yet, it was not until 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln declared that the last Thursday of November should be a national day of thanksgiving.
Individuals or families may bring food to be blessed for their Thanksgiving dinner to the church or some other suitable place. The blessing may be given by a priest, deacon or lay minister, and take place during Mass or outside of the Mass. Food may also be blessed that will be distributed to the poor.
At St. Vincent de Paul, those desiring the blessing are asked to bring their bread and wine or sparkling grape juice to one of two tables situated near the sanctuary in the front of church, before Mass begins. They ask that items be labeled with a name, or those present should remember what they brought so that they leave with the same items they came with.
After the distribution of holy Communion has concluded, the priest blesses the food and drink, sprinkling them with holy water. The blessing consists of prayers of thanksgiving from the Book of Blessings. He encourages those in attendance to consume the blessed food instead of throwing it away, out of respect.
This blessing is not a consecration. Consecration occurs during Mass, when the host and wine are turned into the body and blood of Christ.
St. Vincent’s pastor, Father Daniel Scheidt, connects Mass with the feast of Thanksgiving by saying that “In the Lord’s eyes, the tables of our homes are linked with the altar in the home of His Church, because all of our ordinary meals are a preparation for — and a share in the blessings of — the eucharistic feast of holy Mass.” The water of blessing reminds everyone of their baptism, and the blessing of bread and wine reminds them of the Eucharist and everyone coming together to share in the feast.
Undoubtedly, coordinating Mass and cooking on Thanksgiving can be a challenge for the host. Some families cook some of the meal the day before, which allows for the carving of the turkey without as many helpers in the kitchen. Others spread cooking out over the entire day to allow for attendance at Mass.
Parishioner Marilyn Fech has been participating in the blessing of bread and wine at Thanksgiving Day Mass at St. Vincent for 20 years. She believes starting the day with Mass sets the tone for Thanksgiving and helps her get in the “true spirit of the day.” Fech said the spirit of the day is family, where the adult children come around noon and they eat around 7 p.m. Games are played, and there are snacks, dips, crackers, fruits and veggies shared until dinner, when the blessed bread and wine are passed around.
Susie Johnson, also a parishioner, believes going to Mass on Thanksgiving adds richness and meaning to the family meal, by bringing God into focus and “putting action to the meaning of the day.” She further reflected on the day by saying, “Think of how many days we spend preparing for Thanksgiving, with the planning and grocery shopping; then contrast that with the perfect banquet of the hour of the Mass. God gave us the perfect meal, and the cleanup is easy.”
She is grateful for the opportunity to have a portion of her meal blessed, because she believes it allows children to see the Catholic Church in action within their parish community.
Ann Gray has been participating in the blessing of food and drink at St. Vincent de Paul since its inception. Gray and her husband traditionally attended this Mass each year even before their children were born. She said the Mass is the most important part of Thanksgiving, and a tradition she hopes her children will practice with their children.
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