During November in the United States of America, families will celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a national holiday where we reflect upon our state in life and express our gratitude to God for His providential care. It is also a time to be with friends and family and to be thankful for the gift of their presence.
In addition, it is a time to be thankful for the gift of our own life, realizing how frail we are as humans. This mortality we have is made even more real when we remember the lives of those who have gone before us in the sleep of death and who no longer can be at our side this Thanksgiving.
Typical of a family Thanksgiving Day meal is the recitation of “grace” before the feast begins. This tradition of thanking God for the bounty He has provided has always been a vital part of commemorating Thanksgiving. Moreover, this custom of “saying grace” has always been a part of Catholic family life and not only on Thanksgiving Day.
Included in a Catholic’s prayers to God at mealtime is a remembrance of the dead. Before doing so, a Catholic will recite this prayer of thanksgiving before the meal:
Bless us, O Lord and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
After the meal (or sometimes added on to the first prayers), the family will again start in thanksgiving, but will also remember those who have died:
We give Thee thanks for all Thy benefits, O Almighty God, who livest and reignest world without end. Amen. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
This tradition of remembrance is even found in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. There is an episode in The Two Towers where Faramir and the men of Gondor pause in silence before sitting down to eat a meal with Frodo and Sam:
They were led then to seats beside Faramir: barrels covered with pelts and high enough above the benches of the Men for their convenience. Before they ate, Faramir and all his men turned and faced west in a moment of silence. Faramir signed to Frodo and Sam that they should do likewise.
“So we always do,” he said, as they sat down: “we look towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be. Have you no such custom at meal?”
“No,” said Frodo, feeling strangely rustic and untutored. “But if we are guests, we bow to our host, and after we have eaten we rise and thank him.” (pg. 676)
We see in the actions of the men of Gondor a spirit of remembrance as well as expectation. They pause and remember their origin, whence they came, as well as the men who went before them. However, they also look to the future, to “that which is beyond Elvenhome.” They look forward to their own end and the promise of what lay beyond their sight in the West. These men recognize their mortality and are grateful to those who have already run the race.
Therefore, this Thanksgiving, both in a spirit of gratitude and remembrance, let us be thankful for those who have gone before us and pray that we too may embrace our mortality and have a safe passage to the Eternal Shores of Heaven.
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