Thanksgiving and the Solemnity of Christ the King fall on the same weekend this year. As we give thanks to God for the many blessings He has given to us, it is most appropriate that we give thanks to Him, above all, for His Son, Jesus Christ, who is our King precisely because He is also our Redeemer.
It is quite interesting to note that Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of Thanksgiving on Oct. 3, 1863, establishing a National Day of Thanksgiving, invoked both the providence of God, for which we are grateful, as well as His mercy, for which we give thanks. Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday during a time of tremendous strife for our nation, which was in the midst of the Civil War. Giving deference to God’s almighty providence and the abundance of goodness which God bestowed upon this nation, Lincoln also invoked God’s mercy upon the nation for its sins, which involved it in a civil war.
The Feast of Christ the King came into existence by the proclamation of Pope Pius XI in 1925 in response to a growing nationalism and secularism which was present within the world. Wishing to draw attention away from worldly power to that of Christ Himself, the pope established the Feast of Christ the King as the last Sunday of October before the celebration of All Saints’ Day. In 1969, Pope Paul VI raised the celebration to that of a solemnity and established its date as the final Sunday of the year before the beginning of the season of Advent. His intention was to draw attention to Christ, who is the fulfillment of the entire liturgical season as well as the focal point of our lives.
On Thanksgiving, we indeed express our gratitude to God for the many blessings which He has bestowed upon us. Thanksgiving is a time to count our blessings despite the many difficulties and challenges we may face in life. It offers us the opportunity to gather with our families and to express our gratitude for the gift of life, our families and friends, and especially for our faith. We give thanks to God for this nation in which we live and for all of the bounty it provides for us. We give thanks to God for the freedom to practice our faith that we possess in this nation and to pray that this freedom of religion will always be a hallmark of our country.
Celebrating Thanksgiving and the Solemnity of Christ the King brings together the reality that we are grateful to God for His mercy. As Abraham Lincoln invoked God’s providence and mercy, we realize that Christ is our King precisely because He is our Redeemer. God created us out of love, but He redeemed us out of mercy. It is His mercy which shows us the abundance of His love and how much He wants us to enter into a real relationship with Him. Despite our sin and rejection of God, God did not reject us. He sent His Son into the world, who gave His life upon the cross in order that we might have life.
Faith looks upon the cross of Jesus Christ and sees the King. The Gospel of St. John especially portrays Jesus as King as He reigns upon the cross. It is from the cross that He extends His arms over the world in an embrace of love. It is from this cross that blood and water flow upon the world from His wounded heart that we might be redeemed. As we look around the world and find war, so much strife and discord, division within our own nation, it is only God’s mercy extended to all which gives meaning and purpose. God’s power is revealed in His mercy. This is what we celebrate on the Solemnity of Christ the King, and it is for this that we are most grateful as we celebrate Thanksgiving.
Soon after Thanksgiving and the Solemnity of Christ the King, the season of Advent will be upon us. During the season, we will begin to prepare ourselves for the celebration of the birth of Christ. However, this season is also an extremely active one filled with sometimes frantic preparation for Christmas, during which we lose the focus on what Christmas is all about. Indeed, the setting of the date of Thanksgiving since Lincoln’s Thanksgiving proclamation has fluctuated in the face of the secular Christmas season. Lincoln fixed the date as the last Thursday of November, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the date to accommodate the commercial aspect of Christmas, when the last Thursday of November fell so late that it shortened the Christmas shopping season. With much controversy over this decision, it was ultimately Congress that fixed the date on the fourth Thursday of November. This history is a reminder of how we can lose focus of what Thanksgiving and Christmas are all about.
Our focus is on Christ. We look to Him as our King and Redeemer. We realize that it is the economy of salvation and not of anything else that makes a difference in our lives. As we celebrate Thanksgiving and the Solemnity of Christ the King, we look forward to the beginning of Advent. May we know fully the depth of God’s love in the mercy of Christ our King.
A Blessed Thanksgiving season to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
November 24, 2023