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Julie Larsen discusses early celebrations of Thanksgiving among Catholics in the United States.

I think the Mass is the highest form of Thanksgiving for Catholics. So, I decided to research about where the first Mass in America was celebrated.

There is a lot of debate on where this first Mass was or could have been. One claim is to St. Brendan the Navigator who discovered North Canada area back in the 6th century!

However, since no one stayed in Americas back in the 6th century, let’s flash forward several centuries to the 1500s. Coronado was an explorer from Mexico and wanted to go north into what later became America territory (who knows what it was called back then) to the land of the Quivera Indians as they supposedly had “gold.” 

Guess who accompanied this explorer? Well, come to find out, a priest named Father Juan de Padilla accompanied him. When Coronado crossed over the Arkansas River (near today’s Dodge City, Kansas), Fr. Padilla offered a Mass of Thanksgiving in the year 1541 (some say it was June 29 – a feast of St. Peter and Paul).

Fr. Padilla ministered to the Indians there for awhile. He later wanted to bring the Faith to a neighboring tribe (Kaw Indians) in the year 1542. However, the Quivera Indians were jealous and Fr. Padilla was martyred by those Indians around Christmas Day, 1542. There is a Padilla Cross erected near Lyons, Kansas, which some say is near to where he was martyred!

I just find this interesting: the first Mass offered in United States was in 1541, way before Pilgrims had their “first Thanksgiving,” before Protestants settled in New England and Virginia.

Another first Catholic Mass in what would become the USA took place near modern-day St. Augustine, Florida, where missionaries arrived from Spain; this Mass was offered in the year 1565 on September 8th (Mary’s birthday). The priest that offered the Mass was Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales. 

On the same day, they had a feast of food (so a type of Thanksgiving meal) – but nothing like the Pilgrims' meal. It was simple food that the Indians and Americans ate. (I am one to prefer fish over turkey!) 

The National Park Service gives more details of what the Indians and Americans ate at this first Thanksgiving meal:

What was the meal that followed? From our knowledge of what the Spaniards had on board their five ships, we can surmise that it was cocido, a stew made from salted pork and garbanzo beans, laced with garlic seasoning, and accompanied by hard sea biscuits and red wine. If the Seloy contributed to the meal from their own food stores, then the menu could have included turkey, venison, gopher tortoise, mullet, drum, sea catfish, maize (corn), beans, and squash.” (National Park Service, "The First Thanksgiving")


So, have some beans and sea biscuits and that’s your Thanksgiving meal! Perhaps some fish too. I am really a lover of fish – so I bet them being near the ocean – someone probably caught a fish to eat as well. 

We should consider every Sunday a day of Thanksgiving! #catholicmom

Of course, the Mass being the ultimate Thanksgiving to God, going to Mass on Sunday and daily (if one can make it) is the best way to give God our thanks! Jesus came to earth to offer Himself on the Cross – so we should pray and attend Mass as our thanksgiving to God. We should consider every Sunday a day of Thanksgiving!



Copyright 2020 Julie Larsen
Image: Pixabay (2018)