Is observing Memorial Day important for Catholics?

Categories: Ask Father Michael,Visitor Columnist

Easter season and Mary’s month both give us reason to remember in prayer those who have died

May 9, 2014, edition
By Father Michael Kwatera

Q. This year Memorial Day is on Monday, May 26. It’s a day to remember the dead, especially those who died defending our country. But it seems to me that we Catholics also do this on All Souls’ Day, Nov. 2. Isn’t Memorial Day a bit redundant for us?

A. I don’t think so. It is true that we Catholics do have a whole month of “Memorial Days” each November, a month filled with remembrance of, and fervent prayer for, the dead. And even secular society remembers and honors those killed in warfare on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

18memorialYet our prayerful remembrance of our deceased loved ones on Memorial Day is different from that on other days for at least two reasons. This year, as it often does, Memorial Day falls during Easter time, that 50-day season of rejoicing in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

His resurrection is the promise of everlasting life through the Holy Spirit for all who sleep in the hallowed ground of our cemeteries, and for us who will follow them.

Jesus, victorious over the worst evil that the world could do, grants our deceased loved ones his everlasting peace, the peace that this world cannot give.

Easter people that we are, our living and dying is to sing out “Amen, alleluia!” for what the risen Christ does for them and for us. Can you hear our departed loved ones singing it now?

Mary’s month, too

Also, Memorial Day falls near the end of May, a month filled with special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of our Redeemer. Her son gave his life on the cross in the struggle against evil. Thus she knows well the sorrow of those who have lost loved ones in warfare, because she so tenderly received the lifeless body of her son.

Yet Mary rejoiced in his resurrection, and she rejoices to lead us in praising him as the victorious champion of life.

Our love for the risen Lord commits us to remember and honor the dead, especially by promoting life, peace and justice for the living. It is the saving power of God’s deliverance in the dying and rising of Jesus that brings us to birth in Christ and keeps us alive in him — alive with God forever.

That is the promise of Memorial Day, the promise that both God and we remember, the promise whose fulfillment we pray for in those who have died, especially those who gave their lives defending our country and safeguarding our freedom.

Make a prayerful memorial

In my file for the feast of the Presentation of the Lord — a manila file folder, not a computer file — I have a newspaper photo of a Russian paratrooper lighting a candle in a church in St. Petersburg, Russia, during a prayer vigil for the deceased crew members of the Kursk nuclear submarine that sank in the Barents Sea Aug. 12, 2000.

I am struck by the soldier’s demeanor: he looks very tough, yet somehow very serious and reflective, aware of how fragile life can be.

Perhaps he is one with the soldiers of Judas Maccabeus in the Old Testament, who offered money for a sacrifice to benefit their slain comrades(2 Maccabees 12:43-45).

On Memorial Day we, like them, make prayerful memorial of those who have died, for we trust that the living God is stronger than death as we celebrate the Eucharist.

We trust the Lord’s promise: “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (John 11:25), will live to exult and rejoice in the Lord forever, the one who delivers us from sin and death.

Benedictine Father Michael Kwatera, a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, serves as the abbey’s director of liturgy. Please send your questions on liturgy to him at mkwatera@csbsju.edu or at St. John’s Abbey, P.O. Box 2015, Collegeville, MN 56321-2015. Father Michael enjoys giving workshops and presentations on liturgical topics to parish groups. Reach him at the email or postal addresses listed here.