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Living the Truth in Love - Mary on Memorial Day

This year, on Monday, May 29, two significant celebrations coincide. One is ecclesial, the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, and the other is national, Memorial Day. While these are two separate celebrations, reflection upon them reveals a similarity which is at the core of both. That core is sacrifice. It is well to reflect upon both of these celebrations in light of that core element.

Memorial Day is observed on the last Monday of May. The history of its celebration began during the American Civil War (1861-65) when, during it, many American citizens began to place flowers on the graves of those who had lost their lives in the war. In 1865, at the conclusion of the war, it was suggested that a day be formally set aside to honor those killed in the war. It was later suggested that May 30 be declared an annual celebration to remember those who died, under the title of Decoration Day because of the flowers placed upon the graves. By the turn of the century, nearly every state held Decoration Day as an official holiday. After World War I, it was expanded to honor those killed in all of the nation’s wars. After World War II, it became known as Memorial Day. In 1971, Congress established Memorial Day as a federal holiday and fixed its observance on the last Monday of May. 

Memorial Day differs from Veterans Day insofar as it honors the brave men and women who ultimately made the sacrifice of giving their lives for the sake of their country. It is a fitting tribute to do so and to decorate the graves of the departed in honor of their patriotic sacrifice. It is noble to honor the sacrifice made by the brave, who gave their lives for the freedom that we enjoy in our great nation. The essence of sacrifice is what the true meaning of love is all about. The selfless giving of one’s life in a heroic manner for a purpose and the good of another is a virtue much needed today. Sacrifice entails giving up something that is good for the greater good. Sacrifice is at the heart of family life. On Memorial Day, we uphold the value of sacrifice, which has led to the freedom we enjoy in this nation, and pay honor to the men and women who have exemplified this virtue.

In 2018, Pope Francis established that the Monday following Pentecost Sunday would be observed as the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church. Thus, while it is coincidental, it is fitting that we celebrate the Feast of Mary, Mother of the Church on the same day that we celebrate Memorial Day this year, as Mary shared in the sacrifice of Christ in the most intimate manner at the foot of the cross. Sacrifice is at the very center of what our faith is all about, as Jesus gave His life on the cross so that we might have life. No one experienced that sacrifice more deeply than Mary.
The Gospel passage for the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, is taken from the Gospel of St. John as Jesus dies upon the cross. It is here that the Lord gives us Mary as our Mother, as He commends her to the beloved disciple, John. We are told that, “from that hour John took her into his home” (Jn 19:27). It is at this hour that the Church comes into existence with Mary as its Mother. How fitting this hour is as it is in the Gospel of St. John that Christ works His first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana in Galilee at the urging of Mary. It is precisely here that Jesus tells his Mother, “my hour has not yet come” (Jn 2:4), but begins the hour of His public ministry through her. It is at the hour of the cross, when Jesus gives Mary to us as our Mother, that we know the fullness of the sacrifice of Christ, in which Mary participated. Indeed, sacrifice is the basis of the family of Christ’s Body, the Church, through which His love is constantly present to us.

As we celebrate Memorial Day and the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, it is so fitting that we reflect upon the sublime nature of sacrifice. We will celebrate our annual Memorial Day Mass at Our Lady Queen of Peace Cemetery with the Marian feast. We give thanks to God for those brave men and women who sacrificed their lives in order that we might have the freedom we do in this country. We especially pray to our Mother Mary, the Mother of the Church, to help us appreciate more the sacrifice of Christ, who has given us the fullness of life and freedom by giving His life on the cross. May Mary, who was joined with the Lord in His sacrifice, join us as a family in the Church with a special prayer for all those who have gone before us. 

Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
May 26, 2023