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Memorial Day Mass?

Q. Dear CNP:

Why are there no Mass propers for Memorial Day? Shouldn't there be missal propers for such an important civil holiday with religious overtones?

Liturgical Patriot

A. Dear LP:

As a general rule, the Church in her divine worship is concerned with the liturgical calendar, both the Temporal Cycle (the liturgical seasons) and the Sanctoral Cycle (the daily, dated celebrations of the saints and mysteries in the lives of Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin). The civil calendar rarely plays a part in our official liturgical worship — there is no "Mass" for Mother's Day or Father's Day, for Presidents' Day or Labor Day, for Flag Day or even for New Year's Day [which in the Church is celebrated as the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God].

However, occasionally a national bishops' conference will petition the Vatican for a special religious observance of a national holiday of particular importance — one that, as you mentioned, has religious overtones. That is what happened with Thanksgiving Day and Independence Day. There is a Mass for each of these in the Sacramentary (the Roman Missal), which is currently used in the U.S. These may also appear in the newly-translated Roman Missal that we will use at Mass in the future.

The latter of these, occurring as Appendix X in the Sacramentary, is actually titled: Mass for "6. Independence Day and Other Civic Observances." This could easily be used on Memorial Day.

The Mass texts include:

  • Entrance Antiphon ("Give peace, Lord, to those who wait for you...")
  • Opening Prayer [two options]
  • Prayer over the Gifts [two options]
  • Communion Antiphon ("Lord, you are the source of life...")
  • Prayer after Communion [two options]
  • Solemn Blessing

The Preface for Independence Day and Other Civic Observances has two options [P-82 or P-83].

These readings are suggested:

  • First Reading- Isaiah 32:15-20 [The effect of justice will be peace.]
  • Responsorial Psalm- Psalm 72:1-2, 3-4, 7-8, 12-13, 17 [response: "Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever."]
  • Second Reading- I Peter 1:3-9 [In his great mercy he gave us new birth.]
  • Gospel Verse- John14:27 ["Peace I leave with you, says, the Lord, my own peace I give you, alleluia."]
  • Gospel- John 14:23-29 [Peace is what I give to you.]

If, on Memorial Day, when we remember those who gave their lives in service to our country, you prefer to focus the Mass on that theme, there are three "Masses for the Dead" that could be used. Masses C, D, and E in this category are titled, "For more than one person or for all the dead."

Since the Masses for Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day only occur on the particular liturgical calendar for the US, they are not included or mentioned in the universal Table of Precedence, which indicates what is celebrated when two "feast days" coincide. In the appendix to the General Calendar of the Sacramentary called the "Proper Calendar for the Dioceses of the United States of America," these two celebrations seem to be optional memorials, meaning that even an obligatory memorial of a saint would have precedence. Technically, then, if Thanksgiving Day fell on November 21, November 22, or November 24, the Mass celebrated should be the Presentation of Mary, Saint Cecilia, or Saint Andrew Dung-Lac & Companions, respectively. This, however, seems not to be practiced, so perhaps I'm reading more into the status of Thanksgiving Day as an optional memorial than really exists.

In some years Memorial Day may fall on a liturgical "feast," (e.g. the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin). This is a rather high liturgical rank, and one that perhaps should not be overlooked in choosing a Mass for Civic Observance.

On any day that is a weekday in Ordinary Time (i.e. green vestments), or a weekday during Eastertide, or an optional memorial, the Mass for Independence Day or Other Civic Observances can be celebrated, as can a Mass for the Dead. I would recommend either of these for Memorial Day, when possible.

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications

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