It’s Memorial Day for our nation — the day once a year that we have designated as a country to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by men and women. We memorialize their bravery and willingness to risk their lives, and even lose them, to protect and preserve our freedom. When we think of this kind of sacrifice, one day seems insufficient. For those of us who have had family members serve in the military, and those who have lost dear ones in the service, many more memorial days exist in our hearts. And that is as it should be. By setting up days of remembrance, we honor those who have laid down their lives for others.
The Catholic Church (as well as the Orthodox Church and other liturgical traditions) is all about memorial days. We have feast days to remember saints, some of whom gave their lives for their faith. But the most important memorial day celebrates the most important sacrifice and the one who gave His life — not for just one nation — but for all mankind. And this memorial day is so important that it happens every week in the sacrifice of the Sunday Mass.
I recently read a Protestant blogger who was criticizing the weekly mass, because he mistakenly believes it emphasizes a Christ being sacrificed over and over again rather than once for all time and all people. No understanding could be more opposite to the essence of the Catholic Mass. It is the ultimate memorial day! We memorialize his passion, death and resurrection weekly because it is everything to us. Without his sacrifice for us we are still dead in our sins; but with his sacrifice we have become the adopted children of God. Our only just response to such a gift — for it is completely a gift — is utter gratitude, and the liturgy of the mass (among other things) is a prayer of gratitude. In the words of the Eucharistic Prayer, “it is truly right and just” for us to offer this sacrifice with grateful hearts so often to our Lord. As Catholics we are obligated to attend mass weekly, but it is out of deep gratitude and awareness of their need of Christ that many Catholics attend daily mass.
There are some Christian traditions that corporately memorialize Christ’s sacrifice much less frequently — for some, once a month in a communion service or once a year on Good Friday. However, if we believe that one day does not suffice to memorialize the lives lost for our freedom while here on earth, then how much more insufficient is it for the One who has freed our souls for Heaven!
We need to make ourselves remember quite often, because our history shows us that we fallen human beings have a propensity for forgetfulness. Just as a few generations removed from world wars have little concept of their grandparents’ sacrifice, taking for granted at times the freedom they enjoy — we too are in danger of forgetting the state of our souls without the sacrifice of our savior. Memorial days exist so that we do not forget, and they exist as opportunities for us to show our gratitude. Today, take the opportunity to show your gratitude for the men and women who have given theirs lives; and every time you go to mass take the opportunity you have been given by the church to remember and receive your Lord who gave himself for you.
Photo attribution: By Andrew Bossi – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2048998