This Monitor file photo shows a flag-draped headstone on the grounds of St. Mary Cemetery and Mausoleum, Hamilton, where a Mass is celebrated on Memorial Day every year. In his 2019 Memorial Day message, Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., reflects on the meaning of the day for Americans, and then from a Catholic perspective he speaks of how "sacrifice and dying for others is the very root of our faith. We need look no further than the Crucifix that is the central symbol of our religious consciousness to remember how the Lord Jesus redeemed us through his death and freed us from sin." John Blaine photo
This Monitor file photo shows a flag-draped headstone on the grounds of St. Mary Cemetery and Mausoleum, Hamilton, where a Mass is celebrated on Memorial Day every year. In his 2019 Memorial Day message, Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., reflects on the meaning of the day for Americans, and then from a Catholic perspective he speaks of how "sacrifice and dying for others is the very root of our faith. We need look no further than the Crucifix that is the central symbol of our religious consciousness to remember how the Lord Jesus redeemed us through his death and freed us from sin." John Blaine photo

A message from Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

Memorial Day is observed throughout the United States on the last Monday in May. This national holiday is widely considered the beginning of summer, a few weeks shy of the actual calendar date. Many families celebrate by displaying the flag, attending parades and carnivals, opening swimming pools, having backyard barbecues and, for many, taking a day off from work or school. Another custom regularly followed is the traditional visit to cemeteries where members of the military who gave their lives for our country are buried. 

As a nation, different from Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day honors those brave women and men who proudly wore the uniform of our armed forces and made the ultimate sacrifices that have become the lifeblood of our republic. It is entirely fitting that we remember them with gratitude and pride.

The actual origins of Memorial Day — formerly called “Decoration Day” — are debated but most people agree that the customs that accompany it date back to the Civil War or shortly thereafter when veterans and families decorated the graves of the departed.  That patriotic practice gratefully continues.

For Catholics, sacrifice and dying for others is the very root of our faith. We need look no further than the Crucifix that is the central symbol of our religious consciousness to remember how the Lord Jesus redeemed us through his death and freed us from sin. “Greater love than this no one has,” our Savior told us, “than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).”  The sacrifices made by our countrymen and women throughout American history are a reminder of Christ’s message. 

No matter how we commemorate Memorial Day — whether with parades and flags or cookouts and all kinds of summer fun — the memory of those who have fallen should never be taken for granted or stray far from our consciousness. In a real sense, these heroes in uniform who lived and served and sacrificed their lives for our freedoms, still give witness to the Lord’s own words and, in the shadow of his Cross, they now behold his face in glory.