Friday, May 25, 2007

Vigil of the Solemnity of Memorial Day

I hope I have not posted on this subject before; apologies if I have.

I write from the United States of America, where this coming Monday the civil holiday of Memorial Day is observed. This is in remembrance of those soldiers who died in battle. Accordingly, at this weekend's Masses, priests and musicians everywhere will be under pressure to turn the liturgy into a festival of American triumphalism--a kind of Vigil of the Solemnity of Memorial Day, if you will. The fact that Pentecost falls on this week will mean little to many people. The same would be true of Trinity Sunday or Corpus Christi, (or the Seventh Sunday of Easter, for that matter).

Therefore, in many parishes across the USA this weekend, you will hear as the recessional hymn not "Go Make of All Disciples" but rather "America the Beautiful" or "Battle Hymn of the Republic" or even the worst of them all (in my opinion), "God Bless America." My experience seems to suggest that this is a diminishing trend, although that may well be because I've attended Mass mostly in places where I was in charge of the music, or at traditional parishes with a good sense of what the liturgy should be.

Nevertheless, I have questions for our readers:

1) Are they still doing these kinds of songs at the weekend Masses nearest these holidays?

2) Do you think it's appropriate?

3) For our non-USA residents, does this same problem exist in your country?

Honestly, I think the whole practice is absurd and leads to all manner of misconceptions. It's to the point in some places that if Independence Day falls on a Sunday, the music director hears it from every direction that there was only one (gasp!) patriotic hymn. I even heard it from someone once because I didn't do patriotic hymns on September 11 (this was a year in which it fell on a Saturday). I retorted that a hymn for the dead would have been far more appropriate.

It seems to me that even at the special Masses observed on the civil holidays themselves, it would do us well to stick to strictly religious material. I even wonder if it's a mistake to have titles like "Thanksgiving Day" and "Memorial Day" in the pew missalettes. For one thing, the purpose of Memorial Day could well be served by a Mass for the Dead. Adding these extra titles gives people more leverage to try to turn the Mass into a celebration of country, but as we know, our patria is not anywhere here on earth, but in heaven.

I just found an article online that discusses the root cause behind this whole conflict. (Warning! Political opinions in that link.)

As you meet your friends this weekend, I urge you to wish them a "Happy Pentecost."

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: