Memorial Day

Friends in the Lord, today is Memorial Day, and we can ask: what is the meaning of this day? It is a day to commemorate those soldiers who died for our country. We also pray for all our deceased family members.
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This day originated in 1865 by former African-American slaves. They wanted to honor Union soldiers who died in the Civil War to free the slaves. All the graves were decorated, and so it was originally known as ‘Decoration Day.’ In 1868, General John Logan made Decoration Day nationwide. 3 years later, Michigan made Decoration Day an official state holiday, and soon every northern state did the same. By the early 1900’s the north and the south were able to put their differences aside and honor all those who died in the Civil War. After World War I it was extended to honor all Americans who died in war, and by the 20th century it became an occasion for people to visit the graves of their deceased relatives and friends.
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The name for the holiday gradually changed from ‘Decoration Day’ to Memorial Day, it officially became ‘Memorial Day in 1967.
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Many people observe Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and decorating the graves of their dead. Another tradition is to fly the flag of the United States; many fly it at half-staff from dawn until noon in honor of those who have died. At National Cemeteries and others, volunteers place American flags on each grave.
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As Catholics, we know that honoring the dead and praying for those who have died is very important; it is one of the 7 Corporal Works of Mercy: Bury the Dead. Visiting the graves of loved ones, praying for them each day, offering Masses for them – As Scriptures says, it is a godly and noble thing to pray for the dead. (2 Mac 12:46) The Catechism teaches, “The bodies of the dead must be treated with respect and charity, in the hope of the Resurrection. The burial of the dead . . . honors the children of God, who are temples of the Holy Spirit.”
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As America honors its dead – as they decorate graves of loved ones – we see the deep yearning in every person – a desire that death does not have the final word. But we know that death does not have the final word. ‘I saw the Son of Man who said to me, ‘Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death.’ (Rev 1:17)
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Looking out today on the vast cemeteries and all the tombs, we pray for those who died serving our country, and all the dead, with the hope that, following Jesus, all will awaken to the beautiful New World to come. Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.

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