By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.
This is a busy time of the year for U.S. flags. If I gaze upon my parish’s five cemeteries and our abbey cemetery, I am likely to see a number of flags posited around Memorial Day (May 30). And, our country celebrates Flag Day on June 14 and Independence Day on July 4 (and who has not seen flags on display during parades or at baseball games on Independence Day?).
The Catholic Church does recognize the opportunity to acknowledge civil holidays during the celebration of the Mass. For example, according to The Order of Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours and Celebration of the Eucharist (2015), Catholics in the United States can use texts for an optional “Mass for Peace and Justice” on Memorial Day and an optional “Mass for Independence Day” on July 4.
When celebrating Mass on national holidays, how do we strike a balance between honoring our country (and those who died in defense of the United States) and the sacred space reserved for the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist in our church sanctuaries?
As I have discussed with several people this spring, we can honor the U.S. flag and our war dead by placing the flag in the church vestibule and/or installing a plaque commemorating the war dead outside of the worship space. Thankfully, there is room for patriotic symbols on our churches’ property without encroaching upon the symbols of the Liturgy of the Word (such as the ambo) and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (such as the altar). I love our flag and everything for which it stands, but also hold that sacred space where we celebrate the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist must not be expected to share its predominance with secular symbols.