Do Something for Our Veterans!

We Catholics have more to offer than the usual tributes

November 11 is Veterans Day — about five weeks from now. On that day we honor those who have served, and especially those who have died, for their country. How do we honor those veterans? The typical American approach is to give speeches, pay tributes, and eventually to lay a wreath somewhere. These are all nice things. But as Catholics we have more to offer.

Those rituals strike me as something like a typical Protestant or even secular funeral: long on the eulogies, short on effective prayer. In Protestant theology, of course, that’s understandable. All the Reformers were vehement that (a) the Mass is no sacrifice and (b) suffrages for the dead are useless.

Again, we as Catholic have more to offer.

The Church has traditionally granted a plenary indulgence under the usual conditions, applicable to the faithful departed, to Catholics who, during the first eight days of November, go to a cemetery and pray there for the dead. (The usual conditions are understood as Confession within 20 days of seeking the indulgence, reception of Communion on the day of performing the act, performing the act, praying for the intentions of the Holy Father, and being completely detached from sin, including venial sin. To the degree one is attached to sin, one gains a partial indulgence). This practice reflects the Church’s traditional association of November with prayer for the Holy Souls.

A year ago, I wrote an article [here] advocating that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops turn to the Holy See and ask for a special indult on November 11. I proposed the bishops ask the Holy See to allow the obtaining of that same indulgence specifically on November 11, given that day’s association with faithfully departed combatants. I suggested the bishops might even consider approaching the Holy See jointly with the episcopal conferences of Canada, England and Wales, and Scotland, as all those countries also observe November 11 in honor of veterans. I also raised the idea by letter to two individual bishops.

I want to raise it again. We Catholics have more to offer than wreaths.

There is a story about Padre Pio that, during World War II, his monastery’s friars had just sat down to dinner when they heard men shouting “Viva Padre Pio!” (Long live Father Pio!) The monastery’s gates were closed and the courtyard empty. Confused, the friars looked to the future saint, who calmly observed, “Those were soldiers that died in battle and were just delivered to heaven.”

As Catholics, we can do more for our veterans.

May I ask readers to do two things?

One: Send this essay to your local bishop and ask him to take it up. The bishops usually meet in Baltimore in November. We need many bishops to stand up and move this. It should not be a difficult thing to do.

Two: Ask your pastor if he will schedule a special Mass for veterans on November 11. If he won’t plan a special Mass (e.g., in the evening, when people can attend), see if you can at least reserve the intention for a Mass that day for faithful departed servicemen.

Let’s give Veterans Day a Catholic significance that really matters for our deceased soldiers, sailors, and airmen.


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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