Memorial Day in the time of COVID-19 Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Damian Lenshek, For the Catholic Herald   
Thursday, May. 21, 2020 -- 12:00 AM
Cemetery Flags
Flags decorate the graves of veterans at Resurrection Cemetery in Madison. (Damian Lenshek photo)

MADISON -- In years past, volunteers would walk our cemeteries, placing flags on the graves of veterans in preparation for Memorial Day.

Often, groups of 20 or more, including Marines, Scouts, and other patriotic societies, would gather for this tribute to those who have offered the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the nation.

This year, these tributes are being scaled back or canceled because of distancing requirements -- have you ever seen groups of young Scouts stay six feet apart?

Families under one roof, however, are not required to socially distance. And our cemeteries are open.

Remember departed

This year, I invite you to make an extra effort at remembering our beloved departed. Bring your family to the cemetery. Buy a few flags and decorate the grave of your veteran relative and those of other veterans buried nearby.

You can tell a veteran's grave by the military insignia on their memorial, and some of them have bronze flag-holders.

A partial indulgence for the Holy Souls in Purgatory is attached to visiting the cemetery and praying for the departed devoutly. This Memorial Day would be a great opportunity to introduce your children to this often misunderstood teaching of the Church.

One traditional prayer for use when visiting a cemetery is:

"Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace." Make it a family practice to pray this prayer whenever you pass by a cemetery.

Burials conducted during the pandemic

Catholic cemeteries have been conducting burials throughout the pandemic, and we work closely with area funeral homes to provide as fitting a setting as possible for grieving families.

There are no limits on the number of family and friends who may gather for an outdoor committal, but distancing rules still apply, and we encourage everyone to wear masks.

The distancing rules are particularly hard to follow, since hugging is such a natural expression of our compassion for those who mourn.

Understandably but regrettably, some families have chosen to delay burial of their loved ones until "all this is behind us." I would encourage families to bury their dead promptly. It is a Corporal Work of Mercy, a good thing to do. And it helps us move through the natural stages of grieving.

If a family must bury their dead now, limiting attendees due to travel restrictions, what should they do? Here is one idea: If health conditions allow, schedule a memorial Mass 40 days or one year after death. After the Mass, visit the grave to pray, then gather informally to eulogize the departed.

Monthly Masses for the dead are planned at Resurrection Cemetery in Madison, and these will be made public when conditions allow. We are still working out the details of the Memorial Day Mass and hope to livestream it. Check the diocesan website and the Resurrection Cemetery Facebook page for details.


Damian Lenshek is Director of Cemeteries for the Diocese of Madison. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it Visit for more information.

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