By Jay Nies
Remembrance and consecration stood out among the themes of this year’s Veterans Day Mass and Prayer Service in St. Peter Church in Jefferson City.
Monsignor Donald W. Lammers, PA, a retired priest of the diocese, who is a U.S. Army veteran, presided at the Mass.
The Mass and prayer service were filled with prayers and familiar rituals pointing to national cohesion and the individual sacrifices made by veterans: “All gave some, some gave all.”
“Especially on this special day, let us really, really remember the people who stood in the face of fire and risked their lives,” said Deacon Thomas Fischer, a permanent deacon of St. Peter parish, in his homily for the Mass. “Far too many have died so that we can have the liberty we enjoy today. We must remember them. We can never forget them.”
In the Mass, all of those sacrifices were offered up to God in union with the Supreme Sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
The message, music and pageantry drew emotional responses from some of the men and women in uniform, especially as they exchanged the Sign of Peace.
Deacon Fischer drew inspiration for his homily from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, the 272-word oration he gave at the November 1863 dedication of a national cemetery where one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles took place.
“Lincoln talks about ‘the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced,’” Deacon Fischer noted. “We don’t just enter a conflict for no reason. There’s a noble cause that we’re involved in — where we go and what we do.
“A noble cause in order for the next generation to be able to enjoy the same liberties and freedoms that we have today — that is our mission. That is our duty,” he said.
This mission and duty must be shared by all people, veterans and non-veterans, individually and collectively, and ultimately for the glory of God, Deacon Fischer noted.
In the Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln pointed out that this nation was “conceived in liberty and dedication to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
“This dual cause of liberty and equality has been tested many times throughout our history and will continue to be challenged,” Deacon Fischer said. “Great men and women, both living now and deceased, have struggled desperately to secure our freedoms and defend our liberty.”
Lincoln spoke of them consecrating the ground with their sacrifices and their lives in ways far more meaningful than words.
“That consecrated ground can now be found both here in the United States and in countries all around the world, where our men and women have given their lives fighting for our freedom,” Deacon Fischer said.
As such, it is no more appropriate to forget Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq or the places forever altered by the two World Wars than it would be to overlook Gettysburg, Antietam or Wilson’s Creek.
“Lincoln also gives us some encouragement,” Deacon Fischer noted. “He says, ‘Okay, we have these liberties, these freedoms, that all of these people throughout history have paid for with their lives. And now we ask you, the living, to continue upholding our liberties and our country, to protect the concept of liberty for all.”
“It is for us the living to see to it that these men did not die in vain,” Deacon Fischer said, paraphrasing the 16th U.S. President. “We are the next generation that carries this vigil forward.”
He said that whenever veterans and uniformed personnel are honored, recognition must also be given to their families.
He referred to them as “silent heroes” — the men and women who maintain the home front, take care of children and otherwise support their loved ones who are serving in the military.
“The emotional toll of that can be incredible,” he observed. “There is great emotional sacrifice that comes with that.”
He offered a prayer for all military personnel: “Almighty God, we stand before You, asking for Your divine mercy and protection. Embrace with Your invisible armor our loved ones in all branches of the service. Give them courage and strength against all enemies, both spiritual and physical, and hasten their safe journey back to their homes and to their families. Amen.”
Parishioners, several in full military dress, served in liturgical roles at the Mass, including as greeters, altar servers, lectors and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.
Members of the choirs of St. Peter and Cathedral of St. Joseph parishes joined in stirring renditions of “Faith of Our Fathers,” “America the Beautiful,” the National Hymn, “How Great Thou Art” and “the Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Representatives of veterans’ organizations and auxiliaries and local law-enforcement agencies carried flags and banners in the procession past an honor guard of Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus from the Dan C. Coppin and St. Jude assemblies of Jefferson City and Mary’s Home, respectively.
Some veterans in the congregation wore uniforms or veterans regalia.
At the end of Mass, parishioner Jerry Dunn led the congregation in a prayer for veterans who had died, and their families.
The choir led the singing of the National Anthem.
Members of the Samuel F. Gearhart Detachment of the Marine Corps League fired a three-volley rifle salute in the street outside the church, followed by “Taps” played by bugler Jim Hickman, echoing down the stairwell to the choir loft.
Three sections of third-graders from St. Peter Interparish School attended the Mass and prayer service.
“I think they learned a lot just by being here,” one of their teachers stated.