Do Mormons Observe Memorial Day?

Memorial Day is dear to my heart because it honors two significant groups of people: my ancestors and those who have served (or are serving) our country. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church, I have been taught that families are an essential part of life on earth. I have also been taught to appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in this land as well as those who have sacrificed to preserve them. For me, Memorial Day is about gratitude, and that’s why I love it. In the busy-ness of life, it is too easy to forget the contributions and sacrifices of others—especially when those others are no longer living among us.

Remembering Generations Who Have Gone Before Us

"As we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our own lives and our own happiness." - Dieter F. Uchtdorf; A silhouette of soldiers walking in a line at sunset.Growing up, my dad would tell us stories about my great-grandparents on his side of the family, and my maternal grandmothers would tell us about my mom’s side. I loved hearing those stories. But I never associated my ancestors with Memorial Day until after I graduated from college and moved to
Salt Lake City, where my Grandma Anderson (my mom’s mom) lives. Every Memorial Day, she sets up a cemetery tour to visit the graves of our ancestors—including pictures and stories—who were buried in the area, ending at the grave of my grandfather. It was amazing to be with some of my aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings visiting the graves, learning about my ancestors and remembering my Grandpa. I have always been close to my siblings and parents, but I felt a unique, spiritual bond with my extended family, one that continues to this day. It was a powerful reminder that I’m part of something bigger than my little world.

Elder Russell M. Nelson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (with the First Presidency, the governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ), said:

“Every human being who comes to this earth is the product of generations of parents. We have a natural yearning to connect with our ancestors. This desire dwells in our hearts, regardless of age. Consider the spiritual connections that are formed when a young woman helps her grandmother enter family information into a computer or when a young man sees the name of his great-grandfather on a census record. When our hearts turn to our ancestors, something changes inside us. We feel part of something greater than ourselves.” [1]

The late President James E. Faust, then second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ, said:

“In many ways each of us is the sum total of what our ancestors were. The virtues they had may be our virtues, their strengths our strengths, and in a way their challenges could be our challenges. Some of their traits may be our traits. I noticed a while ago that one of my great-grandsons, a toddler, seemed to have an interesting kind of a walk. My wife said, ‘He walks just like you do!’ Now I wonder from whom I inherited this characteristic.

“It is a joy to become acquainted with our forebears who died long ago. Each of us has a fascinating family history. Finding your ancestors can be one of the most interesting puzzles you young men can work on.” [2]

In a way, Memorial Day is a time to remember who we are through those who helped to shape us—whether we realize it or not. We have the same blood and some of the same traits and characteristics of those who have gone before us. We might even look like them. We are connected in a great chain of generations. We need to remember them and be grateful for their contributions to the world as well as to us personally.

Family History and Temple Work

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that through the sealing ordinances of the temple, we can be linked forever to our families. Temples are holy places of worship where members of The Church of Jesus Christ make sacred covenants with God and learn of Him and His plan for us. In the temple, there are mirrors facing each other on two walls. If you stand and face one mirror, the images seem to stretch back forever. And the same is true if you face the other mirror. The images in the mirrors represent all of those who have gone before you, and those who will follow you in your family. They are powerful reminders to us that generations of our families—past, present and future—can be linked together in love through the sealing powers of the temple.

Elder Nelson said: “Our inborn yearnings for family connections are fulfilled when we are linked to our ancestors through sacred ordinances of the temple.” [1]

President Faust said:

“The great work of providing the saving ordinances for our kindred dead is a vital part of the threefold mission of the Church. We do this work for a purpose, which is to redeem our dead ancestors. Temple work is essential for both us and our kindred dead who are waiting for these saving ordinances to be done for them. It is essential because ‘we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect’ (Doctrine & Covenants 128:18—the Doctrine & Covenants is a book of modern revelations). They need the saving ordinances, and we need to be sealed to them. For this reason it is important that we trace our family lines so that no one is left out.

“Searching for our kindred dead isn’t just a hobby. It is a fundamental responsibility for all members of the Church. We believe that life continues after death and that all will be resurrected. [See Acts 24:15.]  We believe that families may continue in the next life if they have kept the special covenants made in one of the sacred temples under the authority of God. We believe that our deceased ancestors can also be eternally united with their families when we make covenants in their behalf in the temples. Our deceased forebears may accept these covenants, if they choose to do so, in the spirit world.” [2]

It is my personal feeling that many of our ancestors never sought fame or great fortunes in this life—they just tried to be the best they could be and build a foundation for future generations. The greatest gift we can give them is to make sure they are not forgotten.

Honoring our Freedoms and Those Who Defend Them

Memorial Day was originally set aside as a day to honor those who died while serving our country. President Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ, said:

“When we ponder that vast throng who have died honorably defending home and hearth, we contemplate those immortal words, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). The feelings of heartfelt gratitude for the supreme sacrifice made by so many cannot be confined to a Memorial Day, a military parade, or a decorated grave.” [3]

Throughout the years, Memorial Day observance has been expanded to include remembering all who have died. For me, it also includes remembering those who have served in the United States Armed Forces as well as those who are serving. Both of my grandfathers served in the military, and my brother is serving our country now. I am grateful for the sacrifices they made (and my brother is making) to protect the freedoms that we enjoy. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ also believe that freedom is a divine gift from a loving Heavenly Father and must be cherished and defended.

Elder Robert D. Hales, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said:

“Before we came to this earth, Heavenly Father presented His plan of salvation—a plan to come to earth and receive a body, choose to act between good and evil, and progress to become like Him and live with Him forever.

“Our agency—our ability to choose and act for ourselves—was an essential element of this plan. Without agency we would be unable to make right choices and progress. Yet with agency we could make wrong choices, commit sin, and lose the opportunity to be with Heavenly Father again. For this reason a Savior would be provided to suffer for our sins and redeem us if we would repent. By His infinite Atonement, He brought about ‘the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice’ (Alma 42:15).” [4] 

Memorial Day is a time to reflect on the sacrifices of our forefathers and foremothers, the soldiers who died defending our freedoms and those who are still fighting to protect them. President Henry B. Eyring, the first counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ, said: “Remembrance is the seed of gratitude which is the seed of generosity.” [5] President Monson said, “Gratitude is a divine principle. … If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues.” [6] This day is an opportunity to remember that we are part of something special, a grand design that is bigger than ourselves.

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