Here, in Juneau, Alaska, the 4th of July is a bigger deal than anywhere else I’ve lived. Historically, it was one of two days that the miners had off from work. And history speaks loudly in this part of the world. So, last night, I joined throngs of people on the pier for fireworks. Hurrah!
When I was a kid, I was always sort of surprised we didn’t have to go to Mass on the 4th of July. Amid all the excitement of the parading and barbequing, weren’t we going to mark the holiday with Mass? I can remember feeling sort of hollow, as if I wasn’t quite sure it “counted” as a holiday if we didn’t go to Mass.
Catholics have come a long way in this country. Celebrate this nation’s independence by attending a papist religious ritual? Heresy in the early 19th century. By the end of the 20th, there I was thinking Mass was a vital part of marking the day. Talk about transition!
The intermingling of church and state is hard to ignore on a day like today. The president will ask God to bless America. Obama will defend his patriotism in the face of those who hint at an unpatriotic religious identity. Families of fallen soldiers will offer prayers of remembrance. Many Catholics will, indeed, attend Mass and pray for the nation.
For a country where separation of church and state originated, the reverence with which we celebrate the 4th of July is a subtle reminder of just how impossible it is to separate them.