Catholic Memorial: Obligatory and Optional
What is a Memorial?
A memorial is simply any object (or day) that causes one to recall a person or event. A memorial can be as simple as a photo hanging on a wall or a more complex reminder, like a roadside memorial to a crash victim complete with flowers, letters, and mementos. Americans, even non-religious ones, will create a memorial to someone they love or admire, whether it's putting up a poster of Michael Jackson or keeping an old lamp that reminds them of their mother.
In the Catholic Church year, a memorial is the third highest ranking holy day in the Church calendar (both solemnity and feast day are higher). The Church typically reserves memorials for its lesser known or less "popular" saints.
Giving a day memorial status does not mean the saint was less holy or less valuable. For example, even a figure as great as St. Thomas Aquinas and a popular devotion like the Immaculate Heart of Mary are memorials. Using a memorial for certain saints allows the Church to honor the saint while not interrupting the Mass reading cycle or turning attention away from the general church year.
Memorials are broken down into two types: obligatory and optional. As the name implies, a priest must recognize an obligatory memorial in his Masses and recitation of the Hours, while he may skip an optional memorial.
However, one final word about a memorial is necessary. The lives of many saints, whatever rank their day, continue to inspire countless people. Perhaps a saint with "merely" a memorial may be an undiscovered gem for a Catholic who is waiting to be inspired by a lesser known, but still valuable, story.