The Blessed Virgin, Queen of Martyrs, heads the list with the title "Mother of God" which was formally bestowed upon her at the general council convoked by Pope St. Celestine at Ephesus, the city of the Blessed Virgin, in 431, and held in the Cathedral dedicated to her honour. The heresy of Nestorius, who said there were two persons in Christ, divine and human, and that Mary was the mother only of the human, was condemned and the title "Mother of God" was approved. This Pope Celestine sent St. Patrick to Ireland in 432, the year following Ephesus.
Mary's name is not mentioned simply as the other names are, but with great dignity: she is the "glorious," the "ever virgin." Mary's name is inseparable from the Sacrifice of Christ. He came first in emptying Himself. Mary comes next for she gave more than Apostles and martyrs, and thus understands the sacrifice of giving. She "stood by the Cross of Jesus," and great as the sea was then her sorrow. She is justly called the Queen of Martyrs.
Whenever a soul comes to God in Holy Mass he does so in communion with Mary. Let us bring Mary with us whenever we come to Mass. She knows that the more a soul gives itself into His hands, the more perfectly does He work for its sanctity. No one has abandoned herself to Him as Mary has. No one has placed fewer obstacles in the way of His Will than Mary. She knows me far better than I know myself. She knows why I am unwilling to be subject to Him, why I hesitate to surrender myself to Him, and she will help me to beat down the resistance I put in His way. When He sends suffering and crosses to open our hearts to the height and depth and width and length of His Love for us, and we are reluctant to receive them as gifts from Him, Mary will strengthen us with a Mother's love to accept them.
Never come to Mass without calling upon her in words such as the priest says in the prayers preparing for Mass:
"O Mother of piety! O Mother of Mercy, most blessed Virgin Mary, I, a wretched and unworthy sinner, cling to you with all the affection of my heart, and I appeal to your piety, that as you stood by the Cross of your Son, so you will assist me, poor sinner that I am, and all the priests who here, and throughout the world, offer the holy sacrifice today so that it may be a worthy and acceptable offering in the sight of the Blessed Trinity,"
THE TWELVE APOSTLES
St. Peter: June 29th.
First on the list of the twelve apostles is the name of St. Peter, the first Pope. His name was originally Simon, but was changed to "Peter" when Christ designated him as the "Rock" on which the Church was to be built:
"And I say to you: That you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (St. Matt. 16; 18).
St. Peter was a fisherman, born at Bethsaida, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. From there, while he was casting a net into the water, Our Lord called him to become a fisher of men. St. Peter is mentioned frequently in the Gospels, and much of his subsequent history is found in the Acts of the Apostles.
We admire his rugged faith when he spoke for his brethren on the occasion of the promise of the Blessed Eucharist:
"Then Jesus said to the twelve: Will all you also go away? And Simon Peter answered him: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known that you are the Christ the Son of God." (St. John 6; 68-70).
A delightful picture of his impetuous love for Christ is painted by St. John. They were fishing on the Sea of Galilee, when St. John joyfully exclaimed: "It is the Lord!" Peter hesitated not a moment, but jumped from the boat and swam to the shore, to be the first to greet his Master. There, that day on the sands, St. Peter made his threefold profession of love: "You know all things; You know that I love You." (St. John 21; 4-17). Yes, even though he had denied Him, he does not fear to make that open declaration of love for his Master.
For twenty-five years St. Peter lived in Rome as the first Pope. Under the persecution of Nero he was cast into the Mamertine Prison, whence after eight months he was led out to be martyred. On hearing that he was to be crucified, he asked that he might be crucified with his head downwards, for he was not worthy to suffer in the same way as his Divine Master.
His martyrdom is believed to have taken place on the 29th June, in the year 67.
St. Paul: June 29th.
St. Matthias is omitted because this list was made at Rome, and the preference for St. Paul is easily understood. St. Paul, formerly called Saul, was born in the commercial city of Tarsus, and enjoyed the rights of a Roman citizen. He first appears in the Scriptures as the young man who held the garments of those stoning St. Stephen to death (Acts 8; 1-9). In the Acts St. Luke tells us of St. Paul's missionary journeys, his sufferings and imprisonments, shipwreck and dangers, of his tireless zeal and ceaseless efforts to prove himself an Apostle. It is in his own fourteen Epistles that we glimpse the soul of this ardent lover of Christ.
It is believed that St. Paul was martyred in Rome on the same day as St. Peter, and so these two are inseparably united in the liturgy, sharing the same feastday. St. Paul, being a Roman citizen, did not suffer the ignominious death of the cross. He was beheaded.
"The Tiber on entering Rome," writes an ancient poet, "salutes the basilica of St. Peter and, on leaving it, that of St. Paul. Rome is between the two." The Liturgy recalls the Dedication of these two Basilicas on 18th November.
The liturgy links St. Peter, the new Moses, the leader of the new Israel, with St. Paul, the new Aaron, more eloquent than the first, a vessel of election to bring the grace of Christ to the Gentiles. Their joint feast is on 29th June.
St. Andrew: November 30th.
St. John tells us that Andrew was the first of the disciples to meet Our Lord. Having spent the day with Him Andrew sought his brother, Peter, and brought him to Jesus:
"He finds first his brother Simon, and says to him: We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, the Christ, and he brought him to Jesus." (St. John 1; 41-42.)
Both Peter and Andrew received the call to the Apostolate on the same occasion:
"And Jesus walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea (for they were fishers).
And he says to them: Come you both after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men.
And they, immediately leaving their nets, followed him:" (St. Matt. 4; 18-20).
St. Andrew is mentioned several times in the Gospels. We find his name among the wedding guests at Cana.
On the day when Christ multiplied the loaves and fishes, it is Andrew who pointed out the boy:
"One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, says to him: There is a boy here that has five barley loaves, and two fishes; but what are these among so many?" (St. John 6; 8-9).
For this act of consideration he shares with St. Peter and St. Paul the honour of being mentioned twice within the Canon. In the prayer "Deliver us" ("Libera nos") which follows immediately after the Pater Noster we say: [in the 1962 Missal,]"together with Your blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and Andrew,"
St. Andrew preached the Gospel in Asia Minor, and in Greece, where he suffered martyrdom, being cruelly tortured, and then crucified on a cross of distinctive shape, resembling the letter "X", which is called St. Andrew's cross.
St. Andrew is patron saint of Scotland, Constantinople and Greece. About the year 369 important relics of the saint were brought from Constantinople to Scotland, and there enshrined in a church built on a site where stands the present city of St. Andrews.
His head was placed by Pope Pius II in the 15th century in the basilica of St. Peter, his brother.
St. James the Greater: July 25th.
St. James was the elder brother of St. John. The two brothers are referred to by St. Luke as "the sons of Zebedee." (St. Luke 5; 10).
Their mother, Salome, who was present at the Crucifixion (St. Mark 15; 40), was a near relative of the Blessed Virgin, possibly a sister. Consequently, these two Apostles were cousins of Our Lord, and together with St. Peter were privileged to witness the raising of the daughter of Jairus to life, also the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, and the three were with Our Lord in the garden at His agony.
Soon after the Ascension, according to ancient tradition, St. James preached the Gospel in Spain. St. James was the first to fulfil his pledge to Our Lord: "Can you drink the chalice that I shall drink?" (St. Matt. 20; 22). He was put to death by the sword in Jerusalem by Herod Agrippa some ten years after the death of Christ.
His bones, at an early date, were carried to Spain where they rest today at Santiago de Compostella. To his shrine Spain goes annually in great national pilgrimages.
St. John the Evangelist: December 27th.
St. John is the disciple "whom Jesus loved." (St. John 13; 23). He it was who leant on the bosom of Our Lord at the Last Supper, who stood, next day, beside the Cross on Calvary, and to whose care the dying Saviour confided His Mother: "After that, he says to the disciple: 'Behold your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her to his own." (St. John 19; 27). We see him out-distancing Peter in a race to the tomb: "And they both ran together, and that other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre." (St. John 20; 4).
But St. Peter had his victory later: "And when he stooped down, he saw the linen cloths lying; but yet he went not in. Then comes Simon Peter, following him, and went into the sepulchre." (St. John 20; 5 & 6).
No knocking at the door, no sensitiveness or shyness about that grand old man of the sea, wherever his Master was concerned!
In the year 95 A.D., during the reign of the Emperor Domitian, St. John was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil, but emerged from it unhurt, and lived to an advanced old age at Ephesus. This is celebrated by the Church on May 6th by a special feast: "St. John before the Latin Gate." On that holy spot there is a church in his honour in Rome today. The Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John's on the Lateran Hill is on 9th November.
Besides his fourth Gospel and three Epistles he wrote the Apocalypse.
St. John was unmarried and remained so till his death. To him, a virgin, Christ entrusted His Virgin Mother. As he stood beneath the Cross on Calvary, his sufferings were equal to martyrdom. There also he drank as from a fountain a heavenly knowledge of the Holy Mass. Let us go in imagination to the Mass said by St. John in the presence of the Blessed Virgin. What an acceptable offering that must have been! What better companions can we have to walk to Mass with us than Mary and St. John who walked the way to Calvary! What better guides can we have to kneel beside us during Mass than Mary and St. John who stood by the Cross!
St. Thomas: December 21st
We hear much about "doubting Thomas" but look at the valiant and loyal follower of Christ in the following incident as narrated by St. John. On hearing of the death of His friend Lazarus, Jesus made known His wish to go to Jerusalem. The disciples remonstrated with Him on the risk he was taking, reminding Him of the recent threats of the Jews. But when Christ said: "Let us go to him." It was Thomas who then spoke up bravely to the others: "Let us also go, that we may die with Him." (St. John 11; 16).
Fitting words for a future martyr!
Research during the past 100 years shows that St. Thomas preached to the Parthians in the East, where tradition says he baptized the three Magi. Today in Malabar, India, there exist some 400,000 Christians who claim to be descended from converts made by St. Thomas. They call themselves "Thomas Christians," and are organized into a province with four dioceses.
It is now accepted that St. Thomas suffered martyrdom on a hill known today as St. Thomas' Mount. some miles south of the city of Madras. A suburb of Madras is called San Thome and a fine Cathedral dedicated to St. Thomas stands there.
St. Thomas faced the dangers and uncertainties of exile, far from his homeland; so that his doubting words will be forgiven.
It is wonderful to think of Mass being said in India by one of the Apostles.
In the Mass of St. Thomas on July 3rd, the Gospel narrates the famous scene which occurred in the upper room after the Lord's Resurrection. St. Thomas doubted, and it is only when Jesus made him put his finger into the wounds, that passing suddenly from incredulity to ardent faith, he exclaimed: "My Lord and my God." (St. John 20; 24-29).
The elevation of the Sacred Host began as an answer to the heresy of Berengarius, who denied the Real Presence. Look up at the Host and say those words of St. Thomas: "My Lord and my God," for that practice is enriched by Pope St. Pius X with an indulgence of seven years and seven quarantines and a plenary indulgence once a week on the usual conditions.
St. James the Less: May 11th.
St. James the Less, also called the "Just" by the Jews and Christians alike in Jerusalem, was a cousin of Our Lord, for his mother, Mary of Cleophas, was a sister of the Blessed Virgin, and stood with Our Lady beneath the Cross:
"Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his Mother, and his Mother's sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalen:" (St. John 19; 25.)
St. James was appointed by St. Peter as the first bishop of Jerusalem, where be lived for thirty years a life of extraordinary piety and mortification. His energy in preaching Christ crucified awoke the anger of the chief priests, who stood him on the battlements of the Temple and commanded him to denounce Christ. St. James proclaimed his belief in Christ, and was immediately hurled from the walls of the Temple. As he was still able to rise to his knees, the rabble fell upon him with stones and sticks and a fuller gave him the death blow by hitting him on the head with his mallet (such as was used in dressing cloth.) The fuller's mallet is his distinctive sign.
St. James wrote one epistle. Chapter 3 speaks to us all on the evils of the tongue, a chapter we should read and think about often, for as St. James says: "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man."
In this epistle also is found the Scriptural authority for Extreme Unction, the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick: "Is there any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." (Ch. 4; 14). [His former feast day is now that of St. Joseph the Worker, May 1st.]
St. Philip: May 11th.
St. Philip was the fourth of the fishermen of Bethsaida, in Galilee, to follow Our Lord:
"On the following day he would go forth into Galilee, and he finds Philip. And Jesus said to him: Follow me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter." (St. John 1; 33-34). He and St. Andrew were special friends.
It was to him that Christ spoke about feeding the multitude: "When Jesus therefore had lifted up his eyes, and seen that a very great multitude is coming to him, he said to Philip: Whence shall we buy bread that these may eat?" (St. John 6; 5).
And it was his friend, Andrew, who saw the boy with the loaves and fishes and brought him forward.
He was at Cana, a wedding guest.
During the Last Supper we hear Philip's supplication: "Lord show us the Father and it is enough for us." To which Jesus, answering him by name, replied: "So long a time I have been with you all, and have you all not known me? Philip, he that sees me, sees the Father also:" (St. John 14; 9).
He preached in Phrygia, and died in Hierapolis, on a cross, stoned to death.
Tradition has it that the daughters of St. Philip were the first of the holy women to dedicate their lives to God. They were probably joined by the daughters of St. Philip the Deacon. (Acts 21;8 & 9)
St. Bartholomew: August 24th.
St. Bartholomew is probably the Nathaniel mentioned in the Gospel, who was led to the Lord by Philip:
"Philip finds Nathaniel, and says to him: 'We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus, the Son of Joseph of Nazareth.'
And Nathaniel said to him: 'Can anything of good come from Nazareth?' Philip says to him: 'Come and see.'
Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him, and he said of him: 'Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile.'
Nathaniel said to him: 'Whence know you me?' and Jesus answered and said to him: 'Before that Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.'
Nathaniel answered him, and said: 'Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.' " (St. John 1; 45-49).
A direct, blunt personality, with no folds or pretences. He asks his questions frankly and then satisfied, he accepts.
Tradition tells us that he evangelized parts of the Indies, afterwards going to Armenia, where he was martyred, being first thrown into a fire and then crucified, like St. Peter, with his head downwards.
St. Matthew: September 21st.
St. Matthew, both Apostle and Evangelist, was a publican or tax-gatherer, whose calling was despised by the Jews, for the publicans were unjust, and worse still, unpatriotic. Matthew must have been an honest man. His immediate response to Our Lord's call shows him as a generous and determined character:
"He saw a publican named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom, and he said to him: 'Follow me.' And leaving all, things, he rose up and followed him." (St. Luke 5; 27-28).
After his conversion he was called Matthew, meaning "the gift of God."
Tradition holds that he preached in Arabia and Ethiopia.
It is believed that he was attacked and killed while saying Mass. We cherish that belief and like to picture St. Matthew going on calmly with his Mass as the rabble, with much shouting, storm the altar.
Today his relics are honoured in the metropolitan church at Salerno, whose patron saint he is.
St. Matthew is represented by an animal with a human face because he commences his Gospel by tracing the human descent of Christ. His object in writing his Gospel is to prove that the prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus Christ, Who is therefore the Messiah.
St. Simon, the Zealot: October 28th.
St. Luke writes of "Simon who is called Zelotes." (the Zealot). (St. Luke 6; 15).
He is said to have preached in Egypt, and also in Persia, where he was cut in two with a sword.
St. Jude, or Thaddeus: October 28th.
He wrote an epistle, which is addressed to Jewish converts, among whom he had been an Apostle.
He followed the Jews in Syria and Mesopotamia. Later he preached in Armenia where he suffered death by being shot with arrows while tied to a cross. The bones of these two apostles, St. Simon and St. Jude, linked together in the liturgy, are honoured in St. Peter's, Rome.
This is the record of the Apostles, who not only scattered the seed of the divine word, but laboured to bring it to maturity, and fructified it with their blood.