Friends in High Places
Many saints share feast days because of their close connections
It is not uncommon to find friendships within the Communion of Saints. There are stories of saintly siblings like Sts. Benedict and Scholastica, who spent the night before the latter’s death engaged in a conversation of the heart about the things of faith. Or others come to mind, like the spiritual friendship of immigrant American Redemptorists Sts. John Neumann and Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, or the spiritual mentorship of the French bishop St. Francis de Sales and the widowed foundress St. Jane Frances de Chantal. Or there are the examples of saints whose joined forces changed the face of religious life, such as Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi, or the duo of Church Doctors Sts. John of the Cross and Teresa of Ávila, who, by their Carmelite reforms, taught the world anew on prayer and contemplation.
Despite their shared backgrounds, these and many other saintly counterparts do not share liturgical memorials. Each of the above have their own separate and unique feast days, and yet many saints on the universal calendar are liturgically commemorated together because of their unique relationships.
On the General Roman Calendar there are more than a dozen feasts days that memorialize two saints in the same commemoration. A bit about them and their feasts follows.
Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen
— Jan. 2 —
Of the theological powerhouse known as the Cappadocian Fathers — hailing from the Cappadocia region of Turkey — two are celebrated together Jan. 2. St. Basil the Great (330-79) became bishop of Caesarea, and his close friend and collaborator, St. Gregory Nazianzen (329-89), became Patriarch of Constantinople. Both used their philosophical training to help the Church more fully understand divine revelation and formulate key doctrines of the Faith at early ecumenical councils. Together they were key players in much of our theological understanding, particularly of the Trinity.
Many of the saints who share liturgical memorials
also are commemorated together in the Eucharistic
Prayer I (the Roman Canon). These include Sts. Peter
and Paul, James and Philip, Simon and Jude, Cornelius
and Cyprian,Cosmas and Damian, Marcellinus and
Peter, and Felicity and Perpetua.
Largely unchanged since the Council of Trent, there
are two separate listings of saints within the prayer.
Included are those saints particularly important
to the faith of the nascent Church in Rome, such
as the apostles, first bishops (popes) and many of
the city’s earliest martyrs of the Roman Church. In
total there are 41 saints named in the Roman Canon,
including the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.
These are in addition to the names of three particularly
significant Old Testament figures (Abel, Abraham and
Melchizedek) who, each in their own way, somehow
foreshadow the sacrifice of Christ.
Sts. Timothy and Titus
— Jan. 26 —
A respected leader among early Christians in modern-day Turkey, St. Timothy was a companion and one of the closest collaborators of St. Paul. St. Timothy’s mother and grandmother, Lois and Eunice, respectively, are noted in Scripture for their great faith and virtue. Accompanying St. Paul on many of his missionary travels throughout the Gentile world, St. Timothy became one of St. Paul’s most trusted aides, having been assigned important tasks like co-authorship of many of the Pauline epistles. St. Paul sent St. Timothy to the Philippians, boasting of him, “I have no one comparable to him.” He became bishop at Ephesus, and it is reported in an apocryphal text that he was martyred there for putting a halt to a pagan procession by preaching the Gospel.
St. Titus also was a close collaborator of St. Paul, who aided in the mission to the Gentiles. St. Paul put him in charge of the church at Crete, according to Tradition. He is celebrated together with St. Timothy on Jan. 26, both held up as disciples of St. Paul, whose conversion the Church celebrates the previous day.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius
— Feb. 14 —
The Byzantine brothers Constantine (c. 826-69) and Michael (815-85) eventually became monks, along with which came changes in their names, to Cyril and Methodius, respectively. Eventually, St. Methodius became a bishop. Together with their students, the brothers developed the Glagolithic and Cyrrilic alphabets as part of their work in spreading the Gospel among the Slavic peoples. Their creative approach as missionaries, always in union with the pope, is what brought the Faith ultimately to much of Eastern Europe. Feb. 14 marks the date St. Cyril died in Rome, and together they were named among the co-patrons of Europe by Pope St. John Paul II in 1980.
Sts. Perpetua and Felicity
— March 7 —
Martyred together in the north African city of Carthage around 203, Sts. Perpetua and Felicity and their companions were catechumens at the time of their death. The written account of their martyrdom survives as one of the oldest and most popular texts from early Christianity, detailing the story of the noblewoman Perpetua and her slave woman, Felicity. Both pregnant at the time, they were put to death by the Roman Empire, among others, for their conversion to Christianity.
Sts. Nereus and Achilleus
— May 12 —
While accounts differ on their lives and background, Sts. Nereus and Achilleus are remembered as brothers martyred in early Rome, likely at the end of the first century. An epitaph written for their original tomb by Pope St. Damasus, a few centuries after their death, said the brothers were converted soldiers who gave up their way of life to follow Christ. The pope wrote that the two illustrate “what great deeds can be brought about by Christ’s glory.”
Sts. Marcellinus and Peter
— June 2 —
Two early Roman martyrs, said to have died in 304, Sts. Marcellinus and Peter are mentioned by name in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I, see sidebar). An early martyrology says St. Marcellinus was a priest and St. Peter was an exorcist. Brought to the wilderness outside Rome for their execution, because the executioners did not want their place of death and burial to become a shrine for the Christians, an account of their martyrdom states they happily cleared the space of its wild vegetation for their death and burial.
Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher
— June 22 —
These martyrs reaped the immediate consequences from King Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church. Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher were imprisoned for treason because they rejected the king as head of the Church in England, which would have been tantamount to rejecting papal supremacy, and refused to acknowledge his illegitimate child as his successor. St. Thomas More had been one of the king’s closest friends and collaborators; at the height of his career he served the king as chancellor. St. John Fisher of Rochester took a stand no other bishop in England would, and he was named a cardinal while in prison. Their deaths were just days apart in 1535. St. John Fisher died June 22, and St. Thomas More died on July 6, reportedly saying, “I die the king’s good servant, and God’s first.”
Sts. Peter and Paul
— June 29 —
Although each has an individual feast connected to him (Conversion of St. Paul on Jan. 25 and Chair of St. Peter on Feb. 22), Sts. Peter and Paul share a feast commemorating them — particularly their martyrdom in Rome — on June 29. Referring to the shared feast for the Prince of the Apostles and the Apostle to the Gentiles, St. Augustine of Hippo said in his Sermon 295 (included in the Office of Readings for the day): “Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on two different days, they were one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood.”
Sts. Joachim and Anne
— July 26 —
Formerly having their own feasts prior to the liturgical revisions following the Second Vatican Council, the saintly parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary now share a feast. What we know about them is from Tradition, particularly the extra-biblical Protoevangelium of St. James. St. Joachim is said to have been known for his charity and generosity just as much for his love of God, and St. Anne’s name — meaning “favor” or “grace” — reflects an identity tied closely to her daughter’s. The barrenness of their marriage caused them great pain, and Mary’s conception brought them untold joy. But it is unknown if they came to see that from the very union of their flesh that the Son of God took on human nature.
Sts. Pontian and Hippolytus
— Aug. 13 —
|Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin|
The first married couple canonized together
are the saintly parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux,
Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin. Fittingly, they share
a liturgical memorial on July 12.
The joint celebration of these saints since 1969 is a lesson in forgiveness and an example of how enemies can become friends. Not only did the Church face threats from the hostile Roman Empire in the third century, but also the internal unity of the Church was threatened by heresy. The theologian St. Hippolytus took things to an extreme when he believed that the bishops of Rome were not strong enough in their defense of the Faith against various heresies. Elected as an alternative bishop of Rome, he became the first antipope, attacking his rivals, popes Urban I and Pontian. When Pope St. Pontian was arrested and sent to a slave camp, St. Hippolytus soon followed the same fate. Before their martyrdom they reconciled, and Pope Fabian brought their relics together in Rome on Aug. 13, 236.
Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian
— Sept. 16 —
Following a persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire in the third century, many Christians died for their faith, yet many lived because they abandoned it and performed pagan acts of worship so that their lives might be spared. Some believed — led by the Roman priest Novatian — that the Christians who apostatized in order to survive could not be welcomed back into the Church unless they repented and were rebaptized. This heresy was forcefully opposed by Pope St. Cornelius and the bishop of Carthage, St. Cyprian. Novatian was elected a rival antipope, and St. Cornelius called a synod to garner support, having Novitian and his followers excommunicated. A defender of Pope St. Cornelius, St. Cyprian suffered much and also was faced with a rival to his own episcopal office in addition to many dissenting priests. Both Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian were martyred, in 253 and 258, respectively.
Sts. Cosmas and Damian
— Sept. 26 —
Said to have been twin brothers, the physicians Sts. Cosmas and Damian were martyred in 287 during the Diocletian persecution at Aegeae in modern-day Turkey. They garnered the Greek nickname “Anargyroi” — meaning “the moneyless” — because, according to Tradition, they accepted no remuneration for the care they gave to the sick. Legends about the martyrs indicate that miracles they performed with the sick brought about many converts. Tradition holds that after many attempts to kill them, from crucifixion to stoning, Sts. Cosmas and Damian eventually were beheaded. Their names are included in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I).
Sts. Simon and Jude
— Oct. 28 —
St. Jude Thaddeus is not to be confused with the traitor Judas Iscariot. The figures of Jude and Thaddeus in the Gospels both are thought to refer to the same apostle. Not much is known about him other than his purported authorship of the New Testament letter bearing his name. A tradition holds he is the brother of St. James the Less, and his powerful intercession earned him the moniker as patron of hopeless causes. Tradition holds that St. Simon the Apostle, referred to as the “zealot” in the Gospel, was the missionary partner of St. Jude. Both are said to have suffered martyrdom together in modern-day Lebanon around A.D. 65. The relics of these apostles share a tomb in the papal Basilica of St. Peter’s in the Vatican.
MICHAEL R. HEINLEIN is editor of OSV’s The Catholic Answer online. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @HeinleinMichael.
Sts. Philip and James
— May 3 —
What is known about the apostle St. Philip comes from the Gospel of St. John. His name is Greek in origin and he was an intermediary with the Greek Gentiles who sought to meet Jesus. Hailing from Bethsaida, along with Sts. Andrew and Peter, St. Philip is thought to have been a follower of St. John the Baptist.
St. Philip is quoted at the miracle when Jesus fed the 5,000 by multiplying the loaves and fishes, and again at the Last Supper when he beseeched the Lord to “show us the Father” (Jn 14:8). Most Scripture scholars are in agreement that St. Philip the Apostle is not the same person as the deacon St. Philip in the Acts of the Apostles. The noncanonical “Acts of Philip” gives account of his martyrdom as well as his preaching and miracles.
St. James the Less, known as “the son of Alphaeus” in the synoptic Gospels, also is referred to as a relative of the Lord. His mother is named Mary, possibly the same Mary who stood alongside the Blessed Mother, John and Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross. St. Matthew’s father also is named in the Gospel as Alphaeus, so it could be that he was the brother of St. James the Less.
He is not to be confused with St. James “the son of Zebedee,” also referred to as St. James the Greater. The reason for this distinction between the two Jameses is not entirely clear; it could be related to age, size or precedence. It is presumed that the death of James recorded in Acts of the Apostles refers to St. James the Greater.
Authorship of the New Testament Letter of James is attributed to St. James the Less, who also was the first bishop of Jerusalem. He is regarded to have called the Council of Jerusalem in A.D. 50 to address the controversy surrounding the requirement of circumcision debated by Sts. Peter and Paul.
Sts. Philip and James share a liturgical memorial as a vestige of history. There is no reason to think their combined efforts in evangelization post-Pentecost would be the cause for this. Rather, their relics were brought to the same Roman church for veneration sometime in the sixth century, and their feast is set around the date of that church’s dedication. Today the church is known and dedicated as the Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles.