The first names mentioned in the Canon of the Mass under the Commemoration of the Saints above, are those of the "glorious and ever Virgin Mary, Mother of our Lord and God Jesus Christ," and the "Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul." While it is not my intention to minimize the importance of Our Lady and Ss. Peter and Paul, it's realistic to assume that every Catholic has at least a minimal understanding and awareness of the lives of these three Saints and can easily call to mind something of a personal nature about each. Every time we pray the Holy Rosary we meditate on the specifics of Mary's life intertwined with that of Christ's. Likewise, when we read the Epistles from the New Testament we encounter Ss. Peter and Paul on a grand scale. Therefore, let us move on to some of the lesser known saints mentioned in the Canon.
There is much in Holy Scripture to teach us about the Apostles. We can recall most of their names mentioned many times in the accounts of our Lord's life. Some are better known than others, but each one walked in the presence of Jesus Christ, heard His voice, saw the color of His eyes, knew the lines and creases in His hands, became familiar with His habits and personality. After His crucifixion, glorious resurrection and ascension, each one went on, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring the Gospel to other people and other lands. Oh, how blessed they were! Now, allow yourself to meet them, one by one. Look into their hearts, impress their names upon your memory, carry some part of them with you as a fellow disciple of Jesus Christ. Listen to their names during the Canon of the Mass, and encounter them as REAL people, REAL saints, and never let their memories be erased.
Sts. Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Thaddeus, (along with Simon Peter) were each chosen and called by name to follow Our Lord during the intensive last three years of His earthly ministry.
Saint Andrew was the first disciple of Christ, and soon brought his brother Simon (Peter) to Jesus. The brothers were fishermen before leaving their nets to follow Christ. After the death of Christ, Andrew went on to preach in Scythia and Greece. A very old tradition says that he was crucified at Patras, Acaia, on an x-shaped cross.
Saint James and Saint John were also brothers and fishermen, sons of Zebedee, and according to the Gospel of St. Luke, they were partners with Simon Peter. (Luke 5:10) James, sometimes called "James the Greater", was the older brother of John. These brothers were nicknamed "Boanerges" by Jesus, which means "Sons of Thunder." James was the first of the apostles to be martyred when he was beheaded in Jerusalem (Acts. 12: 1-2). John was the youngest of the apostles, and became known as "the beloved disciple." He remained at the foot of the Cross with Mary when others fled. He was the only apostle who did not suffer martyrdom, despite attempts upon his life. He wrote one of the four gospels, and was banished for a time to the isle of Patmos where he received the vision described in the Apocalypse. He died an old man, at Ephesus.
Saint Thomas was probably a fisherman, living in Galilee, and was surnamed Didymus, "the twin". While he is most often remembered for his doubts regarding Christ's resurrection and appearance to the other apostles, it was Thomas who exclaimed upon seeing the resurrected Jesus, "My Lord and my God!" With these words, Thomas became the first to clearly acknowledge the divinity of Christ. Thomas went on to preach the Gospel in India and was martyred and buried there.
Saint James, the son of Alpheus, is also referred to as "James the Less." He is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, and seems to have been in a position of authority, bishop of the Church in Jerusalem. He was thrown from a pinnacle of the temple and stoned to death around 62 A.D.
Saint Philip was one of the first called by Jesus to be a disciple, and brought Nathaniel to Christ. Philip recognized early on that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, the one spoken of by Moses and the Prophets. After the resurrection, he went on to preach in Greece and according to tradition, was crucified upside down at Hierapolis. His body is buried beside St. James the Less in Rome.
Saint Bartholomew is believed to be the same as Nathaniel, a native of Cana in Galilee, a doctor in the Jewish law. His innocence and simplicity of heart caused Jesus to call him an "Israelite…incapable of deceit." He took the gospel to some very dangerous regions including Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, India and greater Armenia where he was flayed and beheaded.
Saint Matthew, also called Levi, was a tax collector at Capernaum when Christ called him to be a disciple. He was the writer of the first Gospel. After the Ascension, he remained in Judea for quite some time and then went on to preach the Faith far and wide, suffering martyrdom in either Ethiopia or Persia.
Saint Simon was surnamed "the Zealot" for his rigid adherence to the Jewish law, and his zeal in combating against unbelief and sin. He preached in Egypt and then went on to meet St. Jude (Thaddeus) in Persia where they were both martyred.
Saint Thaddeus, also called Jude, was a brother of St. James the Less. They were called "brethren of the Lord," on account of their relationship to His Blessed Mother. It is believed that Thaddeus first preached in Mesopotamia, but then went on to Persia where he and Simon were martyred together.
Humble, simple men, chosen and called by Christ, leaving behind their every day lives in order to face the challenge of bringing Christ to the world! They changed the world by the grace of God, giving their lives in the process; no small price. The ultimate crowning of their efforts is that every time we hear their names, we glorify God! At every Mass, we call upon them to intercede for us and we contemplate the great honor which God has bestowed upon them for their faithfulness. Truly, it is with great humility, love and encouragement that we are privileged in calling to mind these holy men, seeking their constant friendship as we journey through time; pilgrims in a foreign land.
(Next column: We'll review the lives of some of the great Popes mentioned in the Canon)
(Information regarding the lives of these saints is taken from the Pocket Dictionary of Saints, by John J. Delaney, ©1983, Image Books; and Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, compiled from Butler's Lives and Other Approved Sources, Benziger Brothers Inc. © 1925.)