Honoring the 41 Saints of the Roman Canon (Part II)

Yesterday in Part I we considered the saints of the Roman Canon mentioned before the Consecration. Today, we consider those named after the Body and Blood of Our Lord and Savior are present upon the altar of sacrifice.

“To us sinners, also, your servants, who hope in your many mercies, deign to grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs: John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia, and all your Saints.”

The Saints of the Roman Canon Mentioned After the Consecration

Kevin Di Camillo, writing for the National Catholic Register, summarizes the lives of the final 14 saints (excluding St. John the Baptist) in succinct terms:

  1. Stephen: The protomartyr and first of “The Seven Deacons” in the Acts of the Apostles. His death closely parallels that of Our Lord. The Mass teaches us to forgive those who injure us, as St. Stephen prayed for his murderers, and the Mass is a window on earth to Heaven, reminiscent of how St. Stephen saw Christ in His glory at the right hand of God.
  2. Matthias: He was the man chosen by the Holy Ghost, through St. Peter, to replace Judas Iscariot (see Acts 1:26). The Mass must of course be offered by a validly ordained priest which requires the proper succession of bishops, well symbolized by the first man outside of the Twelve to join the Apostolic college.
  3. Barnabas: He vouched for Saul and introduced the Great Apostle of the Gentiles to St. Peter. Barnabas was originally the “senior” missionary with St. Paul being his assistant. He too was named a Bishop [of Crete] and St. Mark served as his apprentice. He has always been celebrated as an Apostle (though not as “one of the Twelve”). His inclusion reminds us of the missionary thrust of the Mass, and how it is meant to convert all nations.
  4. Ignatius [of Antioch]: With the martyrdom of this great saint, we enter into the post-apostolic period of the patristic era of Church history. He was a disciple of St. John the Apostle. Tradition holds that he was the “child Jesus placed in [the Apostles’] midst” (Matthew 18: 2). Ignatius serves as a bridge between the last of the Apostles and the greater emergence of the Church Suffering — under the Roman authorities. A friend and mentor to St. Polycarp, many of his writings, mainly letters to the Churches, have survived. His connection to the Mass is obvious for he writes with great longing to be ground by the beasts as wheat is ground into the Holy Eucharist. His writings have helped convert many a Protestant to the True Faith. He was killed in the Roman Coliseum by lions.
  5. Alexander: Like Ignatius, an early Eastern Bishop, in this case of Alexandria. One of his priests, Arius, began the greatest heresy to menace the Church after its legalization. Along with his archdeacon, St. Athanasius, Alexander defended the true Faith at the Council of Nicea. His connection to the Mass is obvious, for the Mass is the primary means by which the purity of our doctrine is preserved and transmitted to succeeding generations (lex orandi, lex credendi). He is the first non-martyr to appear in the Canon.
  6. Marcellinus: Like John and Paul, and Cosmas and Damian, Marcellinus was part of a pair of early Church martyr-saints. Marcellinus was a priest and was beheaded in 302 with the following saint. It is fitting that once we enter the post-apostolic age, the bishops are named first, then the priest, then the laity. This proper hierarchy is reflected in every aspect of the Mass, from the architecture, through the vestments and roles, and even to the prayers offered.
  7. Peter: An exorcist and friend and confidant of St. Marcellinus. This Saint Peter is apparently the first and only saint in the Canon who was only in “minor orders.” Already, in him we see the tradition of Christians honoring the saints and seeking their intercession by naming their children after them. (Peter and John are the most common male names among canonized saints.)
  8. Felicity: Another half of a pair of martyrs — and the first woman to appear in the Canon, after the Blessed Virgin Mary — Felicity was a pregnant slave-girl who was thrown to the lions and then dispatched by the sword in 202. She reminds us that the Redemption Christ won on the Cross is for people of all classes. In fact, this was a distinguishing mark of Christianity, especially in its first centuries. The dignity of slaves – made in the image and likeness of God – is acknowledged in the Mass, even though it may not be recognized in many socio-political settings.
  9. Perpetua: A noble woman of high rank in Carthage who would not go back on her faith even when her pagan father begged her to deny Christ. Perpetua was pregnant and her heroic witness is an inspiration to all mothers. The Mass gives us supernatural life through the sufferings of Christ, which parallels the natural life Perpetua gave to her child through labor pains and martyrdom. Along with St. Felicity, she shows that any person, whether of high or low estate, male or female, can win the martyr’s crown.
  10. Agatha: A Sicilian noble, Agatha, according to the official martyrology, “after beatings and imprisonment, racking, the twisting of her limbs, the cutting off of her breasts, and torture by being rolled upon shards and burning coals, at last died while in prayer to God.” According to tradition, it took two attempts to kill her (like St. Cecilia below, and St. Sebastian whose name does not appear) since St. Peter himself healed her in a vision. The year was 254. There is a strong connection between her manner of torture and how at Mass Holy Mother Church nourishes her children with spiritual milk (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:2).
  11. Lucy: You’ve seen her famous statue: she with the chalice with two eyeballs in it. Like Saint Agatha, she was of Sicilian nobility. Her name meaning “light” despite the fact that she’d been blinded, pulled by oxen, covered in pitch and resin and boiling oil, and finally had her throat slit under the emperor Diocletian’s persecution. In each of the Virgin Martyrs, we can see a type of the Church, the Mystical Bride of Christ. It is interesting that many of these virgins could not be killed until they were beheaded, Thus we are reminded of how the sheep are scattered once the shepherd is struck.
  12. Agnes: Of all the women martyrs, perhaps the most famous, and certainly the youngest (about 12 years of age), her name means “lamb,” though she had the heart and faith of a lion. Along with Lawrence, one of the most famous early Roman saints and, in the words of the great Doctor of the Church St. Jerome, “Agnes is praised in the literature and speech of all peoples, especially in the Churches, she who overcame both her age and the tyrant, and consecrated by her martyrdom to chastity.” John Keats’ famous poem “The Eve of Saint Agnes” shows just how right St. Jerome was. Her connection to the Mass is evident, since Christ is the Lamb (Agnus) of God. Yet her name in Greek is derived from the word for purity, and there are countless prayers in the Mass where the priest prays for his own purity and that of his flock.
  13. Cecilia: Patron saint of musicians, and usually shown with a keyboard, her passion is so well-known that it would be unjust to list a truncated version of it here. Though the date of her martyrdom is unknown (as is much of the history surrounding her), it is thought to have occurred in Rome in the early part of the fourth century. Music is of course an extremely important element in our worship of God. Most choirs and scholas invoke her patronage as they render unto God the fitting praise and adoration of chant and polyphony.
  14. Anastasia: Her commemoration falls on Christmas Day. Along with her husband Publius she was tortured and eventually killed with 270 other men and women. Her name refers to the resurrection – which is the central theme of the Mass and of our Faith. “If Christ be not risen again, your faith is vain, for you are yet in your sins … But now Christ is risen from the dead” (1 Cor 15:17,20). She was martyred about 304. Thus, all these saints come from the Age of Martyrs, i.e. prior to when Church and State were united under the Pope and Roman Emperor.

Conclusion

All saints in Heaven surely were devoted to the Holy Mass, yet only 41 are named in the Canon of the Mass. We would do well to pray to them and to especially honor them on their annual feast days.

The Baltimore Catechism explains:

“We can best honor the saints by imitating their virtues, and we shall learn their virtues from the written accounts of their lives. Among the Saints we shall find models for every age, condition or state of life.”

This week try to go to Mass at least one extra time during the week, offer up your intentions in union with the bread during the Offertory, invoke the saints during the Canon to intercede for you and your intentions, and thank God during Communion for making it possible for mere human beings to make it to Heaven.

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