Cosmas, Damian and Saints of the Canon

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Sep 26, 2014

September 26 is the combined optional memorial of Cosmas and Damian, two saints of the Roman Canon (or Eucharistic Prayer I). Although not much is known about these twin brothers, there is much to be learned from contemplating their feast.

Medical Missionaries

Cosmas' and Damian's feast day has been moved by one day in the current calendar; originally their feast was September 27. Tradition considers them as medical doctors curing the sick, but not charging anything for their work. It was that witness that brought many conversions. One of the legends highlighted often through art was the miraculous grafting of an recently deceased Ethiopian's leg to replace a cancerous leg of another man. Pictured here is the work of Fra Angelico, Healing of Justinian.

I think people would sit up and take notice if a modern doctor, laden with school loans from earning his medical degree, would suddenly stop charging for his services. Would it bring conversions? Or would it bring questions in this cynical age that he might be a quack or need psychological help because he didn't take insurance or had fees for his work? Their lives remind me of St. Francis of Assisi, whom many thought he was balmy for different and drastic way of poverty. Being a Christian sometimes means turning ordinary life upside down in total pursuit of the Gospel.

Closeness in Life and in Death

Tradition also hold that Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers. What a wonderful example to see how closely they worked together in life, together in martyrdom, and still paired together in eternity. It can be a reminder to us that we are not meant to be alone; "no man is an island" is quite true. We are social beings, particularly in our faith. We our connected to our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a wonderful witness to see the list of saints often grouped together, companions in life and in death. We should look to this example and cultivate healthy relationships with family and friends that bring us closer to Christ.

Saints of the Canon

One aspect of this feast is that Cosmas and Damien are two of the martyrs included in the ancient Roman Canon (or Eucharistic Prayer I). Just last week we celebrated Cornelius and Cyprian, who also are included in the Canon.

I love when the priest celebrating the Ordinary Form chooses the Eucharistic Prayer I and recites all the saints. In Latin and English there is a flow and rhythm; names become inseparable, such as "Peter and Paul," "John and Paul," "Cosmas and Damian." Our family keeps in mind (and imitates at times) some of our favorite celebrants who had unique ways of going through the commemoration of the saints.

Before the Consecration

In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, + and blessed Joseph, her Spouse, your blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, (James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Jude; Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian) and all your saints; we ask that through their merits and prayers, in all things we may be defended by your protecting help. (Through Christ our Lord. Amen.)

After the Consecration

To us, also, your servants, who, though sinners, hope in your abundant mercies, graciously grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs:
with John the Baptist, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas (Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia) and all your Saints; admit us, we beseech you, into their company, not weighing our merits, but granting us your pardon, through Christ our Lord.

It is beautiful to think that although we hardly know anything of these saints' lives on earth, we are forever recalling these glorious martyrs at the Supper of the Lamb. While we may not have intimate portrayals of their human lives, we do know these saints very intimately. How can we not, when you are together at the heavenly meal every week? Sharing meals together, seated around the same table provides closeness and intimacy, and that is what we are doing together at every Mass. They are part of our family, and the witnesses of the Heavenly Banquet "who had been slain for the Word of God and for the witness they had borne" (Rev. 6:9). This excerpt from the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church reinforce this view of the Liturgy and our connection with the martyrs:

Our union with the Church in heaven is put into effect in its noblest manner especially in the sacred Liturgy, wherein the power of the Holy Spirit acts upon us through sacramental signs. Then, with combined rejoicing we celebrate together the praise of the divine majesty; then all those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and gathered together into one Church, with one song of praise magnify the one and triune God. Celebrating the Eucharistic sacrifice therefore, we are most closely united to the Church in heaven in communion with and venerating the memory first of all of the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, of Blessed Joseph and the blessed apostles and martyrs and of all the saints (Lumen Gentium, 50d).

The whole Church has been recalling and asking these martyrs' intercessions for centuries:

The second most ancient addition to the Canon consists of two prayers in commemoration of the saints. These prayers are likewise arranged symmetrically before and after the Consecration. Their insertion occurred in the course of the fifth century (seemingly due to Pope Symmachus, d. 514), and by the beginning of the sixth century the list of saints had reached its final form...

“Communicantes et memoriam venerantes”—we enter into their company and honor their memory. These words which introduce this prayer might well serve as an inscription about every Mass, and indeed over the Liturgy as a whole, for in the course of the sacred action we grow together into one great community. Particularly now, as we are nearing the climax of the Sacrifice, we, the living, with our Pope, our Bishop and priests, and all those who belong to us, are being united ever more closely together in the Mystical Body of Christ. So now we desire to enter into the communion of the saints and to honour their memory. The word memoria is like a chord that vibrates throughout the whole Canon. It means more than just calling to mind; it is a remembering that is vital and effective in building up Christ’s Mystical Body. At this moment the saints, with their merits and intercessions, are spiritually present to us. (Pius Parsch, The Liturgy of the Mass).

These are martyrs from all walks of life: popes, bishops, priests, deacon, laymen, laywomen. Some of the saints do not even hold feast days on the General Roman Calendar. We don’t know much about many of these saints' lives on earth, but these were probably chosen because of popular veneration in Rome at the time.

But I repeat that we do know these martyrs, intimately. If we were to view the Eucharistic Banquet, this is the group closest to the Heavenly Altar. These are our comrades, our community, our closest family, but we approach them with awe and respect, as we are still on earth as the Church Militant. We are asking for help and consolation from these saints. We want to be numbered in their fellowship and humbly ask their help.

In this prayer we pray for ourselves. In Christian modesty we have first gathered around the Sacrifice of Christ every member of His Mystical Body—His Church, the living, the saints, the holy souls—and now, like Mary Magdalen, we cast ourselves down at the foot of the Cross, and embracing it we pray that we too may be granted a share in the fruits of the sacrifice. For this is eternal happiness: to dwell with God in the company of the saints, and in fellowship (consortium with them. Herein lies the logical connection between this prayer and the preceding Memento, a connection which at first sight may have escaped us. We associate the company of the saints with the place of “refreshment, light, and peace” (cf. Parsch).

It is through the blood of the martyrs that the Church expanded and continues to grow. What a blessing to have this intimate connection with the roll call of martyrs at the Roman Canon. We are continually reminded of belonging and participating in the family of Christ. Let us remember to invoke these blessed martyrs today, and all the saints of the Canon so that  in our death we may join our brothers and sisters in the Heavenly Supper of the Lamb.

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, home schooler, and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org's liturgical year section. See full bio.

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