Ordinary Time: June 30th
Optional Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome
Old Calendar: Commemoration of St. Paul, apostle
This memorial is in honor of the nameless followers of Christ brutally killed by the mad Emperor Nero as scapegoats for the fire in Rome. The pagan historian Tacitus and St. Clement of Rome tell of a night of horror (August 15, 64 A.D.) when in the imperial parks Christians were put into animal skins and hunted, were brutally attacked, and were made into living torches to light the road for Nero's chariot. From 64 to 314 "Christian" was synonymous with "execution victim."According to the 1962 Missal of St. John XXIII the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, today is the commemoration of St. Paul. The Church emphasizes St. Peter's prerogatives on yesterday's feast and today recalls the special mission of Paul as Apostle of the Gentiles.
First Martyrs of the Church of Rome
There were Christians in Rome within a dozen or so years after the death of Jesus, though they were not the converts of the "Apostle of the Gentiles" (see Romans 15:20). Paul had not yet visited them at the time he wrote his great letter in A.D. 57-58.
- St. Augustine gives us thoughts on why we celebrate the martyrs:
Christians celebrate the memory of the martyrs with religious ceremony in order to arouse emulation and in order that they may be associated with their merits and helped by their prayers. But to none of the martyrs do we erect altars as we do to the God of martyrs; we erect altars at their shrines. For what bishop standing at the altars over the bodies of martyrs ever said: We offer to Peter or Paul or Cyprian? Mass is offered to God who crowned the martyrs, at the shrine of the martyrs, so that the very spot may remind us to arouse in ourselves a more fervent charity toward those whom we imitate and toward Him who gives us the power to do so.
- Bake a special dessert, either some recipe originating from Rome, or the highlighted nameday cakes.
- This feast was created with the reform of the General Calendar in 1969. Many Roman martyrs feasts were removed from the General Calendar, since there wasn't too much historical information about them. This feast celebrates the nameless men and women who were martyred in Nero's Circus in the year 64 AD.