Ordinary Time: September 22nd
Friday of the Twenty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time; Ember Friday
Other Commemorations: Sts. Maurice and Companions, Martyrs (RM); The Theban Legion, Martyrs (RM)
The Roman Martyrology commemorates Sts. Maurice and Companions (d. 287), Christian soldiers who were massacred in Switzerland around the year 287 A.D. because they refused to offer sacrifices to pagan gods. They are also called the Theban Legion or Forty Martyrs.
Today is Ember Friday of the Autumn or September Embertide. The September Ember Days fall after the third Sunday of September near the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14), and are days of thanksgiving for the completed harvest of fruits and grapes, being historically commemorated as a "wine-press feast." But these Ember Days are also days of penance and atonement since the traditional liturgy connected them with the Jewish celebration of the New Year and Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. The Stational churches were part of the Ember Days, with Ember Fridays always being the Station with the Twelve Holy Apostles (Santi Dodici Apostoli, also Santi Apostoli).
St. Maurice and Companions
St. Maurice was an officer in the Theban Legion, a unit in the army of the Emperor Maximian Herculius. This Legion, from Upper Egypt, was entirely Christian, and when Maximian ordered his soldiers at Octodurum (now called Martigny, Switzerland) to sacrifice to the gods as a way of ensuring victory in battle, Maurice and two other officers led the Theban Legion in refusing, and thelegion with drew to Agaunum (now St.-Maurice, in the Swiss Canton of Valais). With Maurice encouraging the legionnaires to remain constant, even after the Emperor had the legion decimated (every tenth man killed), the legionnaires answered, "We have arms in our hands, but we do not resist because we would rather die innocent than live by any sin." Maximian ordered the rest of his army to kill the Christian legionnaires. This happened around the year 287 A.D.. The Theban Legion numbered about 6,600 men, but the actual number killed remains unclear. Others were martyred for refusing to share in the spoils of the legionnaires. St. Eucherius, a fifth-century bishop of Lyons, noted that many miracles took place at the shrine of these martyrs. They are buried under the Basilica of St.-Maurice-en-Valais in Switzerland.
Devotion to St. Maurice spread throughout Europe. He is the patron of places in Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland. Eight ancient English churches are dedicated to him.
—Excerpted from 2020 Saints Calendar & Daily Planner, Tan Books
Patronage: Against gout; against cramping; against arthritis; Alpine troops (proclaimed on 22 September 1941 by Pope XII, and on 16 February 1961 by Pope John XXIII); armies; Austria; cloth makers; cloth dyers; infantrymen; soldiers; swordsmiths; weavers; Austria; Counts of Savoy; Dukes of Savoy; Pontifical Swiss Guards; United States Army Infantry; diocese of Angers, France; diocese of Magdeburg, Germany; city of Angers, France; Stadtsulza, Germany; in Italy: Borgofranco d’Ivrea, Calasetta, Cassano Magnago, Castelnuovo di Ceva, Pianello Val Tidone, Piedmont, Sardinia; Manresa, Spain; Appenzell, Switzerland
Symbols and Representation: Armor; banner with lion rampant; sword; seven stars; eagle on a shield; red cross;
Often Portrayed As: soldier; soldier being executed with other soldiers; knight (sometimes a Moor) in full armour, bearing a standard and a palm; knight in armor with a red cross on his breast, which is the badge of the Sardinian Order of Saint Maurice.
Things to Do:
- Read more about St. Maurice:
- Some accounts say that St. Maurice was black. Read One of the most revered men in medieval Europe was this black saint you have never heard about.
- Observe the painting of Saint Maurice, ca. 1520–25, by Lucas Cranach the Elder and Workshop found at The Met.
The Theban Legion
The Theban legion numbered more than six thousand men. They marched from the East into Gaul, and proved their loyalty at once to their Emperor and to their God. They were encamped near the Lake of Geneva, under the Emperor Maximian, when they got orders to turn their swords against the Christian population, and refused to obey. In his fury Maximian ordered them to be decimated. The order was executed once and again, but they endured this without a murmur or an effort to defend themselves.
St. Maurice, the chief captain in this legion of martyrs, encouraged the rest to persevere and follow their comrades to heaven. "Know, O Emperor," he said, "that we are your soldiers, but we are servants also of the true God. In all things lawful we will most readily obey, but we cannot stain our hands in this innocent blood. We have seen our comrades slain, and we rejoice at their honor. We have arms, but we resist not, for we had rather die without shame than live by sin."
As the massacre began, these generous soldiers flung down their arms, offered their necks to the sword, and suffered themselves to be butchered in silence.
—Excerpted from Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed. 
The commemoration of these martyrs has also been called The Feast of the Forty Martyrs.
Highlights and Things to Do:
- CatholicSaints.info lists the names of other known saints that are part of these Theban Legion martyrs.
- Read The New Liturgical Movement for more information about the Forty Martyrs.
Meditation: Ember Friday in September, “Do penance”
This excerpt from Benedict Baur is based on the 1962 Missal. The current Missal does not include special propers and readings for Ember Days.
At the church of the Twelve Apostles we were absolved of our sins on Holy Thursday and received again into the community of the Church and reconciled with God. Today we assemble again at this stational church to do penance for the sins and infidelities of the last three months and to obtain pardon. We come with Magdalen, the sinner and penitent, to hear from Christ Himself the words: “Thy faith hath made thee safe; go in peace” (Gospel). “Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord; seek ye the Lord and be strengthened” (Introit).
“Return, O Israel, to the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen down by thy iniquity. Take with you words and return to the Lord and say to Him: “Take away all iniquity and receive the good, and we will render the calves of our lips…Neither will we say anymore: The works of our hands are our gods” (Epistle). Thus we are called to do penance with a contrite and humble heart and to confess to the Lord. Magdalen is an example for us. She comes to the Lord and throws herself at His feet. She washes His feet with tears, kisses them, and anoints them with the ointment she has brought with her. She comes with a heart full of shame, full of contrition, full of courage, in self-accusation and humility. She is determined to amend her life. The Lord responds to this contrition and love which He Himself through His mercy planted in the heart of the sinful woman. “Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much; but to whom less is forgiven, he liveth less. And He said to her: Thy sins are forgiven thee” (Gospel). We, too, are sinners. We, too, are penitent. We come to Him in the Holy Sacrifice, when He appears in our midst. We confess to Him that we have sinned and have offended God. We accuse ourselves in the presence of His representative. We hear the consoling words: “I absolve thee of thy sins. Go in peace.” We obtain pardon in proportion to our contrition and love. “To whom less is forgiven, he liveth less.” But on the other hand, less is forgiven to Him who loves less.
“I will heal their breaches, I will love them freely; for My wrath is turned away from them. I will be as the dew; Israel shall spring as the lily, and his root shall shoot forth as that of Libanus. His branches shall spread, and his glory shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as that of Libanus…. They shall live upon wheat [the Eucharist], and they shall blossom as a vine” (Epistle). With great tenderness and charity the Lord accepts the contrite, penitent soul, as is clear from His reception of the sinner Magdalen. Simon the Pharisee is a witness against the sinner who entered and threw herself at the feet of Jesus. He says to himself, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know surely who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth Him, that she is a sinner” (Gospel). But the Lord has come in search of sinners that He may save them. He has no word of blame for Magdalen. He does not wait until He is begged before she is allowed to appear before Him. He draws her with the power of His love and grace, and He forgives her entire debt. She renounces the false gods she has served till now, and follows the Lord. She is the first of the holy women to see the risen Savior. She received special graces and becomes a great saint, whom we may all admire and imitate.
The self-righteous Pharisee, who has invited the Lord for dinner and the sinful, penitent, contrite Magdalen present a striking contrast. The Pharisee is a type of the Jewish people, while Magdalen represented those converted from the Gentiles. In the mind of the liturgy, we are the contrite Magdalen, for the first step to grace and holiness is penitence.
We give expression to our repentance when we fast on Ember days. We sanctify our fast through the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice. At this sacrifice we unite our fasting and penance to the suffering and death of the Lord, and we beseech God that He may be pleased with the sacrifice of our fast and make us worthy of His grace, which we expect from the Mass. This grace will lead us to the promises of eternal life (Secret).
Christians in our day seem to have lost their sense of the necessity of penance and reparation. It is therefore even more necessary to accompany the liturgy today into the house of Simon the Pharisee and learn from the example of Mary Magdalen, how to do penance for our sins. From this holy penitent we can learn to trust in the mercy of the Lord, and thus to be purified so that we may share His blessedness.
Prayer: Grant, O almighty God, we beseech Thee, that by our devout keeping of the holy observances year by year, we may in body and in soul give pleasure to Thee. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
—from The Light of the World, Volume Three by Benedict Baur, O.S.B.
Ember Friday of the Autumn or September Embertide
Station with Santi Dodici Apostoli (also Santi Apostoli, the Twelve Holy Apostles):
Traditionally, this is the place where the Romans choose their candidates for priesthood (Rite of Election). It was erected by Julius I (337-352) over the barracks of ancient Rome's firemen and entrusted since 1463 to the Conventual Franciscans. Originally dedicated to the Apostles St. James and St. Philip, it was rededicated to all the Apostles in the 16th century.
The Church leads us today to the "the twelve apostles," on whom the Lord conferred His power to forgive and retain sins. Bearers they are of those precious keys that open the merciful heart of God as well as the contrite heart of man, uniting the latter to the former by means of the cleansing and sanctifying blood of Jesus Christ. This Ember Friday is an appropriate occasion for giving our weekly "Friday-abstinence" a new spirit. So often we observe the day thoughtlessly—perhaps even reluctantly....Give your soul a new direction by a fruitful "ember confession." The sacrament of penance is the sacrament of liberty which frees us from the disgracing chains of our sins. True humility and sorrow are oil from the Holy Spirit which make the "keys of forgiveness" turn with heavenly smoothness. "Remove from me reproach and contempt, because I have sought out Thy commandments, O Lord; for They testimonies are my meditation."
For more on Santi Dodici Apostoli, see:
For further information on the Station Churches, see The Stational Church.