1 August 2016


Well, this morning, as permitted by the rubrical dispositions of the 1960s, I put on red vestments and said the Mass of the Holy Maccabees: the seven pre-Christian Jewish brothers whose martyrdom, described in II Maccabees 7, reads so much like a preview of the acta of the Christian martyrs under the Roman Empire.

There is no strictly theological reason why we should not celebrate the saints of the Old Covenant liturgically; as Catholics we know that we are in organic continuity with the Jewish faithful remnant who did accept their God and Messiah. The practical reason why we do not have more 'Old Testament' saints in our Latin calendar lies in the the origin of our Sanctorale in the local cult of the martyrs: they were celebrated liturgically where their bodies were venerated. The relics of the Maccabees, of course, are indeed preserved in Rome. [I preserve, on the thread, a valuable comment appended by a Byzantine writer to an earlier piece of mine upon the Maccabees.]

But this admirable Feast did not make the cut in the post-Conciliar 'reforms'! Interestingly, the post-conciliar revisers of the Calendar have left us an account of their thinking. I translate [my italics]: "The memoria of the Holy Maccabees, although it is extremely ancient and almost universal, is left to particular calendars: until 1960 only their commemoration happened on the feast of S Peter ad Vincula; now indeed August 1 is the memoria of S Alfonso and, according to the rubrics, another memoria cannot be kept on the same day". The revisers know that this commemoration is of immemorial antiquity and amazing universality; they feel embarrassed and sheepish about abolishing it; they can't think of any defence to make for their actions, except to appeal to their own novel man-made liturgical dogma (which is out of continuity with the traditions of both East and West) that you mustn't combine celebrations. The fact that today's commemoration is unique in the Calendar of the Roman Rite had no power whatsoever to influence them. The totalitarian inflexibility of innovators! The triumph of blind self-imposed dogma over every indication of history, doctrine, and common sense!

There is a tiny but telling detail I can add here: the 'reformers' left the Maccabees "to particular calendars" ... so they may have said ... but when they authorised, in 1973, Propers for the Liturgy of the Hours for the Clergy of Rome herself, the city where the relics of the Maccabees rest, they omitted these Holy Martyrs even from that Calendar (Prot. n. 928/72).

Today's Mass makes clear that the Maccabees are truly our martyrs who pray for us. It calls them the true brotherhood which followed Christ; who were proved by the testimony of Faith and Found in Christ Jesu our Lord; who confessed the Son of God, whose Faith we hope to follow. Yet they died before the Incarnation! Because they followed the Torah! But Christ is the Wisdom, Word, and Torah of the Father, to whom they, in the only way possible before His Incarnation, did bear witness. (You might like to read, in Ratzinger's Jesus of Nazareth, the brilliant dialogue between Ratzinger and Rabbi Jacob Neusner, about the Sermon on the Mount.) Their liturgical commemoration by us does not imply the novel error that Jews now, after the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, are left outside his gracious call to share the redemption and the new covenant which he, the Incarnate Torah, brings to all mankind without racial distinction. It would not now be possible for a Jew to be deemed one of our martyrs because of an exclusive act of obedient witness to what the Incarnation rendered old and "fulfilled" (although S Edith Stein, killed propter odium Iudaeorum is a Patron of Europe). But this highly important commemoration reminds us of our continuity with the the Old Testament (just as the Canon of the Mass does in its daily reference to Abraham as our Patriarch), warning us against Marcionism, its revival by the 'German Christians' of the 1930s [how enthusiastic German Christians seem to be in every age about clinging to the Zeitgeist], and any sort of hint, however tiny, of racial prejudice against people of Jewish origin.

In the true descent which, as S Paul insistently teaches, is rooted in Faith, we are The Jews, true children of Abraham; and the Maccabees are among our most glorious martyrs.

Intercedant pro nobis.


Hierodeacon said...

Father, though you certainly already know this, your readers might find it interesting to note the plurality of Old Testament saints included on the calendar of the Byzantine Rite for the primary commemoration throughout the year (to make no mention of other Old Testament saints on the calendar, but without a service in the Menaion):

3 Jan: Prophet Malachi
6 May: Job the Long-suffering
9 May: Prophet Isaiah (a double commemoration with St. Christopher)
14 June: Prophet Elisha
20 July: Prophet Elijah (a vigil-rank feast)
21 Jul: Prophet Ezekiel
1 Aug: Seven Macabees
14 Aug: Prophet Micah
4 Sep: Prophet and God-seer Moses
19 Nov: Prophet Obodiah
1 Dec: Prophet Nahum
2 Dec: Prophet Habbakuk
3 Dec: Prophet Zepheniah
16 Dec: Prophet Habbakuk
17 Dec: Daniel and the Three Youths
Second Sunday before Christmas: Sunday of the Righteous of the Old Testament
Sunday before Christmas: Sunday of the Ancestors of Christ according to the Flesh

You'll notice the concentration of such commemorations in the lead-up to Christmas.

Also the first Sunday in Lent, before it became the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy in commemoration of the end of Iconoclasm, was the Sunday of the Holy Prophets. There are still vestiges of this older commemoration in the Triodion.

Patrick Sheridan said...

I am actually inclined to regret that the Maccabean Revolt ever took place, and would certainly remove those books from the canon of Scripture.

John said...

The Ancient Observance Carmelite calendar keeps the prophet Elias on July 20 as a solemnity and the Discalced keep it as a feast. And the O.Carms also keep the prophet Eliseus on June 14.

Matthew Roth said...

I’m curious to know how the feast of the prophet Elias was in the O.Carm rite and in the usage of the OCD according to the Roman Rite.

John said...

Matthew: The medieval Carmelites considered the prophet Elias quite literally as the founder of the Order. In St Peter's the various orders were invited to install a statue of their founder. The Carmelites provided a statue of Elias. He's still there. The Institutione Primorum Monachorum goes into detail of the early days. Fr Copsey,O.Carm. has made an English translation.

The Bollandists and the Carmelites got into quite an interesting battle over Elias as founder. The pope of the day finally told them both to leave the topic alone.

The different rankings of the liturgical day in the two orders has to do with the Bugninian dictat that orders shall have only one (1) founder. The O.Carms chose Elias. Ss Berthold and Brocard, who if they did not found the Order, at least obtained the rule for it and gave it its beginnings as a western, Latin rite religious order, vanished from the calendar. The Discalced didn't want to give up St Teresa for Elias so St Teresa got the solemnity and Elias the feast. Or so it was told to me. (I have no idea how the Servites got around that one-only founder requirement.)

Figulus said...

Matthew Roth:

I do not know. However, the Carmelites have since their inception considered Our Father Elias to be the founder of the order. His holy sacrifice on Mt Carmel is (I presume) the origin of our name.

The OCD does indeed follow the Roman Rite. However, we are allowed our particular calendar, just as are, viz., all the local dioceses of the Roman Rite, as well as other religious orders, e.g., the Franciscans, which have chosen to follow the Roman Rite. I do not know why this is so, but I do know that it is so.

Gerry Davila said...

Is Dec. 16 supposed to be Haggai?

Gerry Davila said...

Isaiah, Elisha, Elijah, Moses, Obadiah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai all occupy those same dates in the 2004/2005 Roman Martyrology.

Gerry Davila said...

And Eleazar and the Holy Bothers, of course.

Confitebor said...

"I am actually inclined to regret that the Maccabean Revolt ever took place, and would certainly remove those books from the canon of Scripture."

You would have preferred that the pagans had succeeded in obliterating God's Chosen People and thus made the salvation of the world impossible (for Our Lord says salvation is of the Jews)? As for which books belong in the canon of Scripture, thankfully the Holy Spirit has not left it up to any of us which of His inspired writings we may accept and which ones we may reject. If we wish Him to live in us, we must accept them all, including the accounts of the glorious and heroic exploits of the Maccabees, whose heroism and devotion and zeal prefigured that of the Lord Jesus.

Patrick Sheridan said...

Confitebor, I suppose I should have disclaimed: "as a philhellene," or something...

Anonymous said...

@Patrick Sheridan; you would be in the notable company of Luther who did remove the books of Maccabees from his version of Scripture, not because they record an anti-Hellenic rebellion in favour of obedience to God's Covenant as it was at that time, but because they contain explicit reference to praying and offering sacrifice for the dead. With a wonderful piece of circular logic he argued that those books couldn't be part of Scripture because the doctrine they contain is, well, unscriptural!

Banshee said...

I love 2nd Maccabees for many reasons, but especially for its beautiful and sacred words about the editing of books.

But yes, that martyr narrative is amazing.

Manny said...


When would one celebrate the OT prophet Nathan? Id need not be liturgical, I am thinking of an appropriate date for an onomastico of a family member. Thanks

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"There is no strictly theological reason why we should not celebrate the saints of the Old Covenant liturgically"

I was going to mention St Moses 4th of Sept. I am born 6th of Sept., between St Moses and the Blessed Virgin's Nativity.

My own birthday is ALSO an OT Saint's memory:

6 Septembris Octavo Idus Septembris. Luna ...
vij. A

In Palaestina sancti Zachariae Prophetae, qui, de Chaldaea senex in patriam reversus, ibique defunctus, juxta Aggaeum Prophetam conditus jacet.