CHRISTIAN FEASTS AND CUSTOMS
by Francis Weiser (1952)
Saints' Days II
PETER AND PAUL (JUNE 29)
According to ancient tradition these two Apostles were put to death by Emperor Nero (64). Peter died by crucifixion in the public circus or amphitheater at the Vatican hill; Paul was beheaded outside the city.1
The special celebrations which the Christians in Rome held in honor of the "Princes of the Apostles" are known from earliest times. At the end of the fourth century the faithful thronged the streets on June 29 going in pilgrimage to the Vatican (Saint Peters) and from there to the church of St. Paul's "outside the walls," praying at the shrines and attending the pontifical Mass which the pope celebrated first at St. Peters, then at St. Paul's.2
Since the great distance between the two churches made it quite inconvenient, for both the pope and the people, to perform the two services on the same morning, the liturgy of the feast was divided in the sixth century, and the Mass in honor of Saint Paul was henceforth celebrated on the following day. This "commemoration of Saint Paul" has remained a liturgical feast on June 30 ever since.3
In both the Eastern and Western Churches the Feast of Peter, and Paul was observed as a holyday of obligation from the fifth century on.4 It has remained so through all the centuries since.
Saint Peter is patron of fishermen and sailors, of key makers (because he carries the keys of the Kingdom) and watchmakers (because of the cock's crowing—an ancient time signal). He used to be invoked against fever (because Christ cured his mother-in-law from fever).5 Above all, however, he was highly venerated from the tenth century on as the heavenly gatekeeper who guards the gates of eternity and admits or turns away souls. This power, of course, is ascribed to him in connection with the "granting of the keys" by Christ and the power of "binding and loosening."
(ALL OF THE TRUE POWER OF PETER IS EXPOUNDED IN MY STUDIES ON CHURCH GOVERNMENT ON THIS WEBSITE - Keith Hunt)
Another "patronage" shared by Peter and Paul seems to be taken from the ancient Germanic mythology of the gods Thor (Donar) and Woden. These two gods had been the leaders of the Germanic group of gods, but after conversion to Christianity the people invested Peter and Paul with the function of the "deposed" gods as far as nature is concerned. Thus Peter and Paul became the "weather makers." Many legends ascribe thunder and lightning to some activity of Saint Peter in Heaven (usually bowling). When it snows, he is "shaking out his feather bed." He sends rain and sunshine, hangs out the stars at night and takes them in again in the morning. Saint Paul is invoked against lightning, storms, hail, and extreme cold. It seems that he is entrusted with the task of persuading Saint Peter to do the "right things" regarding the weather.8
Saint Paul alone is venerated as patron of tentmakers and weavers (having been one himself) and of theologians (because of his profound theological writings).7 Both Apostles have been invoked from ancient times against the bite of poisonous snakes. If you pray very hard on Peter and Paul's Day no snake will bite you all through the year, say people in many places even today.8
Various flowers and herbs are under Saint Peter's patronage, especially those with a hairy stem. The "Peter's plant" (primula hirsuta) is collected, dried, and kept to be used as a medicine (in tea) against snake and dog bite.
In Hungary, grains are blessed by the priest after Mass on Peter and Paul's Day. People weave crowns, crosses, and other religious symbols from straw, have them blessed, and carry them on wooden poles in procession around the church. Afterward they take them home and keep them suspended from the ceiling over the dinner table. Bread is also blessed in a special ceremony on this day in Hungary.
A moving custom is practiced in rural sections of the Alpine countries. On June 29, when the church bells ring the Angelus early in the morning, people step under the trees in their gardens, kneel down and say the traditional prayer, the "Angel of the Lord." Having finished the prayer they bow deeply and make the sign of the cross, believing that on Saint Peters Day the blessing of the Holy Father in Rome is carried by angels throughout the world to all who sincerely await it.9
Liturgical Prayer • O God, who has sanctified this day by the martyrdom of Thy Apostles Peter and Paul, grant that Thy Church may in all things follow their precepts, as she has received from them the beginnings of her faith.
CHRISTOPHER (JULY 25)
Only the name of this saint and the fact of his martyrdom are known. His veneration was widespread in both the Eastern and Western Churches in early centuries. He is supposed to have died in Palestine or Lebanon (Canaan). But very early, too, legends supplied with abundant fantasy what history could not provide, and all kinds of startling details were told about him.10 He was a giant of no mean proportions; it took four hundred soldiers to take him captive; for twelve hours his body was pierced with arrows until he fell to the ground, but even then he was still alive and had to be beheaded.
Later legends added many other details to the story of his life and conversion. The most familiar one is told in the thirteenth.-century Golden Legend. Proud of his giant stature, a man, whose original name was Offerus, decided to serve only the strongest lord in the world. He entered the service of the emperox; but on seeing that the emperor was afraid of the Devil, he forthwith served the Devil. One day he saw how the Devil trembled at the sight of a crucifix, so he decided to serve Christ. A hermit told him he should carry Christian pilgrims through a deep and dangerous river. He did so. One night a little boy asked to be carried across. The giant took the little one on his shoulders and started across the churning waters. But as the child on his back grew heavier and heavier Offerus felt that he would break down under the burden. When he reached the other shore, panting and exhausted, he asked in surprise why the child was so heavy. He received the answer: ''You have not only carried the whole world on your shoulders but Him Who created it. I am Christ the Lord, whom you serve." Then the Lord Himself took Offerus into the water, baptized him, and gave him the new name "Christophorus" (Christ-bearer). He told the saint to ram the tree trunk that he carried as staff into the ground. Christopher did so, and the tree immediately burst forth with leaves and blossoms. The Child had disappeared, and the saint went joyfully to persecution and death for his beloved Lord.11
This beautiful legend captivated the hearts of the faithful everywhere and was the inspiration for many devotions. Saint Christopher was venerated as patron against sudden and unprovided death, especially during times of great epidemics, when people never knew in the morning whether they would still be alive that evening. They believed that by looking at his picture and saying a prayer to him in the morning they would be safe from death on that day. So they hung his picture over the door of the house, or painted it on the walls outside, to give others the benefit of it, too.
This tradition has been kept in central Europe to the present day, although its meaning has been forgotten by many. Any tourist traveling through southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and France will notice the large images of Saint Christopher painted on the outside of houses and churches.12
Christopher is the patron of ferryboats and their crews, of pilgrims and travelers, of gardeners (because his staff burst into bloom), and of freight ships. In France all fortresses were put under his protection in centuries past. In England he was invoked against hail and lightning. Since he carried our Lord safely through the waters, he became the patron of all passenger traffic, especially in automobiles. In many countries cars are blessed on his feast day. At churches that bear his name the blessing is usually given in a more solemn way on his feast, and hundreds of automobiles line up in front of the shrine to receive the blessing for that year.13
More recently Saint Christopher has also been venerated as the patron of siding, and appropriately so. Having carried the Christ Child through the waters, he gladly protects children and grownups gliding over the snow. It was a coincidence, but perhaps somewhat providential as well, that the town in the best and most famous ski territory in Austria is named Saint Christopher (Sankt Christoph am Arlberg).
Finally, there are the Saint Christopher medals and plaques, which people have blessed by a priest to carry on their persons as a protection against accidents. These medals are now also put in cars and other vehicles and are popular with Christians of all faiths. The custom of using such images of the saint started in the sixteenth century, and their original purpose was to serve as a picture for travelers to gaze on every morning and ask God to save them from sudden death that day.14 This custom has died out long since but the medals have remained as a token of the saint's generous help and protection in modern traffic, which kills almost as many people as epidemics did in ancient times.
Liturgical Praxer • Grant us, O Lord, almighty God, as we celebrate the birthday of Saint Christopher, Thy Martyr, that through his intercession we may be strengthened in the love of Thy holy Name.
ANNE (JULY 26)
Saint Anne, or Ann, is not mentioned in the Bible. It was only in legendary books of the early Christian centuries that the names of Mary's parents were given as Joachim and Anne. Since the Fathers of the Church rejected the use of such legendary sources, the faithful in Europe had no feast in honor of our Lord's grandparents. In the Middle East, however, the veneration of Saint Anne can be traced back to the fourth century.15
The Crusaders brought the name and legend of Saint Anne to Europe, and the famous Dominican Jacobus de Voragine (1298) printed the story in his Golden Legend. From that time on the popular veneration of the saint spread into all parts of the Christian world. It was encouraged by the religious orders of the Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and Carmelites. In southern France a Feast of Saint Anne was celebrated as early as the fourteenth century. Pope Urban VI in 1378 extended it to England at the king's request. Not until 1584, however, did the feast become universal, when Pope Gregory XIII prescribed it for the whole Church.16
As grandmother of Christ and mother of Mary, Saint Anne soon became the patron of married women, and for childless couples a special aid in obtaining children. According to legend she was married three times, first to Joachim, after his death to Cleophas, and finally to Salomas. This detail of the ancient story inspired young women to turn to her for help in finding a husband. After all, since she had had three husbands herself, should she not be able and willing to provide at least one bridegroom for those who trustingly appealed to her? In the languages of all European nations young women implored her:
I beg you, holy mother Anne, Send me a good and loving man.
Her patronage of fertility was extended also to the soil. Thus she became a patron of rain. It is a popular saying in Italy that "rain is Saint Anne's gift"; in Germany, July rain was called "Saint Anne's dowry."17
Finally, the gentle grandmother of the Lord is everywhere invoked as one of the great helpers for various needs of body and soul. Many churches have been erected to her, most of them becoming famous centers of pilgrimages. One of the best-known shrines in this part of the world is St. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec, Canada.
From the eighteenth century on, Anne, which means "grace," was used more and more as a favorite name for girls. At the beginning of the nineteenth century it was the most popular girls name in central Europe, surpassing even that of Mary. This preference was based on a famous saying of past centuries, "All Annes are beautiful." Naturally, parents wanted to assure this benefit for their baby daughters by calling them Anne or by adding Anne to a first name. Thus we have the many traditional names containing Anne or Ann (Mary Ann, Marianne, Marian, Ann Marie, Joanne, Elizabeth Ann, Lillian, Martha Arm, Louise Ann, Patricia Ann).18
A hundred years ago there still remained the custom in many parts of Europe of celebrating Saint Anne's Day as a festival "of all Annes," meaning all beautiful girls. Dressed in their finery the bevy would parade through the streets with their escorts, bands would serenade them in parks and squares, balls would be held (both Johann Strausses composed "Anne Polkas" for this festival). Saint Anne's Eve was the day of receptions for debutantes at court and in private homes. PubEc amusements, including fireworks, entertained the crowds. The warm summer night was alive with laughter, beauty, music, and lights. And all of it was still connected in the hearts and minds of the participants with a tribute to Saint Anne, whose feast day shed its radiance upon this enchanting celebration.19
Liturgical Prayer • O God, who didst deign to confer on Saint Anne the grace to be the mother of her who was to give birth to Thy only-begotten Son: mercifully grant us, who celebrate her feast, that we may be helped by her intercession.
NICHOLAS (DECEMBER 6)
Despite the immense popularity of Saint Nicholas during the Middle Ages, both in Europe and Christian Asia, there is scarcely any definite historical fact known about him except that he was bishop of Myra in Asia Minor; that he was cast into exile and prison during the persecution of Emperor Diocletian and released by Constantine the Great; that he died in Myra about 350, and in the year 1087 his body was brought by Italian merchants from Myra to the city of Bari in Italy, where his relics are still preserved and venerated in the church of San Nicola. The reports of numerous miracles ascribed to the saint, both before and after his death, are based on a long tradition. As early as 450, churches were being built in his honor, and his veneration was general in the Greek Church. From there, at the end of the tenth century, it spread to the German Empire, and reached its height when his relics arrived in Italy during the eleventh century. The Church celebrates his feast day as a bishop and confessor annually on December 6.20
By the year 1200, this much-loved saint had captured the hearts and imaginations of all European nations. Many churches, towns, provinces, and countries venerated him as their patron saint. He is patron of Greece, Russia, Sicily, and Lorraine; of many cities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, and Italy. Merchants, bakers, and mariners, among others, have made him their patron. But he was always best known as the patron saint of children.21
The beautiful legend of Saint Nicholas might be told to children something like this:
Saint Nicholas was born of a rich and noble family in the city of Parara in Asia Minor. When he was very little he lost his mother and father and had to live the sad and lonely life of an orphan. After he had grown to young manhood, he decided to devote his life entirely to the service of God, doing good works for his fellow men. Obeying the words of Christ, he distributed all his possessions to the poor, the sick, and the suffering. He is said to have secretly helped very poor people by putting gifts of money through their windows during the night, when no one could see him (just as he now brings his gifts to you during the night).
His love for the Christ Child inspired him to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and offer prayers in those historical and holy places. On this trip a terrible storm arose but, by his prayers, he miraculously saved the already sinking ship as it tossed and turned in the high seas. That is the reason he is now venerated as a patron of mariners by many brave sailors all over the world. When he returned home from this pilgrimage, the bishops of Asia Minor elected him as successor to the bishop of Myra, who had just died. The whole city rejoiced when they heard of his appointment. Nicholas received the holy orders, modestly and devoutly, and, as bishop, practiced not only great holiness of life, by fasting and prayer, but had boundless love for his fellow men. Having been an orphan himself, he now became the beloved father of widows and orphans. His constant kindness and charity were bestowed especially on the children, whom he often gathered about him, instructing them in the word of God and delighting them with many little gifts.
Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who persecuted the Christians, Saint Nicholas was taken from his home, exiled and imprisoned. He suffered hardships of hunger, thirst, cold, loneliness, and chains. He wanted to die as a martyr. But when Emperor Diocletian left his throne and the first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great, ruled the Roman lands, all Christians who had suffered in prison because of their faith, were released. Among them was Saint Nicholas, who was able to return to Myra, where he lived for many years, a kind father to all his flock, especially to the poor.
One day he became very ill and soon he realized it was time for him to go to Heaven. There he was met by many angels who conducted his soul to the throne of God. Saint Nicholas was very happy.
The whole city mourned his passing, most of all the little children. But very soon they found out that even from Heaven he continued to help them, if only they asked him. So the children started praying to Saint Nicholas and their prayers were answered by thousands of miracles, small ones and great ones. To this day, boys and girls all over the world pray to their patron saint, Saint Nicholas.
In many parts of Europe children still receive his "visit" on the eve of his feast. Impersonated by a man wearing a long white beard, dressed in the vestments of a bishop, with miter and crozier, he appears in the homes as a heavenly messenger. Coming at the start of Advent, he admonishes the children to prepare their hearts for a blessed and holy Christmas. He examines them on their prayers. After exhorting them to be good, he distributes fruit and candy and departs with a kindly farewell, leaving the little ones filled with holy awe.22
It was this "visit of Saint Nicholas" on December 5 that the Dutch brought to the New World as an annual cherished custom.
From it later developed the American custom of Santa Claus's visit at Christmas.
Liturgical Prayer • O God, who didst adorn the holy bishop Nicholas with numberless miracles, grant, we beseech thee, that through his merits and prayers we may be saved from the flames of hell:
LUCY (DECEMBER 13}
With Catherine and Barbara, Lucy, or Lucia, is one of the three great "girl saints." She died during the persecutions of Diocletian, at Catania in Sicily, being beheaded by the sword. Her body was later brought to Constantinople and finally to Venice, where she is now resting in the church of Santa Lucia.23
Because her name means 'light" she very early became the great patron saint for the light of the body"—the eyes. All over Christianity her help was invoked against diseases of the eyes, especially the danger of blindness. This is the reason why she is often pictured with a plate in hand on which He two eyeballs. The lighters of street lamps in past centuries had her as patron saint and made a special ceremony of their task on the eve of December 13. She also is the patron of the gondoliers in Venice, whose familiar song, "Santa Lucia," is an affectionate tribute to her.24
Saint Lucy attained immense popularity in medieval times because, before the calendar reform, her feast happened to fall on the shortest day of the year. Again because of her name, many of the ancient light and fire customs of the Yuletide became associated with her day. Thus we find "Lucy candles" lighted in the homes and "Lucy fires" burned in the open. In Scandinavia before the Reformation Saint Lucy's Day was one of unusual celebration and festivity because, for the people of Sweden and Norway, she was the great "Light saint" who turned the tides of their long winter and brought the light of day to renewed victory.25
This is the reason why her lore has survived in the Scandinavian countries even after the Reformation and calendar reform, which brought the solstice back to December 23. In Sweden and Norway it is still a custom on December 13 for a girl in a white dress (representing the saint), with a wreath on her head in which burning candles are placed, to awaken the family from sleep and offer a tray with coffee and cakes. The impersonation is called Lussibrud (Lucy bride) and her pastry is Lussekattor.
Another popular custom in Scandinavia on the eve of December 13 is for children to write the word "Lussi" on doors, fences, and walls. With the word always goes the picture of a female figure (Saint Lucy). The purpose of this practice in ancient times was to announce to the demons of winter that their reign was broken on Saint Lucy's Day, that the sun would return again and the days become longer.
"Lucy fires" used to be burned everywhere in northern Europe on December 13. Into these bonfires people threw incense and, while the flames rose, trumpets and flutes were played to greet the changing of the sun's course. These fires were greatly valued as a powerful protection against disease, witchcraft, and dangers, and people would stand nearby and let the smoke of the incense reach them, thus obtaining the desired "protection."26
After the calendar reform, when the original reason for such celebrations (the solstice) was gradually forgotten, Lucy's figure degenerated into a winter demon in many sections of Europe.27 In Sweden and Norway, however, the ancient meaning of the feast was essentially preserved and Lussi always remained a friendly, cheerful figure. Thus the attractive little martyr and great saint of the Middle Ages has kept her name and her role as "Light bringer" in Scandinavia, although most people today are unaware of the historical background and true meaning of this part of their folklore.
In the liturgy of the Church, Saint Lucy has held, and still holds today, the inspiring position of a saint whose very name reminds the faithful at the middle of Advent that her own 'light" is only a reflection of the great "Light of the World" which is to start shining at Bethlehem on Christmas Day. It is as if she would say: "I am only a little flame in Advent showing you the way"
Behold, the Lord will come and all His saints with Him, And on that day There will he a great light. Alleluia."28
Liturgical Prayer - Hear us, O God, our salvation, as we rejoice on the feast of Saint Lucy, Thy Virgin and Martyr, and grant us to learn the spirit of pious devotion.
AND SO THE END OF THE FRANCIS WEISER BOOK.
IT HAS DETAILED THE HISTORY OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH AND ITS EVOLUTION INTO THE ADOPTION AND ADAPTION OF FEASTS AND CUSTOMS.
YOU WILL NOTE THE OBVIOUS TEACHING OF THE IMMORTAL SOUL IDEA, GOING TO HEAVEN OR HELL OR PURGATORY IN CATHOLIC THEOLOGY.
COMPLICATED AND MULTI-PHASED COMPARED TO THE SIMPLICITY OF THE FESTIVALS OF THE ETERNAL GOD.
THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH IS THE ULTIMATE EXAMPLE OF MAN WORKING THEIR OWN RELIGION TO WORSHIP GOD. SIMILAR INDEED TO HOW THE JEWS
AT THE TIME OF CHRIST HAD FORMED A RELIGION ON THE TRADITIONS AND IDEAS OF MEN, WHILE REJECTING THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD [SEE MARK 7].
IT IS INDEED TIME THAT WE STRIVE FOR THE FAITH ONCE DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS [JUDE 3]. IF IT WAS ALREADY BEING PERVERTED IN THE TIME OF JUDE,
HOW MUCH MORE DO YOU SUPPOSE IT IS PERVERTED TODAY AS WE DRAW CLOSE TO THE END OF THIS AGE.
INDEED THERE IS A GREAT NEED TO BRING THE RESTITUTION OF ALL THINGS BACK TO THE CHURCH OF GOD.