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How the traditional Roman rite worthily honors the founding martyrs of the Church of Rome

The beauty of our traditional June 28–30 observances for Sts. Peter and Paul may still be savored by those who dare to recover them.
Tue Jun 29, 2021 - 6:00 am EST
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Mosaic of Christ, Sts. Peter and Paul in St. Lawrence outside the Walls, Rome. Fr. Lawrence Lew O.P./Flickr

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June 29, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – The traditional Roman rite, with its immeasurable human wisdom, recognized that June 29, although consecrated by the martyrdom of the twin apostles of Rome, Peter and Paul, was naturally dominated by the figure of Peter, first pope and head of the apostles. The epistle (Acts 12:1–11) and Gospel (Mt 16:13–19) are purely Petrine, focusing on the liberation of Peter from prison “prayer without ceasing” on the part of the Church for him, and on the famous scene at Caesarea Philippi when Christ confers the primacy on Kephas or “Rock,” this impulsive but loyal fisherman, who confesses His divinity while stumbling shortly afterwards at His humanity.

Therefore, with warm affection and in a spirit of courtesy, the old calendar features a separate liturgy the next day, June 30th, that focuses on St. Paul and his missionary work. This time the epistle (Gal 1:11–20) and Gospel (Mt 10:16–22) are Pauline. The Galatians reading is brilliantly suited for the day because it mentions how Paul, though he received the Gospel directly from Jesus Christ, nevertheless “went to Jerusalem to see Peter, and tarried with him fifteen days”: the Gospel they preached was identical. We also know that Paul in the next chapter of the same letter (2:11–13) tells us how he rebuked Peter for his inconsistency in applying the Gospel. The Gospel pericope of June 30 is the great passage about sending forth the disciples as sheep in the midst of wolves; the need to be “wise as serpents, simple as doves”; the need to “beware of men”; and the prophecy that the followers of Christ will be hated, hauled before courts of Jews and Gentiles, and put to death. In particular, the verse “you shall be brought before governors and before kings for My sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles” makes us think strongly of Paul.

We should also bear in mind that the usus antiquior furnishes a distinct Vigil Mass for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 28th, with its own proper antiphons and readings. Again, these focus on Peter, though some of the elements speak more generally of “Thy Apostles.”

So, tradition rightly gives us three days, a veritable triduum, on which to bask in the splendor of Peter and Paul: a day to prepare, a day to think mainly of the Rock, and a day to think mainly of the greatest Missionary. When we look closely, we see how the propers of all three days mingle both apostles: preachers of the same Gospel in life, witnesses to the same Christ in death, and co-sharers in eternal glory. Thus, on June 30th, a Collect of St. Peter is added after the collect of St. Paul (and again with the Secret and Postcommunion). The liturgy itself, by its very form, teaches us that they are highly distinct saints united in a single confession of the true Faith. This unity-in-distinction is carried through the Mass and the entire Divine Office. For example, the wonderful Vespers hymn “Decora lux” includes the verse:

Mundi Magister, atque caeli Janitor, 
Romae parentesarbitrique gentium, 
Per ensis ille, hic per crucis victor necem, 
Vitae senatum laureate possident. 

The teacher of the world and keeper of heaven’s gate, 
Rome’founders twain and rulers too of every land, 
Triumphant over death by sword and shameful cross, 
With laurel crowned are gathered to the eternal band. 

The Magnificat antiphon of June 29th (set to marvelous music by William Byrd, among others) reads:

Hodie Simon Petrus ascendit crucis patibulum, alleluia. Hodie clavicularius regni gaudens migravit ad Christum. Hodie Paulus apostolus, lumen orbis terrae, inclinato capite pro Christi nomine, martyrio coronatus est, alleluia.

This day Simon Peter ascended the gibbet of the cross, alleluia. This day the keybearer of the kingdom departed hence with joy to Christ: this day the Apostle Paul, light of the whole world, bowing his head for the Name of Christ, was crowned with martyrdom, alleluia.

As I mentioned last week in my article on St. John the Baptist, the traditional Roman rite places a strong emphasis on saints who held principal positions in salvation history, and thus encourages our devotion to them. St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, and St. Paul are all mentioned nine times in the usus antiquior’s Order of Mass, that is, the unchanging part said nearly every day, in contrast with the changing Propers. Nine is a sacred number that pays homage to the Blessed Trinity (3+3+3 or 3x3), reminding us too of the nine orders of angels in the heavenly hierarchy.

The ancient Roman rite also featured an abundance of octaves, among which had been one for Saints Peter and Paul, which was observed with the Mass of the feast on unimpeded days, with commemorations on the feasts of other saints, and with a grand liturgy on the octave day (July 6). All this was in keeping with Dom Prosper Guéranger’s observation: “The veneration of St. Peter and of St. Paul is rooted in the very foundation of Catholicism; it cannot become weakened either in the people or in souls without great harm to Catholicism itself” (The Liturgical Year, Fifth Day in the Octave).

Pope Pius XII, in a spate of liturgical reforms that presaged and smoothed the way for the liturgical revolution under Paul VI, ruthlessly purged the octaves of the Roman rite, decreasing them from eighteen to only three (Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost). The octaves of John the Baptist and of Peter and Paul were among the casualties. In pursuit of further but more radical simplification, the liturgical reformers who gave us the Novus Ordo removed nearly all of the mentions of Peter and Paul from the Order of Mass (they remain only in the Roman Canon if it is chosen). Then, as regards the sanctoral cycle, they made the Mass of the 28th primarily St. Irenaeus; created an optional evening Vigil for June 28th that is rarely used, and removed the Commemoration of St. Paul on June 30th, effectively collapsing everything into June 29th, which then became a sort of neither-primarily-Peter-nor-Paul liturgy, but a mishmash. It would be no exaggeration to say that liturgical evidence of the centrality of Peter and Paul was summarily reduced by about 95%—ironically, by means of the single greatest abuse of papal power in the history of the Church. The papacy symbolically sawed off the branch on which it was sitting.

The Church today should “pray without ceasing” for the liberation of our Peter, the present pope, from the prison of this-worldly opinions, attitudes, and policies. May an angel of the Lord strike him on the side, in his heart; release his shackles and lead him into the open road of evangelical truth. We should pray that our pope and our other episcopal leaders will not be wolves in the midst of sheep, but sheep in the midst of wolves; that they may say and do what is right, even though they will be hated for it, hauled before courts, and even put to death.

The beauty of our traditional June 28–30 observances may still be savored by those who dare to recover them. Be among these cultivators of the Roman apostolic rite by attending the traditional Mass, or if that is not possible, then through praying the traditional Divine Office.


  catholic, pope paul vi, pope pius xii, traditional mass

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