July 6, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — In the traditional Roman Catholic calendar, July 10 is the feast of the Seven Holy Brothers, Martyrs, and Sts. Rufina and Secunda, Virgin Martyrs. The seven brothers, sons of St. Felicitas, were killed in Rome and buried in four tombs:
Saints Alexander, Vitalis, and Martial(is): Cemetery of the Jordani, on the Via Salaria
Saint Januarius: Cemetery of Praetextatus, on the Via Appia
Saints Felix and Philip: Cemetery of Priscilla, on the Via Salaria)
Saint Sylvanus (or Silvanus): Cemetery of Maximus, on the Via Salaria)
Here we have the Christian counterpart to the seven Jewish brothers of the Maccabees, whose martyrdom is also featured in the traditional calendar on August 1 (with a commemoration of St. Peter’s chains). They are the only Old Testament saints on the general Roman calendar for Mass.
Both of these feasts were removed by the liturgical reformers (among the more than 300 saints they removed). This is unfortunate for many reasons. I will just mention three.
1. These saints have been celebrated since time immemorial, not only by the Roman church but also by most of the Eastern churches. They form a bond with the worship of the early Church in its unbroken catholicity, the “undivided Church” of the first millennium.
2. The Jewish brothers in particular remind us that the Church of Christ, the Israel of God, has existed from the beginning of time, even if it was not fully formed until the coming of Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. The pious Israelites were, as St. Augustine clearly teaches, already members of the Church by anticipation, by their faith in the future redemption of Israel and in the Messiah. This is a needful corrective to the false idea that the Old Testament and the New Testament pertain to two different religions: the Jews and the Christians. As a matter of fact, the whole Bible belongs to the Church because it all points to Christ, as one who is to come or who has already come and will come again in glory.
3. Most importantly for our times, these two feasts celebrate large families. Seven sons are martyred, but they probably had sisters as well who go unmentioned in the records. The new liturgical calendar, as far as I know, celebrates no large families as groups of saints.
As a friend pointed out to me, it should be noted for the sake of accuracy that there are many historical questions about who exactly the seven brothers were and whether or not they were blood brothers and all sons of one Felicity. The so-called Leonine Sacramentary contains seven different Masses for them, only one of which says in the Preface that they were brothers. The Gellone Sacramentary (ca. 780) does call them brothers in the title of their Mass, but the Mass prayers, which are older (the same as in the Missal of St Pius V), do not refer to them as such, and St. Felicity is not mentioned. They were killed in different ways and buried in different places, which adds an additional layer of mystery. On the other hand, as a different friend countered, the tradition that they were brothers seems already to have existed in the fourth century, given an inscription found in 1966 in the cemetery of the Giordani: SEPTIMO EX NUMERO FRATRUM … / HIC VOLVIT SANCTUS MARTYR SUA CON(dere membra) / ATRI(a quod) CAELI SCIRET SIBI LONG(a parata). And St. Gregory the Great did not think it was out of the question that the seven were brothers, despite being buried separately.
In other words, the history is messy and we don’t know for sure. That is the way it is with very ancient records: We don’t expect to have all the proofs we would need for historical certainty. But skepticism is not the right response to legends of the saints that have been received and celebrated by the Church for untold centuries. It runs helpfully against modern rationalism to keep doing what the Church gives us in her tradition, in spite of the fact that scholars may not be satisfied. As important as the work of scholars may be, it can never be allowed to get the upper hand. That is what happened in the liturgical reform, and the utter desolation that resulted will haunt the Church’s memory until the end of time.
Obviously, the point of July 10’s and August 1’s commemorations of seven brothers is to venerate these martyrs, rejoice in their victory, beg their intercession, and imitate their example — the size of the family is somewhat incidental. However, it is still a reality present to the minds of the faithful: Here are seven blood brothers, which can’t help but subtly form worshipers to think that a family with (at least) seven children is a perfectly normal thing. This would be one more way in which the Latin Mass is an antithesis to modern anti-family propaganda.
A final note: The additional pair of saints on July 10, Rufina and Secunda, are virgin martyrs of the third century whose relics were translated on this day in the 12th century. Their legend states that they were daughters of a Roman senator named Asterius. Their fiancés, Armentarius and Verinus, were Christians, but renounced their faith when Valerian began his persecutions. Again: What perfect models for modern young people today who may find themselves forced to choose between fidelity and apostasy!