‘Vera fraternitas’: June, the month of brothers
June 8, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — One of the most beautiful aspects of the traditional Roman liturgy is the rich calendar of saints that it places before our view year after year. The calendar of Paul VI’s modern papal rite of 1969 removed over 300 saints; at the same time, it refocused the celebration of the first part of Mass on a more regimented march through Scripture and optionalized the use of “propers” that referred to the saints. The result is a liturgy that feels much more distant and detached from the cultus of the saints and their distinctive traits, without any compensation of feeling more close and attached to the adoration of Christ their King. In a wonderful paradox, the intense veneration of the saints in the Latin Mass — especially of Our Lady who is mentioned ten or eleven times, as compared with only one to four mentions in Paul VI’s rite — has a way of enhancing the sublime dignity of the Son of God, of whom all the saints are images and to whom they face, like heliotropes following the course of the sun. The cultus of saints, far from detracting from the Lordship of Christ, rather manifests its power and extent. He is all the greater when we see the greatness of His court.
Then there are, from time to time, special “groupings” within the great company of saints that we find arranged for us on the traditional calendar by the hidden workings of Divine Providence. An example is what I like to call “the month of brothers,” June, where we find a quartet of blood brothers who won through to heaven together.
On June 9, we celebrate the feast of Saints Primus and Felician, described thus in the Roman Martyrology:
At La Mentana in the Sabine Hills, the birthday of the holy martyrs Primus and Felician, brothers in the reign of the Emperors Diodetian and Maximian. These glorious martyrs passed a long life in the service of the Lord, and having borne severe torments, sometimes alike for them both, at others different, at length completed the course of their happy warfare, for they were beheaded by Promotus, Governor of Nomen tum. The bodies of these martyrs were afterwards translated to Rome and honourably buried in the church of St Stephen the Protomartyr on the Coelian Hill.
On June 18 comes, in addition to St. Ephrem the Syrian, the commemoration of Saints Mark and Marcellian, about whom the Martyrology says:
At Rome, on the Via Ardeatina, the birthday of the holy martyrs Mark and Marcellian, brothers, who were apprehended in Diocletian’s persecution by the judge Fabian, and bound to a stake, sharp nails being driven into their feet: and since they would not cease to praise Christ, their sides were transpierced with spears, and they passed to the heavenly realms with the glory of martyrdom.
If the Mass for the brothers be said (it is more usual to say the Mass of Saint Ephrem, which was added to the calendar later, but to add the mandatory orations for Mark and Marcellian), this very special Alleluia text would be recited or chanted: “Alleluia, alleluia. This is the true brotherhood, which never can be broken in battle: through the shedding of their blood, they have followed the Lord. Alleluia.”
On June 19, the feast of St. Juliana Falconieri, are commemorated Saints Gervase and Protase:
At Milan, the holy martyrs Gervase and Protase, brothers; the former Astasius the judge ordered to be beaten until he gave up the ghost, the other after scourging to be beheaded. Blessed Ambrose, guided by divine revelation, found their bodies, sprinkled with blood, and as incorrupt as if they had been slain that very day. At their translation a blind man received sight at the touch of the bier, and many who had been harassed by demons were set free.
Lastly, on June 26 falls the memory of Saints John and Paul, to whom devotion in Rome was so strong that their names are found in the Roman Canon. The Martyrology gives us this brief account:
At Rome, on the Coelian Hill, the holy martyrs John and Paul, brothers. The former was the governor of the household, and the second the chamberlain of the virgin Constantia, daughter of the Emperor Constantine; both of them afterwards, under Julian the Apostate, obtained the palm of martyrdom, dying by the sword.
Strikingly, the Collect of the last feast defines a new form of “blood brotherhood” that is achieved by faith in Christ who shed His blood for us, and by the shedding of one’s own blood for Him:
Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that we may derive a doubled joy on this day’s festival, which proceeds from the glorification of blessed John and Paul, whom the same faith and suffering truly made to be brothers. Through our Lord Jesus Christ…
The Gradual of the Mass takes up Psalm 132: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity,” and the Alleluia repeats that of June 9, continuing and completing the thought of the Collect: “Alleluia, alleluia. This is the true brotherhood which overcame the wickedness of the world: it followed Christ, attaining the noble kingdom of heaven. Alleluia.”
One final irony might be mentioned: Many of the saints removed by Paul VI are saints that Roman Catholics venerate in common with the Eastern Orthodox. That is true for three of these pairs of brothers in June: Mark and Marcellian (whose feast on the Eastern calendar is December 18), Gervase and Protase (celebrated by the East on October 14), and John and Paul (observed on the same day). One of the most harmful legacies of the liturgical reform was the simultaneous grafting of alien quasi-Byzantine elements into the Roman rite and the purging of genuinely common elements that had always been there — a blow against fidelity to type as well as ecclesiastical brotherhood.
Haec est vera fraternitas: This is the true brotherhood that unites the martyrs, that unites all Christians in the bonds of faith and suffering, wherever we may be, whatever our state or status. In a reversal of the logic of the world, which says blood is thicker than water, Christianity shows us that water is thicker than blood: The spiritual fellowship inaugurated by baptism joins us more profoundly and more eternally than the bonds of biological generation and family culture. Indeed, it is precisely the Christian baptism of both spouses that allows their natural human love and the act of generation to be elevated to the level of supernatural charity and fruitfulness in in the sacrament of matrimony, and it is the same baptism lived out that makes the family an image of the social life of the blessed in heaven.