Thursday, June 29, 2006
Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

Solemnity (1969 Calendar): June 29
Double of the I Class (1955 Calendar): June 29

The Catholic Church honors many, many saints and today is one of principal importance since ancient times. Today, June 29, we celebrate the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, who both loved God so fervently they died for the One True Faith. Can we imitate the humility of St. Peter, who was crucified upside down since he claimed that he was unworthy to die in the same manner as Our Lord?

For more on the lives of all the Apostles, pick up a copy of "The Twelve: Lives and Legends of the Apostles" on paperback or as part of the online course on the Apostles, which includes a Certificate of Completion.

The great Liturgist Dom Guéranger, O.S.B. said thus of this day:
It would be difficult to insist more than does today’s liturgy on the episode of Peter’s captivity in Jerusalem. Sever antiphons and all the capitula of this Office are drawn from thence; the Introit has just sung the same; and the Epistle gives in full the history of the event in which the Church is particularly interested on this feast. The secret of her preference can easily be divined. This festival celebrates the fact that Peter’s death confirms the queen of the Gentile world in her august prerogatives of sovereign lady, mother and bride; but the starting-point of all this greatness was the solemn moment in which the vicar of the Man-God, shaking the dust from his feet over Jerusalem, turned his face westwards, and transferred to Rome those rights which the Synagogue had repudiated. It was on quitting Herod’s prison that all this happened. “And going out of the city,” says the Acts, “he went into another place.” This other place, according to the testimony of history and tradition, is no other than Rome, then about to become the new Sion, where Simon Peter arrived some weeks afterwards. Thus, catching up the angel’s word, the Gentile Church sings this night in one of her responsories at Matins: “Peter, arise, and put on thy garments: gird thee with strength to save the nations; for the chains have fallen from off thy hands.”

Just as in bygone days Jesus slept in the bark that was on the point of sinking, so Peter was sleeping quietly on the eve of the day fixed for his death. Tempests and dangers of all kinds are not spared, in the course of ages, to Peter’s successors. But never is there seen in the bark of holy Church the dire dismay which held aghast the companions of our Lord in that vessel, tossed as it was by the wild hurricane. Faith was then lacking in the breasts of the disciples, and its absence caused their terror. Since the descent of the Holy Ghost, however, this precious faith, whence all other gifts flow, can never be lost in the Church. It is faith that imparts to superiors the calmness of their divine Master; faith maintains in the hearts of the Christian people that uninterrupted prayer, and humble confidence which silently triumphs over the world and the elements, even over God himself. Should the bark of Peter near the abyss, should the Pilot himself seem to sleep, never will holy Church imitate the disciples in the storm of Lake Genesareth. Never will she set herself up as judge of the due means and moments for divine Providence, nor deem it lawful for her to find fault with him who is watching over all: remembering that she possesses within her a better and surer means than any other of bringing to a solution, without display or commotion, the most extreme crises; never ignoring that if intercessory prayer does not falter, the angel of the Lord will surely come at the given hour to awaken Peter and break his chains asunder.

Oh, how far more powerful are a few souls that in their unobtrusive simplicity know how to pray, than all the policy and all the soldiers of a thousand Herods put together! The small community assembled in the house of Mary, mother of Mark, were few indeed in number; but thence, day by day and night by night, arose one continual prayer; fortunately, that fatal naturalism was unknown there, which, under the specious pretext of not tempting God, refrains from asking of him the impossible, whenever there is question of the Church’s interests. This pest of naturalism is a domestic enemy harder far to grapple with, at a critical moment, than the crisis itself! To be sure, the precautions taken by Herod Agrippa not to suffer his prisoner to escape his hands do credit to his prudence, and certainly it was an impossible thing asked for by holy Church, when she begged the deliverance of Peter at such a moment: so much so, indeed, that even those who were praying, when their prayers were heard, did not at first believe their own eyes! But the prevailing force of their strength was just in that—namely, to hope against all hope—for what they themselves knew to be holy foolishness; that is to say, to submit in prayer the judgment of reason to the sole view of faith!
Bishop Bonaventure Giffard

Ss. Peter and Paul As A Holy Day of Obligation

The first catalog of Holy Days comes from the Decretals of Gregory IX in 1234, which listed 45 Holy Days. In 1642, His Holiness Pope Urban VIII issued the papal bull "Universa Per Orbem" which altered the required Holy Days of Obligation for the Universal Church to consist of 35 such days as well as the principal patrons of one's one locality. In that listing, Ss. Peter and Paul was listed as a Holy Day of Obligation.

In fact, all of the feasts of the Apostles were Holy Days of Obligation on the Universal Calendar from 932 AD - as cited by Father Weiser on page 279 in his "Christian Feasts and Customs" - to 1911. However, most localities did not observe all of these feastdays as Holy Days. The Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul was the most commonly observed Holy Day among the feasts of the apostles. Even after the changes to Holy Days of Obligation in Ireland in the mid-1700s, Ss. Peter and Paul remained a day of double precept.

At the time of America's formation, the holy days of obligation, in addition to every Sunday, were as follows for the new country: the feasts of Christmas, Circumcision, Epiphany, Annunciation, Easter Monday, Ascension, Whitsun Monday, Corpus Christi, Ss. Peter and Paul, Assumption, and All Saints. But even though these were the "official" holy days, practices varied across the dioceses in the United States as there was no uniformity until 1885. 

In 1722, Bishop Giffard, the Vicar Apostolic of London, approved a dispensation "on behalf of the mission of Maryland for the ease and quiet of poor Catholics of that Mission" to sanction a dispensation of holy days. He granted the Maryland Superior the faculties to dispense Catholics from holy days and fasting obligations. As American Catholic Quarterly Review notes, "Bishop Giffard permitted the Jesuits to dispense Catholics in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania from the obligations of all holy days for just cause, e.g. getting in crops at harvest, between May 1 and September 30, respect for the feasts of Ascension, Easter Monday, Corpus Christi, and Assumption." 

On March 9, 1777, Pope Pius VI "dispensed all Catholics in the kingdom of Great Britain from the precept of hearing Mass and abstaining from servile works on all holydays except the Sundays of the year, the feasts of Christmas, Circumcision, Epiphany, Annunciation, Easter Monday, Ascension, Whitsun Monday, Corpus Christi, St Peter and St Paul, Assumption, and All Saints." As the Catholic Dictionary of 1861 further states: "The Vigils of the Feasts thus abrogated his Holiness transferred to the Wednesdays and Fridays of Advent, on which he ordered that fast should be kept as in Lent or Embertide, 'although it is an English custom to keep fasts and vigils on Friday.' The pope adds a power to the Vicars Apostolic to dispense from the precept of abstaining from servile works on SS. Peter and Paul falling in the hay-harvest, and the Assumption in the wheat-harvest, provided Mass has been previously heard, if possible."

And Ss. Peter and Paul seemed to have been dispensed for those Catholics in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, America's first Archdiocese. An 1818 Ordo for the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Baltimore does not list Ss. Peter and Paul as a required day of precept.

Before 1885, holy days varied within various jurisdictions in the United States. Those formerly French colonies (which followed the Holy Days as set by Quebec) differed from the English. This disunity continued for the young United States since new territories (e.g. Florida, Texas, and Oregon) did not follow the same holy days of obligation and the same fasting days.

In 1840, Pope Gregory XVI dispensed the remaining dioceses then in the United States from keeping Ss. Peter and Paul as a Holy Day of Obligation. Permission however was granted to the United States on December 19, 1840, to solemnize the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul the Sunday following June 29th. Such permission had been given for this Feastday in addition to Epiphany, Corpus Christi, and the patrons of the place to the French by Pope Pius VI on April 9, 1802

In fact, it was a requirement for priests in the United States to continue to solemnize the feast on the following Sunday - a requirement that continued even through the 1962 Missal. Matters Liturgical from 1959 notes: 

"The external solemnity of the feast of Corpus Christi must be transferred in the United States and celebrated on the Sunday following; this is also prescribed for the feast of SS. Peter & Paul (June 29), when this feast falls on a week day (Indult of Nov. 25, 1885). Hence, where on Sundays the principal Mass is usually a sung Mass, on the Sundays following these feasts this sung Mass in churches and public oratories must, and in semi-public oratories may, be of the transferred external solemntiy (S.R.C. 2974, IV; 4269, IX). This Mass shall be celebrated as on the feast, with only those occurring Offices to be commemorated as are noted in n. 209 f, even if the Mass is one of two or more different sung Masses, the rubrics in M.R.: ADD., v, 4 being now abrogated."

Its observance as an external solemnity in other nations (e.g. France) is optional. As such, liturgists like Father J.B. O'Connell do not mention this requirement in his rubrics for Votive Masses as he did not write from an American perspective.

Despite these changes over the centuries, the fact that so many observed Ss. Peter and Paul as a Holy Day for so long underscore our own need to keep this day holy, to attend the External Solemnity of Ss. Peter and Paul on the upcoming Sunday, and our need to keep the Vigil of Ss. Peter and Paul as a day of fasting and abstinence.

Holy Mass in 2008:


O God, Who hast made this day holy by the martyrdom of Thine Apostles Peter and Paul: grant that Thy Church may in all things follow the precepts of those through whom she received the beginnings of the Faith. Through our Lord.

Prayer Source: 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal

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