Tuesday, July 25, 2006
St. James the Greater, Apostle

Apostle Saint James the Greater" by El Greco, 1606, oil on canvas, Museo del Greco, Toledo, Spain

Feast (1969 Calendar): July 25
Double of the II Class (1955 Calendar): July 25

Today we celebrate the Feastday of St. James. He is called St. James the Greater in order to distinguish him from the other St. James, who was the author of the Epistle of St. James and another disciple of Our Lord. He is called "the Greater" simply because he became a disciple before the other James. According to some historians and legends, St. James the Greater may have been a cousin to Jesus. However, it is certain that St. James the Greater, who we remember today, was the brother of John and son of Zebedee.

James, John, Peter, and Andrew were all fishermen in Bethsaida, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Our Lord called to Simon Peter and Andrew and said, "Come after Me and I will make you fishers of men" (Mt. 4:19). And, then Our Lord turned to James the Greater and his brother John, and both of them instantly left their nets and followed Our Lord.

St. James the Greater, along with Peter and John, was one of the few that witnessed Our Lord's Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, the raising of the daughter of Jairus, and Our Lord’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane before His passion.

And while St. James abandoned Our Lord during His Passion along with the other disciples, he repented and returned to the faith. And, not only that, but he went out and proclaimed the Gospel. According to legend St. James went to Spain and evangelized there for seven years. St. James and St. John asked Our Lord to be at His right hand in Heaven, and Our Lord said they would be with Him in a far more different and wonderful way than they could have expected.

St. James the Greater died a martyr for Jesus. He was killed by the sword by the order of King Herod Agrippa in c. 44 AD, and his martyrdom is the only one of the apostles that are recorded in the Bible (Acts 12:2). He was the first apostle to be murdered for the faith.

Each year on July 24, many people make a pilgrimage to St. James of Compostela in Spain, the 3rd largest shrine in all of Christendom. According to legend, his body was taken by angels when he was murdered, and it was sailed in an unattended boat to Spain where a massive rock closed around it. In the ninth century, a star in the sky revealed the location of the tomb of St. James, and that was were the Shrine was built. Below the altar rests the remains of St. James the Greater. Some people do not believe the remains are truly his; however, Pope Leo XIII in 1884 in Omnipotens Deus accepted the authenticity of the relics at Compostela. As the feast of all of the other apostles, the Feast of St. James was in times past a holy day of obligation.

LET us, today, hail the bright star which once made Compostella so resplendent with its rays that the obscure town became, like Jerusalem and Rome, a centre of attraction to the piety of the whole world. As long as the Christian empire lasted, the sepulchre of St. James the Great rivalled in glory that of St. Peter himself.

Among the saints of God, there is not one who manifested more evidently how the elect keep up after death an interest in the works confided to them by our Lord. The life of St. James after his call to the apostolate was but short; and the result of his labours in Spain, his allotted portion, appeared to be a failure. Scarcely had he, in his rapid course, taken possession of the land of Iberia, when, impatient to drink the chalice which would satisfy his continual desire to be close to his Lord, he opened by martyrdom the heavenward procession of the twelve, which was to be closed by the other son of Zebedee. O Salome, who didst give them both to the world, and didst present to Jesus their ambitious prayer, rejoice with a double joy: thou art not repulsed; He who made the hearts of mothers is thine abettor. Did He not, to the exclusion of all others except Simon His Vicar, choose thy two sons as witnesses of the greatest works of His power, admit them to the contemplation of His glory on Thabor, and confide to them His sorrow unto death in the garden of His agony? And to-day thy eldest-born becomes the first-born in heaven of the sacred college; the protomartyr of the apostles repays, as far as in him lies, the special love of Christ our Lord.

But how was he a messenger of the faith, since the sword of Herod Agrippa put such a speedy end to his mission! And how did he justify his name of son of thunder, since his voice was heard by a mere handful of disciples in a desert of infidelity?

This new name, another special prerogative of the two brothers, was realized by John in his sublime writings, wherein as by lightning flashes he revealed to the world the deep things of God; it was the same in his case as in that of Simon, who having been called Peter by Christ, was also made by Him the foundation of the Church; the name given by the Man-God was a prophecy, not an empty title. With regard to James, too, then, eternal Wisdom cannot have been mistaken. Let it not be thought that the sword of any Herod could frustrate the designs of the most High upon the men of His choice. The life of the saints is never cut short; their death, ever precious, is still more so when in the cause of God it seems to come before the time. It is then that with double reason we may say their works follow them; God Himself being bound in honour, both for His own sake and for theirs, to see that nothing is wanting to their plenitude. As a victim of a holocaust, He hath received them, says the Holy Ghost, and in time there shall be respect had to them. The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds. They shall judge nations, and rule over peoples; and their Lord shall reign for ever.[1] How literally was this divine oracle to be fulfilled with regard to our saint!

Nearly eight centuries, which to the heavenly citizens are but as a day, had passed over that tomb in the north of Spain, where two disciples had secretly laid the apostle's body. During that time the land of his inheritance, which he had so rapidly traversed had been overrun first by Roman idolaters, then by Arian barbarians, and when the day of hope seemed about to dawn, a deeper night was ushered in by the Crescent. One day lights were seen glimmering over the briars that covered the neglected monument; attention was drawn to the spot, which henceforth went by the name of the field of stars. But what are those sudden shouts coming down from the mountains, and echoing through the valleys? Who is this unknown chief rallying against an immense army the little worn-out troop whose heroic valour could not yesterday save it from defeat? Swift as lightning, and bearing in one hand a white standard with a red cross, he rushes with drawn sword upon the panic-stricken foe, and dyes the feet of his charger in the blood of 70,000 slain. Hail to the chief of the holy war, of which this Liturgical Year has so often made mention! Saint James! Saint James! Forward, Spain! It is the reappearance of the Galilean fisherman, whom the Man-God once called from the bark where he was mending his nets; of the elder son of thunder, now free to hurl the thunderbolt upon these new Samaritans, who pretend to honour the unity of God by making Christ no more than a prophet.[2] Henceforth James shall be to Christian Spain the firebrand which the Prophet saw, devouring all the people round about, to the right hand and to the left, until Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place in Jerusalem.[3]

And when, after six centuries and a half of struggle, his standard bearers, the Catholic kings, had succeeded in driving the infidel hordes beyond the seas, the valiant leader of the Spanish armies laid aside his bright armour, and the slayer of Moors became once more a messenger of the faith. As fisher of men, he entered his bark, and gathering around it the gallant fleets of Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Albuquerque, he led them over unknown seas to lands that had never yet heard the name of the Lord. For his contribution to the labours of the twelve, James drew ashore his wellfilled nets from west and east and south, from new worlds, renewing Peter’s astonishment at the sight of such captures. He, whose apostolate seemed at the time of Herod III to have been crushed in the bud before bearing any fruit, may say with St. Paul: I have no way come short of them that are above measure apostles, for by the grace of God I have laboured more abundantly than all they.[4]

[1] Wild. iii. 6-8.
[2] Battle of Clavijo, under Ramiro I, about 845.
[3] Zach. zii. 6.
[4] 2 Cor. xii. 11, and 1 Cor. xv. 10.


Be Thou, O Lord, the Sanctifier and Protector of Thy people: so that defended by the aid of Thine Apostle James, they may please Thee in their manner of life, and serve Thee in peace of soul. Through our Lord.

Prayer Source: 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal

5 comment(s):

del_button July 26, 2006 at 2:27 PM
tlwest said...

Being new I have a question- "Feast" what does that mean? Do I actually make a meal to celebrate or is this a prayerful thing ?

del_button July 26, 2006 at 3:41 PM
Matthew said...

Great question, Tlwest. It was something I was very uncertain about for many years.

Everytime that we celebrate the life of a saint, Mary under one of her titles, or days concerning Jesus like the Epiphany, Christmas, Easter, Transfiguration, etc, it is ranked.

The lowest ranked days are Optional Memorials. This means the priest does not have to talk about them during Mass. Then come Memorials, where the entire Church celebrates the day. Even higher are feasts, which are extremely important. The most important saints like the apostles have feasts. Even higher than that are Solemnities. It is the highest a celebration can go. Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, Christmas, etc. are solemnities.

So, no a feast isn't about a meal to celebrate, it's just a ranking. If you visit my feasts/memorial page, you will see many different days:


del_button July 26, 2006 at 4:05 PM
tlwest said...

Aaaah Thank You! So much to learn!

del_button July 26, 2006 at 4:41 PM
Matthew said...

You are so right. I'm still learning each day, and it's so much fun!

del_button November 17, 2015 at 4:22 PM
Anonymous said...

HI! I am just wondering, is there any information on st. james' early life?

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