What a Month for Priests!
Celebrating the feasts and saints of August
There are no U.S. national holidays during the month of August — that is, unless you count National Watermelon Day (Aug. 3), National Root Beer Float Day (Aug. 6) or Take Your Cat to the Vet Day (Aug. 22). Conversely, the Church liturgical calendar is packed with celebrations.
The August 2022 calendar identifies one solemnity, three feasts, eleven obligatory memorials, ten optional memorials and only six feria days. The celebrations honor Church Doctors and Fathers, martyrs, popes, bishops, an abbot, priests, a deacon, kings, founders of religious orders and two mothers.
The August calendar reflects the diversity among all those chosen for sainthood, regardless of the month, their vocations, their ministries — all servants of the Creator placed in a certain era and certain place carrying the message of Jesus and glorifying God.
In August 2022, obligatory memorial Masses for St. Maximilian Kolbe (Aug. 14), St. Pius X (Aug. 21) and St. Augustine (Aug. 28) fall on Sundays, and Sunday, with rare exception, trumps all celebrations. Also, the optional memorial for St. Cajetan, Sixtus II (martyr) and companions is on a Sunday (Aug. 7).
Solemnity and Feasts
The solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated on Aug. 15. Often a holy day of obligation, it is not in the United States in 2022 because it falls on a Monday. On this day, we celebrate the assumption of the Blessed Virgin (body and soul) into heaven. There is no way the body of the Blessed Mother would be allowed to decay in an earthly grave. “Yes, we are still pilgrims, but our mother has gone on ahead, where she points to the reward of our efforts. She tells us that we can make it. And, if we are faithful, we will reach home,” writes St. Josemaría Escrivá in “Christ is Passing By” (Scepter, $14.99).
The feast of the Transfiguration. On the second Sunday of Lent we read about the Transfiguration and here it is again on Aug. 8, the actual feast day. We relish this story about Jesus taking Peter, James and John up Mount Tabor where Jesus’ face and clothes become dazzling with light, and Moses and Elijah appear. A voice from heaven says, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” (Lk 9:35). The Catechism of the Catholic Church titles this event, “A foretaste of the Kingdom” (cf. No. 554).
Little is known about St. Lawrence, whose feast is on Aug. 10. In 257, Pope St. Sixtus II (r. 257-58) ordained Lawrence a deacon and charged him with aiding the poor in Rome; a job he accomplished zealously and humbly. At the same time, Roman Emperor Valerian decreed that all bishops, priests and deacons be put to death. Pope Sixtus II was arrested in 258 and beheaded. Near the day of this beheading, the prefect of Rome demanded that Lawrence bring to him all the treasures of the Church in Rome. Lawrence sold the treasures, gave the money to the poor and then brought the poor and marginalized to the prefect explaining they were true treasures of the Church. Four days after the martyrdom of Sixtus II, Deacon Lawrence was tortured to death on the gridiron.
Another feast day, on Aug. 24, honors Bartholomew the Apostle. The synoptic Gospels refer to him as Bartholomew, while John 1:45-49 calls him Nathanael. There are only a few verses about him, but those verses tell a special story of faith. Philip encourages his friend Nathanael to meet Jesus. Nathanael has that famous line when told that Jesus is from Nazareth, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). Jesus later offers an insight into Nathanael, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him” (Jn 1:47). After a short meeting with Jesus, Nathanael responds to him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel” (v. 49). Nathanael is the first apostle to call Jesus the Son of God or infer that he is the long-awaited Messiah.
Queenship of Mary, St. Mary Major Basilica, John the Baptist
On Aug. 22, the Church celebrates the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This obligatory memorial is a more recent addition to the liturgical calendar, acclaimed by Pope Pius XII (r. 1939-58) in 1955. Initially, the memorial was on May 31, which fit because May is the month of Mary. But it was moved to Aug. 22, closer and more appropriately aligned with the Aug. 15 feast of the Assumption. The title of queen can be traced back to Mary’s visit with Elizabeth. According to Luke 1:43, Elizabeth calls Mary “the mother of my Lord,” the queen mother. Jesus is King of kings and Mary, his mother, is queen of heaven and earth.
Included on the August calendar is the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, an optional memorial. At the Council of Ephesus in 431, the Church Fathers affirmed Mary as the Mother of God, rejecting the heretical Nestorian belief that limited her role to the mother of Jesus. In the fifth century, the remodeling of the Lateran Basilica was complete and Pope Sixtus III (r. 432-40) dedicated the basilica to Mary, Mother of God. It is known today as St. Mary Major; the word “Major” indicates that this church is preeminent of all the churches in Rome named after the Blessed Mother. The Aug. 5 celebration or dedication focuses us on Mary as Mother of the Church, on Mary our Mother, and that she is the Mother of God.
On Aug. 29 we remember the memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist, martyred in return for a dance. Besides the Blessed Mother, he is the only saint for which we celebrate both his birth and death; an obligatory memorial.
August Saints Not So Well Known
Many saints celebrated in August are well known, such as St. Augustine, St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Dominic, St. John Vianney; others not so much. Here is a brief discussion addressing a few lesser known saints with feast days in August:
St. Eusebius of Vercelli (283-371). Vercelli is a small town in the Piedmont area of Italy and where Eusebius was elected bishop. Eusebius lived at the same time as the great defender of the Faith St. Athanasius and fervently rejected the Arian heretics who denied that the Son was equal to the Father. Like Athanasius, Eusebius risked his life defending the divinity of Christ. Because of his uncompromising position on Arianism and refusal to criticize Athanasius, Eusebius was exiled to Palestine in 351. Ten years later he returned to Italy and spent the rest of his life opposing those who attacked the teachings of the Church. He advocated that the Gospel should be preached as it was handed down from the apostles, not altered by man. Reportedly he was a major influence in the writing of the Athanasian Creed. His feast day is Aug. 2.
St. Stephen of Hungary (c. 975-1038). A catalyst for the spread of Christianity in Europe and specifically in Hungary. Stephen’s father was the ruler of the Magyars, a group that had migrated from the Urals to Hungary around the seventh century. Given a Christian education by his parents, Stephen succeeded his father as ruler in 997. The new ruler sought to establish Christianity throughout the region. Many pagan groups and their customs were abolished and the country was soon united under Stephen. He asked the pope to declare him king and was crowned in 1001. A proactive, strong ruler he provided funding for new churches and supported pastors, established episcopal sees, selected bishops and worked to assist the poor. There are stories that he would disguise himself and personally give alms to the needy. Stephen had a fervent devotion to the Blessed Mother and consecrated his kingdom to her. Because he used his monarchy to promote the teachings of Christianity, he is known as the apostolic king. His feast day is Aug. 16.
St. Helena (250-330). She was the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great and, at age 63, converted to Christianity. Like many converts, Helena sought zealously to make up for all the years of not knowing the truth, the Christian faith. Tradition has it that at age 80 she went to Jerusalem where she was instrumental in finding the true cross, the cross on which Jesus hung. St. Ambrose said of this discovery, “Helena worshiped not the wood but the king who hung on the wood.” She was a benefactor to the poor and unlimited in her charity to anyone in need. She was instrumental and oversaw the building of many churches. Her feast day is Aug. 18.
St. Raymond Nonnatus (1204-40). St. Raymond Nonnatus, whose feast is on Aug. 31, was taken from his mother’s womb as she died in childbirth. “Non-natus” means “not born.” Ordained in 1222, early in his priesthood he was sent from Spain to Algiers where he sought to liberate Christians being held ransom by Muslims. Having some initial success, he was imprisoned by the Muslims and was a captive for eight years. While in captivity, he converted some of his guards. There is a story that his captors bored a hole in his lips and attached a lock so he couldn’t spread the Gospel. Eventually, he was released, and in 1239 Pope Gregory IX (r. 1227-41) made him a cardinal. Nonnatus died at age 39; his whole adult life was spent willing to sacrifice himself for others.
D.D. EMMONS writes from Pennsylvania.
The Popular Cult of St. Philomena
In February 1961, numerous saints were dropped from the liturgical calendar; these included St. Christopher, St. Dorothy, St. Barbara and St. Philomena. The justification for the action was the lack of evidence that these saints ever lived, as well as the crowded calendar.
Philomena is an interesting case. All the named saints and their feasts were removed from the calendar(s) with the understanding that their feast day could still be celebrated in locations that had a special link to that saint. The exception was St. Philomena; she was expunged entirely.
The Vatican has never denied that she is a saint or demanded that the faithful stop venerating her. Indeed, the Church afforded Philomena all the honors of sainthood: Masses offered in her honor with a feast day of Aug. 11; her own office; altars, shrines, statues erected for her; a novena to her; pilgrimages made to her shrine in Mugnano, Italy; a universal archconfraternity established; churches bearing her name; and a designation as patron of the worldwide Universal Living Rosary Association.
As recently as the 1990s relics of St. Philomena were being distributed to churches in the United States. St. John Vianney, Blessed Pauline Jaricot and many popes are among people everywhere who were and are patrons of Philomena.
While many claimed miraculous healing by her intercession, none of these miracles have been publicly authenticated by the Vatican. Her name was never added to the official list of saints. Philomena’s liturgical cult has been suppressed, but not her popular cult.