Tradition holds that Pope St. Gregory the Great was the last Pope to organize and solidify the Roman Canon. Gregory reigned from 590-604. Within the Roman Canon, there are two places in which we honor & call upon the saints
The first is call the Communicantes, or “The communications”. This section is just prior to the Consecration. The priest prays “in communion with those whose memory we venerate.” The commemoration of the saints reminds us that we are not alone as we gather for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The whole Church joins with us in worship of our heavenly Father. This is a joyful remembrance of those who have made it into God’s kingdom. They are our family gathered in heaven and pleading our cause. It is a select list of saints, and “all the saints” not listed, men, women and children. People who resembled us in our broken, sinful human nature but conquered Satan, sin and death through obedience to Christ. We are united with our brethren who have gone before us and hope to be with them in the future.
This is a list of 25 men and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Following the Mother of our Lord is “blessed Joseph her spouse.” St. Joseph was added to the Roman Canon by Blessed John XXIII in 1962. All of the others were introduced prior to the 4th century.
The list begins with the 11 Apostles who were present at the Last Supper. Peter is the first on the list, as he is in Sacred Scripture followed by Paul, who is always associated with Peter. Ten of these are the most illustrious Martyrs who watered the foundation of the Church with their own blood. The only Apostle who did not suffer a martyrs death is John, the beloved.
Following the Apostles is a list of the first three Popes after St. Peter – Linus, Cletus (Anacletus) and Clement I. Next in the list is Sixtus II, beheaded by the Emperor Valerian. Cornelius & Cyprian, two friends. Cornelius was the 21st Pope, against his will after the martydom of Fabian. He put an end to the schism brought about by the first anti-pope, Novatian. Cyprian was bishop of Carthage. He confirmed the papal authority of Cornelius. He was beheaded with a sword.
Lawrence was one of seven deacons in Rome to serve under Pope Sixtus, II. He is credited with saving the holy grail, or chalice used by Our Lord at the Last Supper. And it is he that we often hear quoted during his martyrdom, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side,” as his body was being roasted on a grill.
Chrysogonus was martyred at Aquileia during the Diocletian persecution. He was also buried there and had a strong public veneration of the people of the region. Veneration to the saint was moved to Rome very early on and a church was built in his honor in Trestevere, which still bears his name today.
Saints John and Paul were brothers and roman martyrs. It is believed they were martyred either by Julian the Apostate on June 26th, between the years 361 and 363 or Diocletion in 304 AD. The house and tombs of SS. John and Paul lies under the basilica built in their names on the Caelian Hill in Rome. They have been venerated on this spot since at least the 5th century.
Finally, we have two other brothers, Saints Comas and Damian. They were twins, born in Cilicia, now a part of Turkey. Both brothers practiced medicine. According to legend, they were hung on a cross, stoned and shot by arrows and finally beheaded. There is a basilica in their honor in Rome, on the Roman Forum.
All of these saints remind us that we are one Church, both militant and triumphant, united as God’s family. We are in need – weak and sinful, seeking the aid of their brethren in heaven. The saints, reaching out with God’s providential love to assist us in our journey to the Father’s house where we will all be united as God’s family forever.
There are many graces poured out and received which would not have been if not for the intercession of our beloved brethren who poured out their blood like the Lamb of God, whom they followed. And “we ask that through their merits and prayers, in all things we may be defended” and aided, and strengthened by God’s “protecting help.”
The second list of saints in the Roman Canon follow the consecration and prayer for the deceased. We sought the intercession of the saints before the consecration and prayed for our brothers and sisters who have gone before us and once again turn to our brethren in heaven, who await our arrival. The priest leads into the saints with “To us, also, your servants, who though sinners, hope in your abundant mercies.” We are sinners in need of God’s mercy, who come to him as beggars asking that we might have “some share and fellowship with” the saints.
In the first list of saints, we only have men. The second list represents the 7 orders, the states of life and personages in the Church.
We begin with John the Baptist. John the forerunner of Christ represents the prophets of the Old Testament and leads to the promised Messiah. Stephen, the 1st martyr of the Church is from the order of deacons. St. Matthias who replaced Judas the betrayer, represents the Apostles. Barnabas was a Levite and a Jewish convert to the faith, one of the earliest disciples from Jerusalem. Ignatius was the third Bishop of Antioch. He was among the Apostolic Fathers and a student of St. John. Tradition tells us that Ignatius was one of the children Jesus held and blest the children and said: “let the children come to me.” Alexander I was the fifth Pope after St. Peter. He was beheaded with two priests on the Nomentan Way. His body is kept in St. Sabina in Rome. Felicity and Perpetua were both married and suffered greatly at Carthage. They were confined to a dark prison and were scourged and beheaded in the year 202. The four women – Agatha, Lucy, Agnes and Cecelia represent the order of virgins. And finally, Anastasia represents the widows. She was treated cruelly by her pagan husband. After his death, she lived a life of charity and mercy. Anistasia was burnt on the feast of the Lord’s Nativity in the year 304 under the reign of Diocletian.
The second list of saints in the Roman Canon were all highly esteemed people of Rome. Although they may not appear to relate to us today, they represent every walk of Christian life. Both men and women give the example that all are strong in the grace of Christ.
We seek the friendship of these Apostles and Martyrs, promising to share in their labors, sufferings and battles in our daily offertory. In the Mass, we pray: “May the Lord accept your sacrifice and ours.” We may not physically take on the cross or be flogged, but we willingly unite all of our sufferings with Christ, the Pascal Lamb as His faithful servants with all the saints and martyrs, both named and unnamed, to spread the saving gospel of Christ.