Have you ever found yourself at Mass, listening the the Eucharist prayer when the priest starts saying the names of saints? You know some of them – Saint Joseph, Saint Peter, Saint Paul. But then there are some who you’ve never heard of – Cyprian? Linus? Wasn’t he Charlie Brown’s friend?
The Roman Canon of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass actually contains two prayers that remember saints who have gone before us. Mentioning them in the Eucharistic prayer reminds us that we’re not alone – we’re members of the body of Christ. At the Mass, saints and angels worship God alongside us. Let’s take a closer look at the first prayer, the Communicantes.
The prayer starts off by calling to mind the Holy Family and all of the original Apostles (with the exception of Judas Iscariot, for obvious reasons). But if the rest of the saints mentioned leave you scratching your head, here’s a quick introduction to those remembered in the Communicantes:
Pope Saint Linus
Every ancient record that has been discovered lists Linus as the man who became pope after the death of Saint Peter. The Liberian Catalog tells us that his pontificate lasted twelve years, four months, and twelve days. It is possible that Linus is buried beside Peter. His feast is now celebrated on September 23, and he is credited with the writing of an epistle on the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul.
Pope Saint Cletus
Cletus was elected pope after the death of Linus – making Him the third pope of the early Catholic Church. Like Linus, his pontificate lasted twelve years. He’s sometimes referred to as “Anacletus”. His reign as pope was during a time of religious persecution, so we don’t know much about his pontificate, either. Records show that he ordained twenty-five new priests during his time as pope. We do know that he, too, was buried at the foot of Vatican hill, and his body still rests in that church.
Pope Saint Clement
Clement is referred to as one of the Church’s five “Apostolic Fathers” – providing a direct link between the Apostles who spent time with Christ and the popes and bishops who followed in their footsteps. He wrote to Christians in Corinth about the importance of unity, saying: ““Charity unites us to God. It knows no schism, does not rebel, does all things in concord. In charity all the elect of God have been made perfect.” His feast day is celebrated on November 23.
Pope Saint Sixtus
Scholars agree that Sixtus reigned as pope for about ten years – but they disagree on which ten years those were, exactly. In the history of the Catholic Church, five popes take the name of Sixtus.
There is some controversy as to which Saint Sixtus is referred to in the Roman Canon. “Which Sixtus is it – the first or second – who is commemorated in the Canon? Opinions are divided,” writes Reverend Nicholas Gihr in his book The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, published in 1918. “To prove that Sixtus I is intended, it is asserted that the five popes are mentioned in chronological order. . . More and stronger reasons are in favor of Sixtus II. His memory is been highly celebrated in the Church; the Catacombs prove this by many pictures, illustrations and prayers.”
Regardless which Saint Sixtus is intended by the Roman Canon, the prayer still honors the popes of the early church who were martyred for their faith.
Pope Saint Cornelius
A humble, quiet man, Cornelius had to be convinced to accept the role of pope. He reigned during a time of intense religious persecution under the tyrant Emperors Decius and Gailus. Condemned to Centrumn Cehlae, he died a martyr in exile. Cornelius died in 253, and his life is celebrated with a memorial on September 16.
After remembering five martyr-popes, the Roman Canon calls to mind Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage. His feast is celebrated with Pope Saint Cornelius, since the two men died on the same day, six years apart. Cyprian was born a pagan, but converted later in life. In a letter, he writes: “There only is rest, gentle and not deceitful; and there is only
imperishable and stable peace, where, rescued from the turmoil of a storm-tossed
world, we have cast our anchor of salvation in the safe bottom of salvation, in order
that, with our eyes turned away from earth to heaven, and being admitted to the
service of the Lord, united in spirit with God, we may seek our fame in this alone,
that we regard as far beneath us, that which in the esteem of other men is great and
Lawrence, with his quick wit and hilarious comments, is well known in the tradition of the Church. He is an early martyr who was put to death by being burnt alive. During his suffering, he quipped “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.”
What you may not know about Lawrence is that he knew Pope Saint Sixtus very well. After Sixtus was condemned to death, Lawrence begged the pope not to leave him. “I’m not leaving you my son,” Sixtus responded, “In three days you will follow me.” Lawrence spent those three days giving away all the money he had.
Chrysogonus was a missionary in the early Catholic Church who is credited for the conversion of many Romans. He is well known as the teacher of Saint Anastasia (who is mentioned later in the Roman Canon, after the Consecration). He was arrested under Emperor Diocletian, and beheaded in the year 304. Part of his head was preserved and can be found in the Church of Chrysogonus in Rome.
Saints John and Paul
These two brothers were distinguished members of the court of Saint Constantia (the daughter of Constantine the Great!). After Constantia passed away, John and Paul dedicated their lives to serving others. When Emperor Julian asked them to return to the court and sacrifice to idols, the brothers refused. Julian had both men beheaded in their own home in 362. The Church of Saints John and Paul was built on the site of their martyrdom – and the marble slab where their blood was spilled is decorated with flowers every year on their feast, June 26.
Saints Cosmos and Damien
Finally, one more pair of brothers is mentioned in the prayer. Both men were doctors practicing medicine in Rome. Their incredible example of honesty and prayer converted many to the Catholic Church. But their faith also led to persecution. After being tortured, they were beheaded in 127. They’re both known as patron saints of physicians, and their feast is celebrated on September 27.
Next time you hear a priest start saying “In communion with those whose memory we venerate. . .” you’ll know exactly who he’s calling to mind. All you holy saints, pray for us!