The Month of the Most Saints in a Row
For 13 straight days — more than any other single month — August provides at least one optional memorial per day.
August is a month of vacations, stupefying heat, sparsely-attended Major League Baseball games — and, in the Church, the single longest streak of memorials, optional memorials, feasts and solemnities.
In fact, for 13 straight days — more than any other single month — August provides at least one optional memorial per day.
It all begins on Aug. 4 (though this year, that day will be observed as the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time) with the Memorial of St. John Vianney, the loveable “Curé d’Ars.” He was famous — even during his own lifetime — for the endless hours he would spend in the confessional in Ars, France, which became a place of pilgrimage. This patron saint of all parish priests had a most circuitous route to the priesthood — beset as it was by being conscripted into the French army — and his own struggles with studies. However, what he lacked in soldiering (he cut-and-ran from the armed forces) and scholastic acumen, St. John more than made up for in his love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and his aforementioned devotion to hearing confessions. He regularly spent 11 hours hearing confessions in the winter and up to 18 hours in the summer — every day. In one year alone, more than 100,000 peregrines flocked to open their hearts and souls to St. John.
St. John abhorred honors. He refused to wear the mozzetta and regalia which were bestowed on him by the Bishop of Belley, and absolutely refused the Imperial Order of the Legion of Honor.
He died, after being lulled back to Ars by his parishioners — St. John more than once fled his parish, seeking to become a hermit — in 1859 and was canonized in 1929.
Aug. 5 is a unique memorial in the Church calendar: The Dedication of St. Mary Major (Santa Maria Maggiore) in Rome. One of only four “major” basilicas (the others are St. Peter’s, St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. John Lateran), this venerable church was built in 431 by Pope Sixtus III following the declaration of the Blessed Virgin Mary as “God-Bearer” at the Council of Ephesus earlier that year. It is the oldest Church in West dedicated to the Mother of God.
Aug. 6 is, of course, the Transfiguration of Our Lord on Mount Tabor. This prefiguration of the Resurrection has been recounted so well and often in the Gospels that there’s no need to repeat it here. However, it is worth noting that Jesus goes up a hill to pray not by himself, but with his disciples Saints Peter, James and John — and then he meets with Moses and Elijah. St. Peter’s exasperated words, “Lord, it is good for us to be here!” should remind us all that when we attend Mass (especially on the feast of the Transfiguration) that it is good for us to be there. Note: the only Carthusian Monastery in America is named the “Charterhouse of the Transfiguration.”
Aug. 7 is the Feast of St. Cajetan (d. 1547), founder of the Theatines (whom you can read more about here) and the martyrs Pope St. Sixtus II and his companions (d. 258). It is worth noting that St. Sixtus’ companion-martyrs were all deacons of the early Roman Church: Sts. Januarius, Magnus, Vincent and Stephen. Along with the pope they were arrested under the Emperor Valerian and executed the same day. Sixtus appears in the Roman Canon of the Mass.
On Aug. 8 we celebrate the founder of the Order of Friars Preachers, St. Dominic Guzman (died 1221), one of the many glories of the Church of Spain, and, along with St. Francis of Assisi, the saint who made the Vatican take mendicant (begging) orders seriously. He is the spiritual father of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Albertus Magnus, St. Catherine of Siena and a host of other Dominican saints and blesseds. Due to the fact that not one but two Dominican popes kept wearing the white habit of their order, we can thank St. Dominic for the pope’s white vesture to this very day.
Next day, Aug. 9, is the virgin martyr St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (died in 1942), perhaps better known by her birth name Edith Stein. A convert to Catholicism, and a student of Husserl, St. Teresa died in Auschwitz, a martyr for the faith and victim of Hitler’s unquenchable bloodlust.
St. Lawrence is, after Saints Peter and Paul, the patron saint of Rome and his feast is Aug. 10. Actually, he was a companion of Pope St. Sixtus II and the other four deacons mentioned above, and pleaded “Father! Where are you going without your deacon?” to the pope, whose response was, “Where I am going, you soon shall follow.” St. Lawrence was roasted on a massive gridiron yet kept his sense of humor telling his torturers: “You may turn me over: this side is finished.” He, too, appears in the Roman Canon.
The 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time abrogates the Aug. 11 feast of St. Clare, who became St. Francis of Assisi’s confidant and follower. She is, of course, the founder of the “Poor Clares,” and died in 1253. Clare never left her convent at Assisi, though the last three decades of her life were wracked with pain. She was canonized just two years after her death.
I’ve written elsewhere about St. Jane Frances de Chantal, the woman who encouraged the great doctor of the Church St. Francis de Sales to publish his writings and who was also greatly influenced by St. Vincent de Paul. She founded the Order of the Visitation nuns and by the time of her death in 1641 she had seen it grow to over 80 monasteries.
On Aug. 13, we commemorate Saints Pontian and Hippolytus, who had a rocky relationship: Pontian was the pope, and Hippolytus was the first antipope. The psychopathic Emperor, Maximus Thrax, unconcerned with who was the rightful pope and who was the great pretender, had them banished to “The Isle of Death” — Sardinia. Some firsts here:
- Pontian was the first Pope to abdicate (since he knew his imprisonment would only end in his death), which paved the way for the smooth succession of Pope St. Anterus;
- While in Sardinia not only did Hippolytus renounce his “antipope” status, but was reconciled with the very man he had originally opposed;
- we can attribute Eucharistic Prayer II to St. Hippolytus — the first former-anti-pope to compose a Eucharistic prayer still in use today.
Aug. 14 is the Memorial of St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, the great conventual Franciscan who literally gave up his life so that another member of his cellblock at Auschwitz could live. In fact, not only did that man, Franciszek Gajowniczek, live, but was present when St. Maximilian was canonized by Pope St. John Paul II in 1982.
The only holy day of obligation between the Ascension and All Saints Day falls today, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on Aug. 15. Although this feast was observed as early as the fifth century in the Eastern churches — where it is known as the “Dormition (Falling Asleep) of Mary” — the Assumption did not become dogma until Venerable Pope Pius XII’s 1950 decretal Munificentissimus Deus.
St. Stephen of Hungary died in 1038 and was the first Christian king of the Magyar people and systematically organized the Catholic evangelization of his country, which he ruled over peacefully until his death. His epithet is simply, “The Apostolic King and Apostle of Hungary.”
Thus ends the longest streak of saints’ days in the calendar — a holy day of obligation, a solemnity, a feast, and a clutch of memorials and optional memorials. May they all pray for us!