Christ saw it fitting that his Church should be built on the foundation of the great Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul (as well as on the blood of the many other First Martyrs of the Church at Rome). It is likewise fitting that the feast of these two great saints are celebrated on the same day, June 29th. Tradition holds that Saint Peter and Saint Paul were martyred in June of the year 67 A.D. (in some traditions, on the very same day), while living and ministering in Rome during the reign of the infamously brutal Emperor Nero.
Saint Peter and Saint Paul were Jesus’ foremost Apostles; St. Peter was the leader of the Twelve, while the Resurrected Christ appeared to St. Paul after his Ascension into heaven. Together the two saints are the founders and patrons of the Church in Rome because of their apostolic preaching, ministry, and martyrdom in that city. St. Peter was crucified upside down, while St. Paul was beheaded. Their churches, St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Paul Outside the Walls, were built on the respective locations of their martyrdom and burial.
These great men testified to the Truth of Christ; and even though they died at the hands of a diabolical tyrant, their deaths were not without great purpose. Rome owes her true greatness to St. Peter and St. Paul, for it was under God’s providential guidance that they transformed the capital of the Roman Empire into the center of Christianity, which would radiate the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ until the end of time.
Just like the sacrificial and life-giving death of Christ, the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul were used by God to lay the bedrock for the Church and bring salvation to the whole world. Because they are the solid rock on which the foundation of the Church is built, and they will forever remain her protectors and guides.
Pope Benedict XVI, in a 2005 homily commemorating the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, explained how their lives brought about the unity and holiness of the Church that Jesus founded. Therefore this feast isn’t merely a celebration of two glorious saints, it is a celebration of the Church itself.
“The Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul is at the same time a grateful memorial of the great witnesses of Jesus Christ and a solemn confession for the Church: one, holy, catholic and apostolic. It is first and foremost a feast of catholicity. . . The purpose of the mission is that humanity itself becomes a living glorification of God, the true worship that God expects: this is the deepest meaning of catholicity – a catholicity that has already been given to us, towards which we must constantly start out again.
Catholicity does not only express a horizontal dimension, the gathering of many people in unity, but also a vertical dimension: it is only by raising our eyes to God, by opening ourselves to him, that we can truly become one. Like Paul, Peter also came to Rome, to the city that was a centre where all the nations converged and, for this very reason, could become, before any other, the expression of the universal outreach of the Gospel.”
Prayer to Saints Peter and Paul
“O God, Who has made holy this day
with the martyrdom of Thine Apostles Peter and Paul,
grant that Thy Church may in all things follow the precepts
of those from whom it first received the faith. Amen.”
This article has been updated and was originally published in June 2012. © The Catholic Company