3 May: Feast of Saints Philip and James, Apostles. For centuries, the Church had feasts to honor only four apostles: Sts. Peter and Paul, St. John, St. Andrew. The Church memorialized the remaining apostles on June 29. Then, in the sixth century, the bodies of Sts. Philip and James were brought together to Rome and laid to rest in the Basilica of the Holy Apostles. Because of this, the Church instituted a shared feast day for these two apostles.            

St. James the Less, a brother of the Apostle Jude, was of Cana of Galilee. He was referred to as “the Less” to distinguish him from the other apostle James (the brother of John). This nickname likely refers to his younger age, not that he was any less important. This James was called “the brother of the Lord,” because his mother was related to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus appeared to James before any other apostle after the resurrection (1 Cor 15:7). James is the author of the Epistle of St. James. He became bishop of the Church in Jerusalem and played a central role in the Church’s first council (Acts 15). He confirmed that Gentiles do not need circumcision to follow Christ. In 62 A.D., Jewish leaders accused James of breaking the Law. He was pressured to deny the Divinity of Christ. The Breviary contains a moving description of his death: “When he was ninety-six years old and had governed the Church for thirty years in a most holy manner, the Jews sought to stone him, then took him to the pinnacle of the temple and cast him off headlong. As he lay there half dead, with legs broken by the fall, he lifted his hands toward heaven and prayed to God for the salvation of his enemies, saying: Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do! While the apostle was still praying, a fuller struck his head a mortal blow.”

As for St. Philip, he was one of the first apostles called by Christ. The day after the Lord called the apostles Peter and Andrew, He found Philip in Galilee. Philip was one of the first apostles to come to faith directly through Christ (Jn 1:43-45). Philip believed in Christ as soon as he encountered Him, after hearing only a few words. Philip also speaks during the Last Supper in the Gospel of John after Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” To which Philip replies, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” Jesus answered, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:6-9). In the end, Philip followed in the footsteps of James and many other apostles by being martyred for his faith. After preaching with Bartholomew in Greece, he was scourged, imprisoned, and crucified upside down in 62 A.D. Though Philip and James served as apostles of Christ in different ways, in the end, they both valiantly gave their lives for Christ.

Ideas for celebrating this feast at home:

  • Read the Epistle of St. James
  • Make “Apostle Cookies” (instructions here)
  • Bread is a symbol associated with St. Philip and he is often pictured with two loaves, recalling Philip’s remark when Jesus fed the multitude: “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5). It would be a fitting feast day activity to bake homemade bread.
  • For dinner, make “Middle Eastern rice with black beans and chickpeas” (recipe here). Or, make an Israeli feast in honor of the apostles’ Jewish heritage (hummus, olives, veggies, pita, falafel, etc)
  • Because St. Philip is the patron saint of pastry chefs and St. James the patron of hatmakers, it might be fun wear hats at dinner tonight. A fitting dessert would be a pastry treat; click here for some delicious puff pastry recipes.

(sources: The Church’s Year of Grace by Parsch; CatholicCulture.org; M. Massery at marian.org)