1 August: Feast of the Seven Maccabee brothers

I am sure you already know that today, in the new calendar, is the feast of St. Alphonsus Maria de’Liguori, the bishop and doctor of the Church so famous for his contributions to moral theology.

However, today is also the feast of the Seven Maccabee brothers.  They are listed in the Martyrologium Romanum . Here is their entry:

2. Commemoratio passionis sanctorum septem fratrum martyrum, qui Antiochiae in Syria, sub Antiocho Epiphane rege, propter legem Domini invicta fide servatam, morti crudeliter traditi sunt cum matre sua, in singulis quidem filiis passa, sed in omnibus coronata, sicut in secundo libro Maccabaeorum narratur. Item commemoratur sanctus Eleazarus, unus de primoribus scribarum, vir aetate provectus, qui in eadem persecutione, illicitam carnem manducare propter vitae amorem respuens, gloriosissimam mortem magis quam odiosam vitam complectens, voluntarie praeivit ad supplicium, magnum virtutis relinquens exemplum.

Maybe some of you good readers can produce your flawless English versions for those whose Latin is less smooth.

Who were the Maccabee brothers? 

The Maccabees were Jews who rebelled against the Hellenic Seleucid dynasty in the time of Antiochus V Eupator. The Maccabees founded the Hasmonean dynasty and fought for Jewish independence in Israel from 165-63 BC. In 167 BC, Mattathias revolted against the Greek occupiers by refusing to worship the Greek gods. He killed a Hellenizing Jew who was willing to offer a sacrifice to the Greek gods. Mattathias and his five sons fled to the wilderness of Judea. Later Mattathias’s son Judas Maccabaeus led an army against the Seleucids and won. He entered Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple, and reestablished Jewish worship. Hanukkah commemorates this victory. In the period 167-164 BC Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163) killed and sold thousands of Jews into slavery. He violated the Jewish holy sites and set up an altar to Zeus in the Holy of Holies (1 Maccabees 1:54; Daniel 11:31). The people revolted and Antiochus responded with slaughter. He required under penalty of death that Jews sacrifice to the gods and abandon kosher laws. "Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment" (Hebrews 11:35-36). A chief of the scribes, Eleazar, an old man, did not flee. Pork was forced on him, into his mouth, he spat it out and was then condemned to death.

St. Ambrose, in his work On Jacob and the blessed life recounts Eleazar’s death along with the deaths of seven sons of a mother. The work is filled with Neo-platonic and Stoic themes, especially about virtue theory. Ambrose goes through all their deaths in detail, making commentary on them for what they meant.

In the period 167-164 BC Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163) killed and sold thousands of Jews into slavery. He violated the Jewish holy sites and set up an altar to Zeus in the Holy of Holies (1 Maccabees 1:54; Daniel 11:31). The people revolted and Antiochus responded with slaughter. He required under penalty of death that Jews sacrifice to the gods and abandon kosher laws. "Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment" (Hebrews 11:35-36). A chief of the scribes, Eleazar, an old man, did not flee. Pork was forced on him, into his mouth, he spat it out and was then condemned to death.

The mothers is venerated by the Greeks as St. Solomnis.

St. Ambrose, in his work On Jacob and the blessed life recounts Eleazar’s death along with the deaths of seven sons of a mother. The work is filled with Neo-platonic and Stoic themes, especially about virtue theory. Ambrose goes through all their deaths in detail, making commentary on them for what they meant.

In these scenes recounted by Ambrose from IV Maccabees, the mother is being tried by being forced to watch each of here sons executed in different ways, eldest to youngest. She urges them not to give in. Ambrose thus explores the theme of how God choses the weak and makes them strong. The ancient "priest" Eleazar should be weak and infirm due to age, but he is a tower of strength. The mother of the seven boys should be weak by nature but is unshakable.  The sons are not to be moved to infidelity, even the youngest.

Here is a taste of Ambrose in De Iacob et vita beata II, 12:

The words of the holy woman return to our minds, who said to her sons: "I gave birth to you, and poured out my milk for you: do not lose your nobility." Other mothers are accustomed to pull their children away from martyrdom, not to exort them to martyrdom. But she thought that maternal love consisted in this, in persuading her sons to gain for themselves an eternal life rather than an earthly life. And thus the pius mother watched the torment of her sons … But her sons were not inferior to such a mother: they urged each other on, speaking with one single desire and, I would say, like an unfurling of their souls in a battleline.

The texts from Ambrose are really interesting.

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21 Responses to 1 August: Feast of the Seven Maccabee brothers

  1. anonymous says:

    How’s this:

    Commemoration of the passion of the seven holy brother martyrs, who were cruelly put to death at Antioch in Syria, under king Antiochus Epiphanes, for preserving the law of the Lord with unconquerable faith, along with their mother, who indeed suffered on account of each of her sons but was crowned in all of them, just as is told in the second book of Maccabees. The holy Eleazar is also commmemorated, one of the chief scribes and a man of advanced age, who, disdaining to eat illicit meat for love of his own life and embracing a most glorious death rather than a wretched life, willingly suffered in the same persecution, leaving behind a great example of courage.

  2. GD says:

    In the Novus Ordo Missal we don’t celebrate the Jewish Martyrs, in the 1962 Missal we do. Know why? ‘Cause the ’62 Missal is anti-Jewish, of course!!! What nonsense is spoken. The Old Missal, and the Old Liturgy in general, is much more pro-Jewish than the new. I feel much closer to the ancient religion of Israel at the Old Mass; in fact, I would say that there I am closer to that ancient religion than I would be in a synagogue, since in the latter place of worship the aspect of sacrifice, essential to the Old Law, is missing.

  3. Aaron Converse says:

    Father…why is the feast for these martyrs called the feast for the seven Maccabee brothers? These victims were not of the Maccabee family, were they? Is it just taken from the title of the book in which the martyrdom is described?

  4. Jordan Potter says:

    Is it just taken from the title of the book in which the martyrdom is described?

    Yes.

    In the Novus Ordo Missal we don’t celebrate the Jewish Martyrs, in the 1962 Missal we do.

    We don’t? Then how come the Feast of the Holy Maccabees is celebrated of this date in the new calendar?

  5. Denis Crnkovic says:

    Ad please let’s not forget that today used to be the Feast of St. Peter ad Vincula with its classic collect that has one of the nicest literary images in it:

    Deus, qui beatum Petrum Apostolum, a vinculis absolutum, illaesum abire fecisti: nostrorum, quaesumus, absolve vincula peccatorum: et omnia mala a nobis propitiatus exclude. Per Dominum, &c.

    The church in Rome of the same dedication has an unassuming facade, but a grand interior, best known for housing Michaelangelo’s Moses, whose directives the Holy Maccabees so bravely upheld. You can also see the relics of the very chains that could not hold the first Holy Father.

    Does anyone know when the numerous St. Peter in Chains churches celebrate this feast?

  6. Fr. Jay T. says:

    Fr. Z., Why is the little voice in my head telling me there’s something at the Roman church of San Pietro in Vincoli that has something to do with the seven Maccabean martyrs?

  7. Homer says:

    Jordan,

    Is it really? Everything that I have says that today is the memorial for Saint Alphonsus and leaves it at that. My old calendar says that today is the Holy Machabees. Where is this in the new calendar? What I mean is how did you find it?

    Peace.

  8. Fr. Jay T. San Pietro in Vincoli that has something to do with the seven Maccabean martyrs

    Good for you! Well done!

    In the basilica, in the crypt below the altar, there is a paleochristian sarcophagus which legend has it contains the remains of the seven Maccabees.

  9. Dr. Lee Fratantuono says:

    The Macchabees called the “Holy Machabees Martyrs” in the 1962 Missal, where they have a commemoration today. In the 1962 Franciscan calendar, today is Alphonsus with a commemoration of the Machabees, because tomorrow the Franciscans keep the Portiuncula, which displaces Alphonsus.

    The 1962 typical edition appendix retains the proper Mass of St. Peter ad vincula, which can be celebrated today as a “festal” Mass. The Machabees, incidentally, are the subject of a brief but edifying homily by Gregory Nazianzen in the fuller Matins of the extraordinary breviary.

  10. Jordan Potter says:

    Homer, here is a calendar derived from the post-Vatican II Roman Martyrology (though I’m not sure if this is the latest edition):

    http://www.therealpresence.org/dictionary/calendar.htm

    AUGUST
    1 ALPHONSUS LIGUORI, bp., dr. (MEM)
    The Holy Machabees m.
    Faith, Hope, Charity, and their mother, Wisdom, m.; Aled, Almedha, or Eiluned, v., m.; Ethelwold, bp.; Peter Julian Eymard, pr.

    Of course, another indication that the Holy Maccabees are celebrated in the Novus Ordo is the fact that Fr. Zuhlsdorf wrote above, “I am sure you already know that today, in the new calendar, is the feast of St. Alphonsus Maria de’Liguori, the bishop and doctor of the Church so famous for his contributions to moral theology. However, today is also the feast of the Seven Maccabee brothers. They are listed in the Martyrologium Romanum .”

  11. Here are some of the prayers from Byzantine Vespers which we celebrated yesterday evening (the beginning of our liturgical day) in commemoration of the Seven Holy Maccabee Youths, their Mother Salome and their Instructor, Eleazar:

    ————————————————

    Cruelty could not shake down the roof of the Law which rested on the seven pillars, the Maccabee brothers. They courageously endured the senseless persecution, surrendering their bodies to the executioners. They were guardians of the traditions of Moses, those noble young men and blood brothers.

    Lifting up their minds above visible things, these pious and noble young men, together with their wise mother, allowed their bodies to be butchered, for they were strengthened by their great hope. They have found their fulfillment now that they rest in the bosom of their father, Abraham. The wise young men, their holy mother and the venerable Eleazar armed themselves with courage in the nobility of their hearts. As they roused the fury of their enemy, they conducted themselves with steadfastness before him for the sake of the Faith and the observance of the Law.

    Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

    The holy Maccabee brothers said to the tyrant: “O Antiochos, for us there is only one King, and He is God. Through Him we have come into being, and to Him we return. Another world, higher and more lasting than the one we see awaits us. Our homeland is the heavenly and indestructible Jerusalem; and for us, she now keeps feast with the angels above!” By their prayers, O Lord, have mercy on us and save us!

    Now and always and forever and ever. Amen.
    ————————————————–

    Personally, I think the Maccabee brothers should be the patrons of Catholic Action!

    Today is also the Feast of the Procession of the Life-giving Cross. This originates from the tradition that began in Constantinople where the priests and the people would process throughout the city on August 1st with the Holy Cross announcing the beginning of the Dormition Fast. At this point, we fast until the 14th of August (the exception being Sundays and the Feast of the Holy Transfiguration on August 6th).

    I believe that it is fitting that the celebration of the great martyrs of Israel coincides with the procession of the Holy Cross.

    In ICXC,

    Gordo

  12. Dr. Lee Fratantuono says:

    The Macchabees are indeed named in both the 1962 and the 2004 Martyrologies, but in all fairness to the point about liturgical commemoration, they are not in the ordinary calendar. One could celebrate them as a Votive Mass/Office, though today is properly the Memoria of Alphonsus. The extraordinary calendar commemorates them at Mass and Lauds, and the day is “empty”, so their Mass can indeed be celebrated, as could the (festal) proper Mass of St. Peter ad vincula, which is in the appendix.

  13. dcs says:

    another indication that the Holy Maccabees are celebrated in the Novus Ordo

    I think the point is that the Seven Holy Machabees have a proper Mass in the extraordinary Missal but not in the ordinary one.

    That doesn’t rule out a priests’ mentioning them in his sermon, of course.

  14. Jordan Potter says:

    It’s true that there is not a specific Mass for the Holy Maccabees in the Novus Ordo, but it’s also true that in neither the extraordinary form nor the ordinary form of the Roman Rite is this feast anything more than optional. The main thing is that the feast is still on the calendar and can be celebrated.

  15. Maureen says:

    IIRC, “Maccabee” means “Hammer”. There has to be some kind of cuisine tie-in.

    Of course, you could always eat Maccabee-roni. :)

  16. Dr. Lee Fratantuono says:

    Well, to be precise, in the extraordinary liturgy it’s not exactly “optional”, since it must at least be commemorated, at Mass and at Lauds. Admittedly, the proper Mass is optional, but if another Mass is celebrated (e.g., St. Peter ad vincula, or the feria, or whatever), the Macchabees must still be commemorated.

  17. PMcGrath says:

    Might I also add that, for Poles and those who admire Poland, 1 August is also Warsaw Uprising Day. A different kind of martyrdom, to be sure.

  18. Black Friar says:

    Fr Z. wrote:
    “In the basilica [of S. Pietro in vinculi], in the crypt below the altar, there is a paleochristian sarcophagus which legend has it contains the remains of the seven Maccabees.”

    Father, you neglected to mention that their tongues Рwhich were torn out in their martyrdom Рare venerated in a shrine in the Dominican Basilika St. Andreas in K̦ln (Cologne, Germany.)

  19. Greg Smisek says:

    In the forma ordinaria, even though August 1 is the obligatory memorial of St. Alphonsus Liguori in the General Calender (Calendarium Romanum Generale) and assuming one is not under a particular or proper calendar which includes the celebration, the Maccabean martyrs could be liturgically commemorated as follows:

    Martyrology:

    [This] liturgical book … constitutes the basis of the liturgical calendars that every year determine the feasts, whether of the Lord or of the Sanctoral [cycle]. Therefore the Martyrology — according to tradition — has been newly equipped with all the ritual elements for the communitarian announcement [public liturgical reading] after a canonical hour [an Hour of the Liturgy of the Hours] or at other moments of the day: [e.g.] at table or at the officium capituli [chapter office] for monastic and canonical communities. (Most Rev. Francesco Pio Tamburrino, secretary of the CDWDS, press conference on the presentation of the new Roman Martyrology (translation from Italian), 2 October 2001)

    Mass:

    On obligatory memorials, on the weekdays of Advent up to and including December 16, of the Christmas Season from January 2, and of the Easter Season after the Octave of Easter, Masses for Various Needs, Masses for Various Circumstances, and Votive Masses are as such forbidden. If, however, required by some real need or pastoral advantage [Si autem aliqua vera necessitas vel utilitas pastoralis id postulet], according to the judgment of the rector of the church or the priest celebrant himself, a Mass corresponding to such a need or advantage may be used in a celebration with a congregation. (2002 GIRM (U.S. translation), n. 376; n. 333 in earlier GIRMs; cf. GIRM-2002, nn. 355 and 375 )

    Office:

    For a public cause or out of devotion, except on solemnities, the Sundays of the seasons of Advent, Lent, and Easter, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, the octave of Easter, and 2 November, a votive office may be celebrated, in whole or in part: for example, on the occasion of a pilgrimage, a local feast, or the external solemnity of a saint. (General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours, n. 245)

  20. Dr. Lee Fratantuono says:

    The ordinary breviary rubrics are very accomodating; so-called Votive Offices are indeed permitted on a wide variety of days. Pastorally, for the Mass, I’d think there are exceedingly few circumstances one could envisage where the Mass of the Machabees could replace St. Alphonsus under the provisions of GIRM n. 376.

  21. Jordan Potter says:

    Admittedly, the proper Mass is optional, but if another Mass is celebrated (e.g., St. Peter ad vincula, or the feria, or whatever), the Macchabees must still be commemorated.

    That’s all I was saying . . .