The Roman Canon

Most of us, when we hear the Roman Canon being recited by the priest, are drawn at once to what seem like two interminable lists of Saints on both sides of the Consecration, which is the heart of the Mass. Who are these wonderful people? We may recognise the first fourteen as Mary, Saint Joseph and eleven Apostles. These are followed by several of the first popes, who were martyrs for the Faith, and several other martyrs from the first centuries of the Church. The second series contains further martyrs, including the New Testament figures of John the Baptist, Stephen and Bartholomew, and more martyrs from the first century. On this page, we learn just a little more about each person, so the next time Father recites the lists, we could say, Oh yes, I know that one!

Series I (before the Consecration)

1. Mary, Mother of Christ. The original Saint, most perfect of all created things, ‘full of grace,’ as the angel called her, Mary is acknowledged by Holy Church to have been herself conceived and born Immaculate by a marvellous grace of God. She is of the house and family of the great King David of Israel, and became the mother of his most illustrious descendant and heir, Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ of God. She is best known from the first two chapters of the Gospel of S. Luke and was and remains a popular figure in the Church of every age.

2. Joseph. Also of the house and family of the great King David of Israel, this rather quiet man was the designated protector of the Christ as well as His Mother Mary, whom he was betrothed to when she was found to be with child. Joseph married Mary and rescued her and the Child in their most vulnerable moments, through visions and dreams that have made him reminiscent of the original dreamer Joseph in the book of Genesis. Joseph later led the three to Nazareth in Galilee-of-the-Gentiles and set up shop as a carpenter, so that Christ was later called a Nazarene.

3. Peter and Paul. Two strong pillars of Holy Church, Peter and Paul are great lights throughout the New Testament. Simon Peter of Bethsaida, a fisherman, later resident in Caphar-naum, was the prince of the Twelve, the original band of Apostles Christ called. He later became the first patriarch of the See of Rome and was martyred there. Paul, a rather fiery Pharisee, was an early convert to Christianity and the Church’s most eloquent missionary in the first decades. Having erected multiple churches throughout the known world, he ended his career with martyrdom outside Rome, at the Trefontane, near where his tomb is located.

Madonna and Child with Sts. Peter and Paul, Giuseppe Cesari (1568-1640)

4. Andrew. Brother to Peter, prince of the Twelve (the original band of Apostles Christ Himself called), Andrew of Bethsaida, as a disciple of Saint John the Baptist, is credited with bringing his brother Peter to Christ. He was a fisherman, like Peter, but after the first Christian Pentecost, Andrew went to Scythia and continuing north along the Black Sea to Kiev. He also preached at Thrace and possibly founded the See of Byzantium (Constantinople) in AD 38. He ended his life with martyrdom at Patras in Achaea, in about AD 60, crucified on an oddly-shaped cross, afterwards called S. Andrew’s Cross.

5. James. James the Greater was one of two sons of Zebedee and Maria Salome, nicknamed by Christ the boanerges (sons of thunder). James and his brother John were among the first of the disciples and members of the Twelve, the inner council of Christ and His first priests. But James was also of an inner council within the Twelve, chosen together with Peter and John to witness the Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden. James was the first of the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Faith, at the hands of Herod Agrippa in Judaea. His relics have been reserved at the Galician shrine of Santiago de Compostela.

6. John. Brother of Saint James the Greater, and author of the fourth Gospel, John called himself the Beloved Disciple of Christ, and probably with good reason. He was one of the three Apostles who were selected by Christ as his personal witnesses, for such events as the Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden, and became one of the pillars of the Church in Jerusalem, as was noted by Saint Paul. Youngest of the Twelve, John was the only one of them to not be viciously martyred, although he suffered persecution, torture and exile. He died of old age, leaving us that Gospel, three letters and the book of Apocalypse.

7. Thomas. An adventurous Apostle who travelled the length of Babylon, Persia and the Indus valley to end his ministry in the very south of India, Thomas was called Didymus (the Twin), which some have suggested means he was very like Christ in appearance. He is more often quoted in John’s Gospel than most other Apostles: determined to die for Christ (11: 16), anxious to get to heaven (14: 5), refusing to believe in the Resurrection without physical proof (20: 24f). This shows me a careful, practical and considered man, dedicated to his Master. Sure enough, churches between Jerusalem and Kodungalloor in India call him their founder. He was killed in south India for hatred of the Faith with a spear.

8. James. Cousin of Christ Himself and called the Lesser to remain unconfused with James the son of Zebedee, he later became the first bishop of Jerusalem, and has left us a short letter, which is part of the New Testament of Holy Scripture. As bishop of Jerusalem, James is presented by Saint Paul as one of the pillars of the Church in Judaea, and plays an important part in the Jerusalem stories in the Acts of the Apostles, such as chapter fifteen. Also called the Just, and the son of Alphaeus, James was viciously killed by being thrown off the south-east corner of the Temple mount and afterwards stoned.

9. Philip. Philip of Bethsaida was a disciple of Saint John the Baptist, and brought Saint Bartholomew/Nathanael to Christ, according to the first chapter of John’s Gospel. John also remembered Philip’s practicality with the feeding of the five thousand (6: 5-7), his leading Greek pilgrims to Christ (12: 20-22) and his desire to see God the Father (14: 8). Philip was crucified in Hierapolis in Phrygia, where he had successfully converted the wife of the Roman proconsul. His relics have been reserved in the crypt of Basilica of the Holy Apostles, at Rome.

10. Bartholomew. Also called Nathanael, or Nathaniel, Bartholomew was one of the first of the Twelve to be appointed, as given by Saint John at the end of the first chapel of his Gospel. He seems to have been attached in particular to the Apostle Saint Philip, who had also introduced him to Christ; they are often listed together. He seems to have had a mission to India, where he left a copy of the Gospel of Saint Matthew, but he was also apostle to Armenia, where he ended his life, brutalised by being skinned alived and beheaded, hence his common depiction in Christian iconography as carrying his own skin.

11. Matthew. Known well from his own description of his calling and appointment in the ninth chapter of his Gospel, Matthew (aka. Levi) was a tax-collector by profession at Galilee, before he joined the Twelve. He is known to have preached the Gospel in Judaea, before going further afield, and his Gospel is sometimes said to have first been written in Hebrew, although only Greek versions exist today. Not much is known of his later missionary activity, although the widely spread territories of Persia, Parthia, Syria and Asia Minor occur. He is reputed to have died a martyr, but historical information of this does not exist.

12. Simon. The other Simon among the Twelve, Saint Simon was also called in the Gospels the Kananaios by Saint Matthew and the Zealot by Saint Luke. Both demonstrate an extreme dedication to the Law of Moses. Little is known of his missionary work, although some traditions mention the Black Sea, Egypt, Africa and even Britain! Other places that are mentioned in various traditions include Persia and Iberia. He is often portrayed with a saw, for his body was said to have been sawn to bits. In our liturgical books, he is associated with Saint Jude called Thaddeus, last of the Apostles on this list.

13. Jude. Also called Thaddaeus, Jude of James, etc. to distinguish him from the hated traitor Apostle Jude Iscariot, he is known to us Latins a the patron Saint of ‘lost causes.’ He appears in images holding the club that he was probably beaten to death with, or holding an image of Christ. He has left us a single, very short epistle, which is placed towards the end of the New Testament in our Bibles. He is said to have preached the Gospel in northern Syria and Armenia (where he suffered martyrdom), the cities mentioned including Beirut and Edessa.

14. Linus. Second bishop of Rome, after the Apostle Saint Peter, mentioned by name in the work of S. Irenaeus of Lyons in AD 180, and then by Eusebius and Saint Jerome, and even Saint John Chrysotomos. The Holy Father Saint Linus worked with another bishop, Anacletus (aka. Cletus), who succeeded him as the third pope. Another contemporary, Clemens Romanus, became the fourth in the line, and they are all on this list. Another tradition says that Linus was Saint Paul’s bishop and Clement was Saint Peter’s, so that Clement was the second pope. That’s where I simply shrug and say, ‘Don’t know…’

15. Cletus. A Greek by birth and the first Greek successor of the Apostle Saint Peter, the Holy Father Anacletus (d. AD 92), also called Cletus, is reputed to have established the twenty-five parishes in the Holy City of Rome, and ordained many priests for the growing Roman Church. He is traditionally reputed to have suffered martyrdom and lies buried with Saint Linus (above) near the grave of the Apostle S. Peter on Vatican hill. As with Linus above, and the next few entries on this list, the Roman Church remembers her first patriarchs with honour in the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass.

16. Clement. Clemens Romanus (d. AD 99) was the third successor of the Apostle S. Peter and so the fourth of the popes of Rome, and first of the Fathers of the Church, together with Saint Polycarp of Smyrna and Saint Ignatius of Antioch. His only extant letter is to the Corinthian church, quite the earliest Christian document after the New Testament, was written in response to a disturbance among the priests there, and referred in some detail to the organisation of the clergy in the early years. Clement suffered under the emperor Traianus and was killed by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea.

17. Sixtus. A martyr alongside several of his clergy under the emperor Valerian, the Holy Father Sixtus II was bishop of Rome for about a year until his death on AD 258. One of the deacons who died at about the same time is further down this list, Saint Lawrence. Sixtus is also known for diplomatically treating the heresy called Novatianism, drawing the African and Eastern churches back into the Roman communion.

18. Cornelius. The Holy Father Cornelius was the bishop of Rome for about two years until his martyrdom in AD 253, and he also treated the Novatian heresy, which desired to expel from communion those Christians that had offered pagan sacrifices out of weakness, when threatened with persecution and death. Cornelius and his associate, Saint Cyprian of Carthage, wished to restore such Christians if repentant to communion. Cornelius’ own position prevailed, but he had to defend his own election to the See of Rome against the Novatianists. He ended his years in exile and it is said that he was executed while still exiled from Rome.

19. Cyprian. This third-century bishop of Carthage was an early Christian philosopher, and many of his writings are still preserved today, unparalleled until the arrival later in time of Saint Jerome and Saint Augustine of Hippo. A faithful bishop Cyprian was, and a strong bulwark for the Faith against such things as the Novatian heresy. As a Christian, he quickly found his way to ordination, and to eventual martyrdom at Carthage under the emperor Decius.

20. Lawrence. A native of Valencia, in what would become Aragon, he met the man who would become the Greek pope Sixtus II (above in this list) and made his way to Rome, being ordained by the same pope in AD 257, and appointed one of the seven archdeacons administering to the Church in the Holy City. When the emperor Valerian ordered the execution of all the clergy in AD 258, Sixtus met his end and Lawrence was ordered to surrender the riches of the Church to the civil power; he promptly distributed everything to the people and brought them before the authorities, declaring them to be the riches of the Church. He was grilled alive shortly afterwards.

21. Chrysogonus. Not much is known about this martyr. Rumoured to have been a teacher in Rome, Chrysogonus suffered under the emperor Diocletian, being called before the emperor and condemned to death at Aquileia. His body was thrown into the city, but washed ashore and was buried in Aquileia, where his cult is localised.

22. John and Paul. These two brothers are said to have been eunuchs of Constantina, the daughter of the emperor Constantine, and suffered under the emperor Julian (late fourth century), called the Apostate for his return to the traditional Roman religion, after several Christian emperors. The apostate emperor would not have been able to tolerate their piety and they were quietly beheaded together with three others at their home on the Coelian hill in Rome, where a church was soon erected.

23. Cosmas and Damian. Arab physicians, perhaps twins, these two Saints practised medicine at Aegeae, in Cilicia (south-east Asia Minor), and famously known for accepting no fees for their services. This made them excellent missionaries. They suffered under the emperor Diocletian, being ordered under torture to reject Christianity. They are reputed to have been executed by beheading, together with their three younger brothers.

Series II (after the Consecration)

1. John the Baptist. A distant relation of Christ (although of a different tribe, Christ being of Juda, John of Levi), and with a ministry of preaching and of penitential baptism in the years before Christ’s public ministry, John is often called the Herald of the Gospel, or the Herald of Christ, or the Forerunner. His influence was such as to have altered the history of the Jewish people in his time, as given by the near-contemporary Jewish historian Josephus. He was the last of the prophets of the Old Covenant, and himself baptised Christ in the river Jordan, soon afterwards ending his ministry with arrest and execution under Herod Antipas, as given by the Gospels. The religious community surrounding him and his rite of baptism, which had spread throughout the Jewish world (as given in the Acts of the Apostles), persisted for some time alongside the Christian Church.

2. Stephen. The first Christian martyr was the deacon Stephen, who was also among the first seven ordained deacons of the Church, as given in the Acts of the Apostles. He was apparently a preacher of the first class, and his effectiveness at increasing the number of Christians in the Holy Land led eventually to a mob descending upon him and hauling him before the authorities in Jerusalem. His vision of Christ in heaven during his trial was too much for those present, and he was dragged out of the City by the east gate and stoned to death.

3. Matthias. The twelfth Apostle was chosen by lot to complete the number of the Twelve Apostles of Christ after the betrayal and suicide of Judas Iscariot. The result of the lot is given at the beginning of Saint Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, and the New Testament gives us no more information about the man who would join the others among the Twelve in forming the foundation of the heavenly Jerusalem, as given in the book of Apocalypse (aka. Revelation). By tradition, he found martyrdom and is often pictured in iconography with the long-handled axe that may have ended his life.

4. Barnabas. Friend and companion of Saint Paul, Joseph Barnabas was a Cypriot Jew and one of the most prominent of the early Christian priests and missionaries, honoured in the Church (like Paul) with the title of Apostle. He was a near relation of Saint John Mark, author of the second Gospel, and was in attendance at the council of the Apostles in Jerusalem (Acts of the Apostles, chapter 15) and so assisted in the settlement with the Gentile Christians. Barnabas retreated to his home in Cyprus later in his life and became the founder of the Church in Cyprus and probably its first bishop.

5. Ignatius. Ignatius of Antioch, aka. Theophorus (the God-carrier), was a popular early bishop of the Church in Antioch of Syria. Like Saint Paul, he was arrested and carried away to Rome; along the road there, Ignatius wrote several letters to churches along the way. With Clemens Romanus and Polycarp, he is an Apostolic Father. His letters demonstrate the clerical hierarchy of the Church and are instructive on the Sacraments. He is sometimes called a disciple of the Apostle Saint John, like his friend Polycarp, and he is sometimes identified with the child that Christ blessed in the Gospels.

6. Alexander. Alexander of Rome died towards the end of the third century, and was buried by his mother Pimenia near the river Ergina. Alexander had been a Roman soldier and was serving in the regiment of the tribune Tiberian at Rome. It was under the emperor Maximian Hercules that all Roman citizens were required to sacrifice at the temple of Jupiter, and Alexander was among those who refused, so Maximian banished him Alexander to Thrace. He died along the way.

7. Marcellinus and Peter. Marcellinus was a priest and Peter the Exorcist was a minor cleric, and both lived in early fourth-century Rome, during one of the bouts of persecution of Christians under the emperor Diocletian. The men were beheaded and buried near Rome, and their bodies were later discovered by two women called Lucilla and Firmina, who gave them proper burial, in what became the Christian catacombs of Marcellinus and Petrus, still well-know today.

8. Felicity and Perpetua. Third-century martyrs, Perpetua was a married noblewoman in her early twenties and was nursing an infant. Felicity was a slave and eight-months pregnant when she was imprisoned with Perpetua at Carthage, in the Roman province of Africa. The story tells of Felicity and Revocatus, another slave, being imprisoned together with Perpetua and Saturninus and Secundulus, all freedmen and catechumens. Perpetua had her baby brought in to her in prison and had to suffer her father’s piteous attempts to get her to deny Christ and so find freedom. Together the ladies suffered the attacks of wild-beasts and the terror of gladiators, and died by the sword.

9. Agatha. Great among the virgin martyrs of the Church, fifteen-year-old Agatha suffered persecution under the emperor Decius in the third century, at Catania in Sicily. Of a noble family, she had vowed virginity and rejected suitors for marriage, even the local prefect Quintianus. When he heard she was a Christian, he sought revenge, threatening torture and death. He tried to corrupt her by imprisoning her in a brothel, but she stood firm. He had her racked and torn with hooks, burned with torches and whipped, even cut off her breasts with pincers. In her injuries, she was visited and healed by the Apostle Saint Peter. She later died in prison in about AD 250.

10. Lucy. Another great virgin martyr, Lucia of Syracuse died in about AD 304, during the persecutions under the emperor Diocletian. She was of noble blood and like Agatha had vowed virginity and wished to give her patrimony to the poor; her mother Eutychia, unaware of her intentions, arranged for her to be married. This suitor realised her charitable intentions and had Lucy sent to the local governor Paschasius, who demanded that she worship an image of the emperor. She refused and was sent to be corrupted in a brothel – the guards found that she was unnaturally heavy and they couldn’t move her away. They tried to set her on fire and she would not burn. She was summarily executed by the sword.

11. Agnes. Another noble-born virgin martyr, Agnes came of a Christian family and was executed at the age of twelve or thirteen in the early fourth century, under the emperor Diocletian. Like the other ladies above, she had many suitors, who were confounded by her piety and devotion. She was accused of Christianity and dragged naked to a brothel – legend says that her hair grew instantly to cover her nakedness and those who looked lustfully upon her were struck blind. She was eventually subjected to fire, but the flames refused to touch her and the exasperated senior officer stabbed her in the throat. She was buried beside the Via Nomentana, east of Rome, where a large basilica still stands over her tomb.

12. Cecilia. A noble lady of Rome, Cæcilia suffered martyrdom in the Trans-Tiber area, together with her husband Valerian, her brother-in-law Tiburtius and a soldier called Maximus, in about AD 230, under the emperor Alexander Severus. She too had vowed virginity but had been forced into marriage with the pagan Valerian; she refused to consummate the marriage and asked Valerian to respect her vow. Valerian was shortly baptised. Valerian and Tiburtius were killed first, and Cæcilia suffered three blows to her neck with a sword and still lived three days. Her body was returned to her home from the catacombs of Callixtus on the Appian way and in 1599 was found to be still incorrupt.

13. Anastasia. Little is known about Anastasia, aside from that she died at Sirmium (located in modern Serbia) during one of the persecutions of the emperor Diocletian in the early fourth century, and that she died on Christmas day itself, which is her memorial day. Her relics are reserved at the cathedral church of S. Anastasia at Zadar in Croatia.

The Roman Canon

To you, therefore (Te igitur), most merciful Father,
we make humble prayer and petition
through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

that you accept

and bless these gifts, these offerings,
these holy and unblemished sacrifices,

which we offer you firstly
for your holy Catholic Church.
Be pleased to grant her peace,
to guard, unite and govern her
throughout the whole world,
together with your servant Francis our Pope
and Patrick our Bishop,
and all those who, holding to the truth,
hand on the Catholic and Apostolic faith.

Remember (Memento), Lord, your servants (named)
and all gathered here,
whose faith and devotion are known to you.

For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise
or they offer it for themselves
and all who are dear to them:
for the redemption of their souls,
in hope of health and well-being,
and paying their homage to you,
the eternal God, living and true.

In communion (Communicantes) with those whose memory we venerate,
especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary,
Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ,
and blessed Joseph, her Spouse,
your blessed Apostles and Martyrs,
Peter and Paul, Andrew,
James, John,
Thomas, James, Philip,
Bartholomew, Matthew,
Simon and Jude;
Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus,
Cornelius, Cyprian,
Laurence, Chrysogonus,
John and Paul,
Cosmas and Damian
and all your Saints;
we ask that through their merits and prayers,
in all things we may be defended
by your protecting help.
(Through Christ our Lord. Amen.)

Therefore (Hanc igitur), Lord, we pray:
graciously accept this oblation of our service,
that of your whole family;
order our days in your peace,
and command that we be delivered from eternal damnation
and counted among the flock of those you have chosen.
(Through Christ our Lord. Amen.)

Be pleased, O God, we pray,
to bless, acknowledge,
and approve this offering (Quam oblationem) in every respect;
make it spiritual and acceptable,
so that it may become for us
the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ.

On the day before He (Qui pridie) was to suffer,
He took bread in His holy and venerable hands,
and with eyes raised to heaven
to you, O God, His almighty Father,
giving you thanks, He said the blessing,
broke the bread
and gave it to His disciples, saying:


In a similar way, when supper was ended,
He took this precious chalice
in His holy and venerable hands,
and once more giving you thanks, He said the blessing
and gave the chalice to His disciples, saying:


Therefore, O Lord,
as we celebrate the memorial
(Unde et memores) of the blessed Passion,
the Resurrection from the dead,
and the glorious Ascension into heaven
of Christ, your Son, our Lord,
we, your servants and your holy people,
offer to your glorious majesty
from the gifts that you have given us,
this pure Victim,
this holy Victim,
this spotless Victim,
the holy Bread of eternal life
and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.

Be pleased to look upon these offerings (Supra quae)
with a serene and kindly countenance,
and to accept them,
as once you were pleased to accept
the gifts of your servant Abel the just,
the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith,
and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek,
a holy sacrifice, a spotless Victim.

In humble prayer we ask you (Supplices te rogamus), almighty God:
command that these gifts be borne
by the hands of your holy Angel
to your altar on high
in the sight of your divine majesty,
so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar
receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son,
may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.
(Through Christ our Lord. Amen.)

Remember also (Memento etiam), Lord, your servants N. and N.,
who have gone before us with the sign of faith
and rest in the sleep of peace.
Grant them, O Lord, we pray,
and all who sleep in Christ,
a place of refreshment, light and peace.
(Through Christ our Lord. Amen.)

To us, also (Nobis quoque), your servants, who, though sinners,
hope in your abundant mercies,
graciously grant some share
and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs:
with John the Baptist, Stephen,
Matthias, Barnabas,
(Ignatius, Alexander,
Marcellinus, Peter,
Felicity, Perpetua,
Agatha, Lucy,
Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia)
and all your Saints;
admit us, we beseech you,
into their company,
not weighing our merits,
but granting us your pardon,
through Christ our Lord.

Through whom (Per quem)
you continue to make all these good things, O Lord;
you sanctify them, fill them with life,
bless them, and bestow them upon us.

Through him, and with him, and in him,
O God, almighty Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
all glory and honour is yours,
for ever and ever.