The Apostle to the Gentiles
All that We Have: The Images of Saints Peter and Paul in the Daily Mass Altar, Part 2
Published on July 12-13, 2014 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
The image of Saint Paul in the right south-facing niche of the altar in the Daily Mass Chapel features an elderly man with a long grey beard and white hair circling his bald head. He wears a robe of old rose and a red mantle with yellow borders and holds with his right hand the gilded hilt of the sword of his martyrdom.
The Acts of the Apostles relate that Saint Paul was born a Roman citizen (cf. Acts 22:25-29; 16:37) in Tarsus (Acts 21:39) in the Roman province of Cilicia (in present day Turkey) and was named Saul (cf. Acts 13:9) at his circumcision. He belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, “a Hebrew of Hebrew parents” (Phil. 3:5), and was “in observance of the law, a Pharisee” (Phil. 3:5; cf. Acts 23:6). He was brought up in the city of Jerusalem where he studied in the school of the rabbi Gamaliel the Elder (cf. Acts 22:3). He was a tentmaker by trade (cf. Acts 18:3).
Saul first appears in the Sacred Scriptures in the martyrdom of the deacon Saint Stephen (cf. Acts 8:1). He led a violent persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem in an effort “to destroy the Church” (Acts 8:3; cf. Gal. 1:13-14) until he was struck blind by a vision of the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus (cf. Acts 9:1-9). The disciple Ananias later came to heal him of his blindness and to baptize him (cf. Acts. 9:10-18). The Church now celebrates the Feast of his Conversion on January 25.
The Acts of the Apostles recount Paul’s missionary activity in Cyprus, Asia Minor, Greece, Malta, and Rome. He is regarded as “the Apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13; cf. Gal. 2:7-9) because of his evangelization of those who were not Jews. Fourteen of the 27 books in the New Testament have been attributed to him. These are the letters that he had sent to individuals (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon) and to communities (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and Thessalonians, Hebrews) in which he provides the first written accounts of what it means to be a Christian.
Saint Paul the Apostle died a martyr in Rome (at the present-day Abbazia delle Tre Fontane) around the year 67, during the persecution of the Emperor Nero. Tradition holds that he was beheaded with a sword because this was the only death worthy of a Roman citizen. His remains were buried in what is now the Basilica di San Paolo fuori le Mura. The remains of his head and that of his fellow apostle, Saint Peter, are preserved in the Gothic baldacchino of the Arcibasilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. The Church celebrates the Solemnity of these two pillars of the Faith, Saints Peter and Paul, on June 29.
Saint Paul is the patron saint of tentmakers and missionaries. Basket weavers and rope braiders, recalling how he was let down the wall of Damascus in a basket and by ropes (cf. Acts 9:25), regard him as their patron. He is invoked against storms because he himself survived a shipwreck (cf. Acts 27), and against poisonous serpents and snakebites because he was not killed by a viper’s bite in Malta (cf. Acts 28:3-6).