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Dialogue Mass - XC

Feast of St. John at the Latin Gate: Abolished

Dr. Carol Byrne, Great Britain
In the reforms of 1960, not even the “Beloved Disciple” of Our Lord, St. John the Apostle, was spared the indignity of losing a feast day in the Calendar – the usual treatment meted out by Pope John XXIII’s Liturgical Commission (1) to Saints with the (mis)fortune of having more than one feast day. The feast of St. John before the Latin Gate (May 6) had been celebrated for well over 1500 years. It commemorates the occasion of St. John’s attempted martyrdom at the Latin Gate in Rome and his miraculous deliverance.

st john oil

St. John emerged unharmed
from the cauldron of boilig oil

The 2nd century Christian writer, Tertullian, recorded these events which took place in 95 A.D., (2) taking his cue from the account that had been handed down by three generations of persecuted Christians.

On the orders of the Emperor Domitian, St. John was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil from which he emerged unscathed, even reinvigorated as from a refreshing bath. From the early centuries up to 1960, the Church has celebrated this miracle in the prayers of the Mass and Office for May 6, as we shall see below.

The precise origin of the feast is unknown, but a Basilica named after it was erected in Rome in the 5th century during the pontificate of Pope Gelasius I (492-496). The first written evidence of the Propers of the Mass is found in the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries, which have preserved many ancient Mass texts and pre-date the Tridentine Missal by several centuries. (3) These facts suggest that there must already have been a well established tradition of venerating St. John on his feast day.

The ancient prayers in the Breviary & Missal

In the traditional Roman Breviary for May 6, the miracle of St. John’s rescue from the cauldron of oil was celebrated in the Antiphon of the Magnificat at Vespers:

“Cast into a pot of boiling oil, the blessed Apostle John, protected by divine grace, came out unharmed, alleluia.” (4)

From this we can see how all the clergy and religious who recited the Office were made familiar with the miraculous circumstances of St. John’s deliverance from his enemies. But after the 1960 reforms when the feast was dropped from the Calendar, most Catholics have either forgotten, or have never known, or, in some cases, were positively encouraged to regard it with derision.

church of St John

The Church of St. John at the Latin Gate in Rome dates from the 5th century

Although St. John did not shed his blood in martyrdom, nevertheless the Church considered it fitting that he should be regarded as a martyr. This is evident in the Propers of his feast day, which were chosen entirely on the premise that he was a martyr in desire and intention: The Mass of May 6 is Protexisti, which was the incipit of the Introit found in several other Masses of the Common of a Martyr in Paschaltide. (5)

Let us now examine the Propers.

Introit: (Psalm 63:3,2) Protexisti me, Deus… (6) expresses the frailty of man surrounded by many dangers and acknowledges the need for God’s protection;

Collect: Deus, qui conspicis… (7) is a prayer made through the “glorious intercession” of St. John for protection from the effects of our sins;

Epistle: (Wisdom 5:1-5) Stabunt justi in magna constantia… (8) describes how worldly people deride those who accept suffering in this life in the hope of obtaining eternal goods. It is also found in the feast of Ss. Philip and James (May 1);

Alleluia: (Psalm 91:13) Justus ut palma florebit… (9) palms, the symbol of joy and triumph over the enemies of the soul, are especially associated with the martyrs in the liturgy;

Gospel: (Matt. 20:20-23) – This pericope, also found in the feast of St. James the Apostle (July 25), was a prophecy of the brothers’ martyrdom when Our Lord promised that they would drink of the chalice of His Passion;

silence of St John

An icon of St John “in Silence,” indicating his wisdom came from silence and meditation

Offertory: (Psalm 88:6) Confitebuntur cœli mirabilia tua, Domine… (10) this verse gives glory to God for His miraculous powers;

Secret: Muneribus nostris (11) is also the Secret for Septuagesima Sunday, the Circumcision and for some individual martyrs e.g. St. Hermenegild (April 13), St. James the Apostle (July 25);

Preface of the Apostles: shared with the other Apostles, all of whom were martyrs;

Communion: Psalm 63:11 Lætabitur justus in Domino… (12) those who have remained faithful to God’s Covenant (Jews in the Old Testament and Christians in the New) will receive due praise;

Postcommunion: Refecti, Domine, pane cælesti… (13) expresses the hope of eternal life through the reception of Holy Communion.

Why St. John before the Latin Gate is not expendable

These prayers and readings differ in every respect from those of the other feast of St. John (December 27) and, therefore, cannot be considered as a “duplication.” The Propers of the former were composed or chosen by the Church to commemorate St. John’s martyrdom and the miracle of his deliverance, while those of the latter were dedicated to his work as an Evangelist.

The May 6 feast was a constant reminder to the faithful of the authenticity of St. John’s Gospel: the truth of his personal testimony to the Divinity of Christ is reinforced by the fact that he was prepared to lay down his life over this very issue.

The two feasts are, therefore, interrelated: St. John’s willingness to be martyred at the Latin Gate provides support for his claim that his Gospel, based on what he had seen and heard in Our Lord’s presence, was an authentic account of His ministry.

Would he have been willing to enter the pot of boiling oil to defend the historicity of events that never really happened, that were merely fruits of mystical contemplation, or objects of fanciful speculation?

Why we need this feast day more than ever

last gospel

Last Gospel of St. John: also at risk

St. John, by divine grace, was preserved from the attacks of his enemies in the first century, but he did not emerge from the cauldron of liturgical reform unharmed in the 20th.

From the rise of Protestantism in the 16th century, through the so-called “Enlightenment” era of the 18th and the Modernist movement of the 19th, even into our own day, liberal theologians have challenged and rejected the authenticity of St. John’s Gospel. It was obviously too clear in its doctrine, too genuine in its witness to Christ’s Divinity for their liking.

When this scepticism about St. John made inroads into the Catholic Church, it was condemned by Pope Pius X, (14) but it was later revived by academic scholars in the Liturgical Movement. We have seen how, in all the major International Liturgical Congresses of the 1950s, the participants bayed for the abolition of the Last Gospel (John 1: 1-14) at the end of Mass.

Barbarians at the Latin Gate

The dedication of the Basilica of St. John before the Latin Gate occurred at a crucial juncture in History, which marked the defeat of the barbarian hordes that invaded Rome and the triumph of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire.

roome burning

Barbarians burning Rome; today the progressivists make a new onslaught

Fifteen centuries later, the Catholic Church fell once more to invasion: the liturgical barbarians were at the gates of Rome, pillaging, looting and sacking the Church’s spiritual patrimony. In place of King Alaric, the barbarian chieftain and leader of the Visigoths, there was Bugnini who masterminded the plans and mustered the forces that carried out the sack of the Roman Rite.

The abolition of the feast of St. John before the Latin Gate with its wealth of historical and doctrinal content was a flagrant breach of time-honored customs universally observed in the Church. It was yet another of those nefarious activities of the Liturgical Commission, which, as we have seen, removed several such feast days from the General Calendar in 1960 (15) that nourished the spiritual life of the faithful. Looking at the influx of worldly and pagan practices into the liturgy today, one could say that the elimination of these ancient feasts helped reverse what centuries of Catholic Civilization and Culture had built up to keep barbarism at bay.

An afterthought

When Pope John XXIII accepted the Papacy on October 28, 1958, he made a speech (16) in which he explained why he chose the name John. Among the reasons given he mentioned his devotion to the patron Saints of his Cathedral, St. John Lateran in Rome – one of whom is St. John the Evangelist, the other being St. John the Baptist. Yet, under pressure from the Liturgical Movement, he was prepared to cast aside the feast of the martyrdom of his own name-Saint, just as he abolished a feast of his own Guardian Angel, St. Michael. (17)

We cannot fail to note that “the love of one’s own” – part of the cardinal virtue of Justice – was perceptibly lacking in the Popes of Vatican II. In the revolutionary euphoria of the 1960s, they acknowledged no particular obligation to preserve the liturgy, no special concern for the children of the household whose inheritance they sold for a mess of “ecumenical” pottage.


  1. This was the same Commission which had been set up by Pope Pius XII in 1948 with Mgr. Bugnini as its Secretary.
  2. Tertullian, Prescription against heretics, chap. 36.
  3. The Gregorian Sacramentary, for instance, contains the Collect, Secret and Post-communion for the feast of St. John before the Latin Gate.
  4. In ferventis olei dolium missus beatus Joannes Apostolus, divina se protegente gratia, illaesus exivit, alleluia.
  5. Also for the feasts of St. George (23 April), St. Fidelis (April 24), St. Mark (25 April), St. Stanislaus (May 7), St. Venantius (May 18), St. Barnabas (June 11).
  6. “Thou hast protected me, O God, from the assembly of the malignant…”
  7. “O God, Who beholdest that our own ill deeds disquiet us on every side…”
  8. “The just shall stand with great constancy against those that have afflicted them…”
  9. “The just shall flourish like the palm tree…”
  10. “The heavens shall confess Thy wonders, O Lord, and Thy truth in the Church of Thy Saints.”
  11. “Having received our offerings and prayers, we beseech Thee, O Lord, cleanse us by these heavenly mysteries, and graciously hear us.”
  12. “The just shall rejoice in the Lord…”
  13. “Refreshed with the bread of heaven…”
  14. Lamentabili sane, 1907, §§16-18.
  15. These were the Chair of St. Peter at Rome, St. Peter in Chains, St. John before the Latin Gate, the Finding of St. Stephen, the Finding of the Holy Cross, the Apparition of St. Michael and the feast of Pope St. Leo II. All of these (except the Chair of St Peter at Rome and St. Leo II) were retained in the Appendix of the 1962 Missal under the heading Pro aliquibus locis (Masses for certain places).
  16. Allocution Audiens verba tua, AAS, 50 (1958), pp. 878-879.
  17. This was the Apparition of St. Michael (May 8). These two feasts have a subtle connection. The Archangel Michael also appeared to St. John as the chief adversary of Satan (Apoc. 12:7-8) – which, significantly, explains the centuries-old custom of praying to St. Michael for protection against the Evil One and his minions.


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Posted Augusst 23, 2019

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