Today is the feast day of Saint Matthias the Apostle. This is a feast that has been celebrated since the Middle Ages.
Last week we discussed Jesus Christ’s ascension into Heaven. He left behind His Apostles, saying that He would always be with them and that He would send them the Holy Spirit. Now, we recall the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve Apostles who betrayed Jesus. Just as there are twelve tribes of Israel, there has to be twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. In the aftermath of the Ascension, the Apostles gathered together with Mary, mother of God.
Saint Matthias in Acts of the Apostles
In Acts of the Apostles, Peter speaks up about what qualities an ideal apostle would have: “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us –– one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22).1 The potential candidates had to have known Jesus throughout His ministry and up until His resurrection. The candidates were over 100 men. However, the Apostles were able to narrow them down to two.
The two candidates for apostleship who are considered are Joseph called Barsabbas (known as Justus) and Matthias. The Apostles offer a prayer: “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place” (Acts 1:24-25). The Apostles reach their conclusion by casting lots: “And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:26).
In the following days, Saint Matthias would be present during Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit.
Saint Matthias in Sacred Tradition
It is when we explore Saint Matthias’s later life that things become murky. According to Illustrated Lives of the Saints: “Clement of Alexandria writes that St. Matthias was remarkable for inculcating the necessity of mortifying the flesh with its irregular passions and desires. According to the Greeks, St. Matthias suffered martyrdom in Colchis, which is called Ethiopia. Colchis was a district of Asia Minor, situated on the shores of the Black Sea, south of the Caucasus Mountains” (206).3
According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, there were multiple versions as to what truly happened to Saint Matthias. Nicephorus states that he was preached the Gospel and was crucified at Colchis. The Synopsis of Dorotheus tells a different tale: that Saint Matthias died at Sebastopolis near the Temple of the Sun and was buried there. An addition tradition places Saint Matthias in Jerusalem where he was stoned to death.4
Sacred Tradition tells us that Saint Helena, mother of Saint Constantine brought Saint Matthias’s relics to Rome.
Saint Matthias’s Wisdom
Abbot Gueranger, O.S.B, writes in his book The Liturgical Year: “It behooves us to combat the flesh, and make use of it, without pampering it by unlawful gratifications. As to the soul, we must develop her power by faith and knowledge.”2
Saint Matthias is the Patron Saint of alcoholism, reformed alcoholics, carpenters, tailors, and those suffering from smallpox. His symbols are a halberd, a lance, a sword held by its point, an axe, a battle axe, a scimitar, a carpenter’s square, a scroll, a book, a stone, two stones, a long cross, and a hatchet.
Father, you called St. Matthias to share in the mission of the apostles. By the help of his prayers may we receive with joy the love you share with us and be counted among those you have chosen. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Featured Image: Saint Matthias by Simone Martini, circa 1317-1319. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
- Catholic Women’s Devotional Bible (New Revised Standard Version). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000. Print.
- Gueranger, Abbot, O.S.B. The Liturgical Year. 14 May 2018 https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2018-05-14
- Hoever, Hugo, Rev, S.O. Cist., PhD. Illustrated Lives of the Saints. Newark: Catholic Book Publishing Corp., 2005. Print.
- “St. Matthias.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 10. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 14 May 2018 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10066a.htm