This Sunday the Solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul displaces the celebration of the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
We honour Peter and Paul not only as Apostles but also as martyrs – thus the red vestments stipulated for the Mass.
The first reading for the Mass during the Day immediately engages us with the theme of martyrdom. (Other readings are offered for the Vigil Mass, and the focus there is different)
Acts of the Apostles does not extend to the extra-biblical tradition of the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul in Rome, but it does tell us here of the martyrdom of James, and the apparent intention of Herod to kill Peter also.
The second reading set for Sunday has Paul speak of how he himself offers his life as a libation, a sacrifical offering.
Thoughts of martyrdom are not inappropriate as we honour these apostles. They lived and ministered in settings where such a death was regularly threatened.
The words of Peter that conclude the verses from Acts are words of confidence, and prepare us for the Responsorial Psalm that follows, given us to help our continued reflection on this reading.
James Killed and Peter Imprisoned
12.1 About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3 and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4 And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
Peter Is Rescued
6 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. 11 When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
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