(First, a correction: Ss. Philip and James are celebrated on May 3rd, not May 1st, as I wrote last week!) Ok, we have a puzzle this week. Who is the St. Alexander mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer? We’re examining the saintly man mentioned among the “apostles and martyrs” in the list given in the nobis quoque prayer [the one that begins “to us also…”] after the Consecration, towards the end of that Eucharistic Prayer. There we find “St. Alexander” mentioned between Saint Ignatius (Patriarch of Antioch, martyred in Rome around 140 AD) and Saints Marcellinus and Peter (a priest and an exorcist, who were martyred in Rome around 304 AD). The problem is, if you do any digging, you’ll find a number of different saints ascribed to be the one mentioned here by the name of Alexander.
Many say that the prayer refers to Pope St. Alexander, the 5th Bishop of Rome, mentioned already by St. Ireneaus of Lyons already in the late 100s (so, just 70 or 80 years after his pontificate) and in Eusebius’ “Church History” in the early 300s. Tradition holds that the custom of mingling water with the wine at Mass as well as the practice of blessing homes with holy water and blessed salt in Christian homes come from this early Pope, as well as perhaps the introduction to the words of consecration “on the night He was betrayed…”. Now, things get convoluted as we try to get more details because quickly this St. Alexander is mentioned along with the priests, Ss. Eventius and Theodulus, early martyrs who were all killed and buried a few miles outside of Rome (near Ficulea, where the Christian cemetery there was named after Alexander).
The problem is that none of those earliest sources mention Pope St. Alexander’s martyrdom (which they do mention of other early popes, and you would think would mention if that were the end of his pontificate), so we don’t know if there were two saintly Alexander’s, one a pope and one not, or if these were the same person. In any case, the Church has traditionally celebrated all three men on the same feast day (May 3rd) and as martyrs. But, if we look at the structure of the Roman Canon itself, we find that every other pope is mentioned not here in the nobis quoque but in the prayer called the communicantes [“in communion of those we venerate…”] that comes before the Consecration. (And, given the reverence that these early prayers of the Church give to the Bishops of Rome, it would seem odd to toss his name in there after Ignatius and before Marcellinus and Peter.)
Ok, so what is another option? Another claimant for the identity of St. Alexander is the Patriarch of Alexandria with that name from the 310s, an eloquent and orthodox bishop who began the battle against Arianism (working for the excommunication of Arius as well as drafting much of the decrees of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 AD). He crucially named the courageous and faithful St. Athanasius to be his successor as bishop of Antioch. February 26th. Here as well, an argument can be made to the contrary in that everyone else on this list of saints are martyrs, whereas he is not (even if, like St. Ignatius, he was an Eastern Bishop/Patriarch).
Finally, a third (or fourth?!) proposal is the martyr, St. Alexander, one of seven brothers or companions, perhaps the sons of St. Felicity, a saintly widow of Rome (not to be confused with the famous St. Felicity and St. Perpetua, martyrs in Carthage), who was martyred along with her seven faithful sons around 165 AD. St. Gregory the Great famously used this holy mother as an example of courage even greater than an ordinary martyr, saying “She was more than a martyr, for seeing her seven dear children martyred before her eyes, she was in some sort a martyr in each of them.” These seven, with their mother, are traditionally celebrated on July 10th.
– Fr. Dominic has been unable to tease out the intricacies, and limitations, of the records we have back at the beginning of the Church to figure out which of these St. Alexander’s is the one we call upon in the Eucharistic Prayer, so, you get all their stories this week! As for why he ended up choosing to go with Pope Alexander’s feast day of May 13th, that is simply because February and March are already passed, and the Sundays of June and July will be more than filled with the celebrations of Marcellinus and Peter (June 2nd), Barnabas (June 11th), Peter and Paul (June 24th), John the Baptist (June 25th), John and Paul (June 26th), and Thomas (July 3rd)!