Feast of St. James the Elder

July 25, 2021
Ordinary Time

Today’s Readings:    Psalm 7:1-10 / Acts 11:27–12:3 / Matthew 20:20-28 / Reflection: On the life and Ministry of James the Apostle

NOTE: Because this feast falls on a Sunday this year, celebration of it has been moved to Monday, July 26, 2021.

Opening Prayer

O God, the source of light: Shed forth your unending day upon all of us who watch for you, that our lips may praise you, our lives may bless you, and our worship may give you glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.†

The Hymn

(adapted from The Short Breviary)

Now let the earth with joy resound 

And heaven the chant re-echo round; 

Nor heaven nor earth too high can raise 

The great Apostles’ glorious praise! 

Sickness and health your voice obey, 

At your command they go or stay; 

From sin’s disease our souls restore, 

In good confirm us more and more. 

So when the world is at its end 

And Christ to judgment shall descend, 

May we be called those joys to see 

Prepared from all eternity. 

Praise to the Father, with the Son 

And Paraclete for ever one: 

To you, O most blessed Trinity

Be our praise for all time and for eternity.

A Prayer for the Feast of James the Greater

O gracious God, I remember before you today your servant and apostle James, first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ; and I pray that you will pour out upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service by which alone they may have true authority among us; through Jesus Christ or Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.†

“Saint James the Elder” 
By Rembrandt, 1661 
He is depicted clothed as a pilgrim; note the scallop shell on his shoulder and his staff and pilgrim’s hat beside him.

Psalm 7:1-10

Read on the Feast of St. James the Greater 

A shiggaion of David, which he sang to the LORD concerning Cush, a Benjamite.

1 LORD my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me, 

2 or they will tear me apart like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me. 

3 LORD my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands— 

4 if I have repaid my ally with evil or without cause have robbed my foe— 

5 then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust. 

6 Arise, LORD, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice. 

7 Let the assembled peoples gather around you, while you sit enthroned over them on high. 

8 Let the LORD judge the peoples. Vindicate me, LORD, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High. 

9 Bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure— you, the righteous God who probes minds and hearts. 

10 My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart.

Shield with symbol of St. James the Great, Church of the Good Shepherd (Rosemont, Pennsylvania)

Acts 11:27–12:3

Read on the Feast of St. James the Greater 

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

Saint James as a knight, 12th century, Codex Calixtinus

Matthew 20:20-28

A Reading in remembrance of St. James, son of Zebedee and brother of St. John, executed by Herod the Great ca. 42 a.d. and memorialized by the Church on July 25.

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came with her sons, to make a request of him, and bowed low; and he said to her, ‘What is it you want?’ She said to him, ‘Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They (James and John) replied, ‘We can.’ He said to them, ‘Very well, you shall drink my cup, but as for seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father.’ 

When the other ten heard this they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that among the gentiles the rulers lord it over them, and great men make their authority felt. Among you, this is not to happen. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

“Saint James the Greater”
By Guido Reni

Reflection: On the life and Ministry of James the Apostle

“You, or someone you know, may have walked The Camino de Santiago. This is the very pilgrimage which leads to the tomb of St. James the Apostle. Or maybe you have seen the movie The Way, starring Martin Sheen, which follows one man’s journey on the Camino. The Camino is a compilation of routes from major cities in Europe that lead to this pilgrimage site in Northern Spain. After Jerusalem and Rome, it is considered the next most important Christian pilgrimage. Over two and a half million people visit Santiago de Compostela every year. Today the route is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.” [1]

Son of Thunder. Son of Zebedee. St. James the Greater.

“The Apostle James goes by a few different names and is not to be confused of James the Less, another of the Twelve Apostles. He was one of the first disciples called by Jesus. As Jesus walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, He saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John, who were mending the nets of their boat. Upon Jesus’ call to James and his brother, they both left their father and followed Him. “When Jesus summoned the Apostles up to the mountain with Him, He appointed, “James, son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James, whom He named Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). These two sons of thunder were reproached by Jesus in Mark 10 when they sought authority above the other Apostles saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” When Jesus asked them what this was, they answered, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus replied, “…to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.” Jesus then used this as an opportunity to teach the Apostles about true humility. “But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. -Mark 10:43-35” [2]

The Innermost Circle

“Despite St. James’ need for correction, we refer to him as James “the Greater” because he, along with St. John and St. Peter, shared in an especially close relationship with Christ. These three men were the only ones with Jesus when He raised Jarius’ daughter from the dead, when He cured St. Peter’s mother-in-law, and who witnessed the Transfiguration. These three also accompanied Jesus during His Agony in the Garden (albeit sleeping). “I love the fact that Jesus’ closest friends were so real, so human! St. Peter doubted Jesus when He walked on water, yet Jesus still made him the rock of our Church. James ignorantly told Jesus that He should do whatever James asked of Him, and yet Jesus continued to love him and remain close friends with him. This should give us great hope!” [3]

St. James’ Life After Jesus’ Ascension

“After Jesus’ Ascension, St. James traveled to the Iberian Peninsula to share the Good News of Jesus. “When he returned to Judea in 44 AD, he was martyred by King Herod Agrippa I who had James beheaded. He is considered to be the first of Jesus’ Apostles to be martyred.” [4]

Powerful Patron

“After his death, St. James’ followers brought his remains back to the Iberian Peninsula, or what is now known as Galicia in Spain. These remains are believed to be buried in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. He is considered the patron Saint of Spain and also of pilgrims. Not only did St. James make pilgrimage to Spain to spread the Gospel, but his followers made the same pilgrimage to Spain to put his body to rest. This site is now venerated by millions of people every year. “St. James is also considered a patron of arthritis. Legend tells us that when James was being led to his execution, he heard a man call out to him who had been suffering from this crippling disease. In his deep faith, this man pleaded with the Apostle to pray for his cure. St. James then said to him in reply, “In the name of Jesus Christ, for Whom I am being led to execution, stand up and bless your Creator.” Upon his words, the man was healed, stood up, and praised God.” [5]

How to Find Him

“In Christian art, the Saints are often depicted with a symbol that is closely connected to the person’s life.

“If you are trying to spot St. James in Christian art, keep your eye out for the attire of a pilgrim. He is often depicted with either a staff, a gourd (for drinking water), riding on a horse, or a scalloped shell.” [6]

Why a Scalloped Shell?

“Why is a scalloped shell a symbol of pilgrimage? In the Middle Ages, it was common for priests to require pilgrimages as a form of penance. Upon completion, the pilgrim would have to prove his penance was fulfilled by providing a local souvenir. Scalloped shells can be naturally found near St. James’ tomb on the coast of Galicia, making it a fitting (and free) souvenir.

“Shells have also been used in the Sacrament of Baptism. As Baptism is the beginning of one’s Christian journey, the symbolism of the shell as pilgrimage is very fitting. Keep your eye out for shells when you see baptismal fonts, as they are sometimes used to decorate the font, or may be used to hold the holy water poured over the one being baptized.” [7]

A Festive Celebration

“The feast of St. James is a festive celebration, specifically in Santiago de Compostela, where they celebrate his life with a two-week long celebration concluded by fireworks.

“Perhaps you could join in celebrating his life by lighting up a few sparklers with your family and friends!” [8]

Other Scriptures for Reflection:

These are the twelve He appointed: Simon (whom He named Peter), James son of Zebedee and his brother John (whom He named Boanerges, meaning Sons of Thunder), Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot, (Mark 3:17-18)

About that time, King Herod reached out to harm some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3And seeing that this pleased the Jews, Herod proceeded to seize Peter during the Feast of Unleavened Bread… (Acts 12:1-3)

The Concluding Prayer of the Church

Almighty God, who gave to your servant James boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that I may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in me, and to suffer gladly for the sake of my Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.†


[1] Parent, S. (2020, May 20). On the Feast of St. James the Apostle. Retrieved July 20, 2020, from https://blessedisshe.net/blog/feast-st-james-apostle/

[2] Ibid. 1

[3] Ibid. 1

[4] Ibid. 1

[5] Ibid. 1

[6] Ibid. 1

[7] Ibid. 1

[8] Ibid. 1

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