The feast of Saints Peter and Paul is the most popular feast of all the apostles, although their common occurrence in the Bible is exceptional. Rather, there is a huge controversy between the two of them (Gal 2:11-14).
Together with his brother Andrew, Simon – called Peter – belonged to the inner circle of disciples called by Jesus. He left behind his job – fishing on the Lake of Galilee in order to become a fisher of men. He received a particular promise from Jesus: you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church (Matt 16:18).
Paul used to be a bitter enemy and persecutor of Christians, but after his encounter with Christ near Damascus, he began to announce the message of Christ. He became an apostle of the gentiles across wast areas of the Roman Empire.
Early on, Peter and Paul were venerated together. The Acts of the Apostles already present their activity in a parallel fashion:
- Peter occupies the first section of the Acts – mission in Jerusalem and among the Jews (Acts 2-8)
- Paul becomes the major agent in the mission to the gentiles (Acts 13-28)
According to tradition, both of them died in Rome during the persecution of Emperor Nero (54-68 AD): Peter was crucified and Paul beheaded. Their memorial is celebrated on June 29. Originally, three liturgical celebrations used to take place on this day:
- in honor of Saint Peter at St Peter’s in Vatican
- in honor of Saint Paul at Saint Paul outside the Walls (on the road to Ostia)
- common ceremony on Via Appia – place where their remains were temporarily transferred during the persecution under Valerian in the 3rd cent.
The feast of Saints Peter and Paul spread outside of Rome between the 4th and 6th cent.; first in the West and eventually in the East as well.
The feast has its own preface that talks about the various sendings of the apostles:
Peter confessed faith as first and established the early Church from the remnant of Israel; Paul was an outstanding preacher and teacher of the Gentiles called by God. Each in a different way, they gathered together one family of Christ and they share one Martyr’s crown.Preface