02 September 2021, The Tablet

Saint Phoebe and a tale of two deacons

Saint Phoebe and a tale of two deacons

Detail from a mosaic of St Phoebe in Guy’s Chapel, south London.
Photo: Alamy/Art Directors & TRIP


The third of September is the feast day of two saints who have played significant roles in the development of Christianity. But only one of them is given the recognition they deserve

While Pope Francis could easily raise the level of the 22 July liturgical celebration of Saint Mary Magdalene, apostle to the apostles, he will have a harder go at it if he tries to honour Saint Phoebe on 3 September. Mary Magdalene’s day is now a major feast. Phoebe does not even have a liturgy.

Phoebe, you will recall, carried Paul’s letter to the Romans (Romans 16:1-2). Perhaps because Paul introduces Phoebe as a deacon, the passage is nowhere in the current lectionary. In fact, her day is not typically celebrated in Roman Catholicism. Phoebe has been listed as a saint on 3 September for as long as anyone can remember, and she remains in the current Roman Martyrology. Her day’s liturgical status is not of a feast or a memorial but that of a “commemoration”. She had some chance of liturgical recognition until 1969, when the Latin Church moved the memorial of Pope Saint Gregory the Great from 12 March, the date of his death in 604, to 3 September, the date in 590 that Gregory (a deacon himself) was consecrated pope.

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