Presentation of the Lord

Formerly called Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also Candlemas. Commemorates the presentation of Jesus in the Temple — according to prescriptions of Mosaic Law (Lv. 12:2-8; Ex. 13:2; Lk. 2:22-32) — and the purification of Mary 40 days after his birth. In the East, where the feast antedated fourth century testimony regarding its existence, it was observed primarily as a feast of Our Lord; in the West, where it was adopted later, it was regarded more as a feast of Mary until the calendar in effect since 1970. Its date was set for Feb. 2 after the celebration of Christmas was fixed for Dec. 25, late in the fourth century. The blessing of candles, probably in commemoration of Christ who was the Light to enlighten the Gentiles, became common about the 11th century and gave the feast the secondary name of Candlemas.

Feast day: February 2

Paul Miki and Companions

(d. 1597) Martyr of Japan, with twenty-five companions. Paul was a member of the noble Miki family, a samurai clan of Harima Province. He was educated by the Jesuits in their missionary seminary and joined the Society of Jesus in 1580, as a Scholastic. Paul, famous as a preacher and evangelist, was arrested by the officials of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the taiko (or commanding general) of Japan. The Miki castle in Harima had been captured by Hideyoshi earlier, while Hideyoshi was consolidating his political power. Paul and his companions were taken to a hill called Nishizaka, just outside of Nagasaki. The hill forms a promontory over Nagasaki Bay. There they were bound to crosses and pierced with two lances in the abdomen. This martyrdom was witnessed by several thousand Japanese pagans and Christians, who were quite horrified.

The companions of Paul Miki were: Francis, a carpenter from Kyoto; Cosmas Takeya, swordmaker from Owari Province; Peter Sukejiro, who had been sent by the Jesuits at Kyoto to aid the prisoners; Michael Kozaki, a bow-maker from Ise Province; James Kisai, Jesuit lay brother from Bizen; Paul Ibachi, aide in the Kyoto Hospital, brother of Leo Ibachi; John Soan de Goto, a Jesuit catechist from Goto Islands; Louis Ibachi, brother of Leo Ibachi; Anthony, son of a Chinese carpenter and a Japanese mother; Pedro Baptista, a Spanish Franciscan superior; Martin de la Asunción, a Spanish Franciscan; Felipe de Jesús, a Mexican Franciscan; Goncalco Garcia; the son of a Portuguese soldier and an Indian mother, a Franciscan; Francisco Blanco, a Spanish Franciscan; Francisco de San Miguel, a Spanish Franciscan; Mathias, a Japanese from Kyoto; Leo Ibachi, from a noble family of Owari; Bonaventure, a former Buddhist monk from Kyoto; Thomas Kozaki, son of Michel Kozaki; Joachim Sakakibara, a samurai from Osaka who served the Franciscans; Francis Kichi, a doctor from Kyoto; John Kinuya, a carpenter from Kyoto; Gabriel Jusuke, a noble of Ise; and Paul Suzuki, from Owari.

The hill upon which Paul and his companions died is now called “the Hill of the Martyrs.” A stone cross and twenty-six trees stand upon the summit. The martyrs were canonized on Pentecost Sunday 1862 by Blessed Pope Pius IX (r. 1846-1878).

Feast day: February 6

St. Scholastica

(c. 480-543) Benedictine abbess and founder. The sister of St. Benedict of Nursia, possibly his twin. Virtually nothing is known about Scholastica beyond the passage written about her by Pope St. Gregory the Great (r. 590-604) in his Dialogues. At a young age, she dedicated herself to God and took up residence at a convent near her brother, who was situated at Monte Cassino (at Plombariola). According to Gregory, she met with Benedict once a year to discuss with him matters of great spiritual import to each. She died a mere three days after their annual reunion. Following his own death about 547, Benedict was buried, according to his own wishes, in Scholastica’s grave. She is considered the first Benedictine nun.

Feast day: February 10

St. Valentine

(d. 269) -- Roman priest, physician, and martyr. He was executed on February 14, during the reign of Emperor Claudius II Gothicus (r. 268-270), probably by beheading, and was buried on the Via Flaminia. In 350, a basilica was erected on the spot of his burial. Another Valentine (sharing the same feast day) was bishop of Terni (Interamma), near Rome. Considered possibly the same person as the other Valentine, he was supposedly flogged, taken to Rome, and beheaded. On their feast day is celebrated the custom of sending “Valentines” to a loved one; the custom stems from the medieval belief that birds choose their mates on this day. Valentine is thus the patron saint of lovers.

Feast day: February 14.

St. Peter Damian

(1007-1072) Cardinal, Doctor of the Church, and noted reformer. Born in Ravenna, he suffered through a harsh childhood and labored for a time as a swineherd for a cruel brother. Fortunately, another brother, an archpriest of Ravenna, recognized Peter’s intelligence and saw to his education at Ravenna, Faienza, and Parma; according to tradition, the archpriest’s name was Damian, and Peter attached it to his name to commemorate his brother’s charity.

In 1035, Peter entered the Benedictines at Fonte-Avellana, becoming one of the Western Church’s leading advocates for reform. In 1051, he authored the Liber Gomorrhianus, dedicated to Pope St. Leo IX (r. 1049-1054) and assailing the many failings and vices of the contemporary clergy. Two years later, he composed the Liber Gratissimus, a defense of the legitimacy of simoniacal ordinations.

He also waged a campaign against numerous abuses, including concubinage and simony. In 1057, he was appointed to the office of cardinal-bishop of Ostia, against his will. Used on a number of diplomatic missions to promote reforms in France and Germany, he died on a trip from Ravenna after reconciling his native city with the pope.

His writings covered reforms and doctrinal matters, including the Eucharist and purgatory, and in his time Peter was one of the most respected figures in the Church.

While never formally canonized, his cultus began soon after his death; his feast day was extended to the entire Church by Pope Leo XII (r. 1823-1829) in 1828; the pope also named him a Doctor of the Church.

Feast day: February 21

The Chair of St. Peter

This feast, which has been on the Roman calendar since 336, is a liturgical expression of belief in the episcopacy and hierarchy of the Church.

Feast day: Feb. 22

St. Polycarp

(2nd c.) Bishop of Smyrna; ecclesiastical writer; martyr.

Feast day: Feb. 23

For further reading, check out The Saints Devotional Bible.