The Feast of St. James Zebedee (or St. James the Greater) celebrates one of the Twelve Apostles, and a crucial figure in the early Church. He (along with his brother St. John and his peer St. Peter) bore witnessed to the Transfiguration, was in Christ’s inner circle of trusted apostles, and was present at Pentecost.
Early Church tradition has it that after Pentecost, St. James took the Gospel to Spain where he brought many to the Faith. He eventually returned to Jerusalem where he was killed by King Herod Agrippa in the year 44 AD —one of the earliest martyrs of our faith. After death, as the story goes, his body was carried back to Spain by Christians and placed at the coastal city of Compostela.
Since he was an early martyr of the Church, St. James’ burial place at Compostela became an important destination for pilgrimage, or a holy journey. There are records of Christians making the journey as early as 814 AD. Now, annually, more than 200,000 people walk El Camino de Santiago - “The Way of St. James.”
In iconography, St. James usually holds a cockle shell, the traditional souvenir of having been to the coast of Spain, where he is buried.
As Christians, it is important for us to remember the saints who went before us. We should be inspired by their example and stirred to greater devotion by the stories of what God did in their lives. We do not pray to or worship these men and women, but we thank God for their lives and deaths.
As we celebrate the life of St. James the Greater, we declare that the God who worked mightily in his life is the same God who is active and present in our own lives; working in us to produce that same kind of courageous, joyful witness of our resurrected Savior.
Here are a few ways to celebrate St. James as families as neighbors, or as gathered friends:
Eat Spanish food for dinner… maybe just serve one Spanish olive on each plate at dinner.
Go on a walk or hike. For St. James was well travelled, and he is especially remembered by travelers.
Act-out the martyrdom of St James as a family (use the story in Acts as a script).
Google pictures of The Way of St. James or Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, post them around your house, and take your family on a make-believe pilgrimage.
During the designated prayer time in the liturgy, pray for pilgrims, travellers, evangelists, the persecuted church, or brothers (St James was the brother of St. John).
Watch a clip from the movie The Way - here’s the trailer.
Print-out or make a paper cockle shell, hide it in the house, and play a game of ‘find the cockle shell’ with kids.
Adults may share a drink inspired by St. James the Greater, The Santiago Cocktail, taken from the brilliant book Drinking with the Saints: A Sinner’s Guide to a Holy Happy Hour, by Michael P. Foley:
1 ½ oz. light rum
¾ oz. lime juice
½ tsp. powdered sugar
¼ tsp. grenadine
Pour all ingredients into a shaker with ice and shake forty times., strain into a cocktail glass.
And, as you raise your glasses in a toast, consider using one of Fr. Mark’s favorite toasting lines from the antique world: “Vicisti Gallilaee!”
Finally we exhort you to use the following liturgy either at breakfast or at dinner or before bed with your friends and/or family. It is a good idea to divide up the readings beforehand so different people can read at different times.