Today we celebrate the Apostles Simon and Jude Thaddeus. Most visitors to St. Peter’s have no idea their relics are in this immense basilica, that St. Peter’s is home to three Apostles, not just Peter! Until fairly recently, you could pray before their relics under an altar in the left transept.

Changes took place this year and I explain it below in “The Sad Story Of St. Joseph’s Altar,” a story I first posted this June. I also post ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos.

But never fear, you can still pray at the St. Joseph altar and perhaps catch a glance of the sarcophagus with the apostles’ relics under the original altar.


( – Jude is so named by Luke and Acts. Matthew and Mark call him Thaddeus. He is not mentioned elsewhere in the Gospels, except of course where all the apostles are mentioned. Scholars hold that he is not the author of the Letter of Jude. Actually, Jude had the same name as Judas Iscariot. Evidently because of the disgrace of that name, it was shortened to “Jude” in English.

Images   San Simón | Jusepe de Ribera/Image: Saint Jude Thaddeus | Georges de La Tour

Simon is mentioned on all four lists of the apostles. On two of them he is called “the Zealot.” The Zealots were a Jewish sect that represented an extreme of Jewish nationalism. For them, the messianic promise of the Old Testament meant that the Jews were to be a free and independent nation. God alone was their king, and any payment of taxes to the Romans—the very domination of the Romans—was a blasphemy against God. No doubt some of the Zealots were the spiritual heirs of the Maccabees, carrying on their ideals of religion and independence. But many were the counterparts of modern terrorists. They raided and killed, attacking both foreigners and “collaborating” Jews. They were chiefly responsible for the rebellion against Rome which ended in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.


As in the case of all the apostles except for Peter, James and John, we are faced with men who are really unknown, and we are struck by the fact that their holiness is simply taken to be a gift of Christ. He chose some unlikely people: a former Zealot, a former (crooked) tax collector, an impetuous fisherman, two “sons of thunder,” and a man named Judas Iscariot.

It is a reminder that we cannot receive too often. Holiness does not depend on human merit, culture, personality, effort, or achievement. It is entirely God’s creation and gift. God needs no Zealots to bring about the kingdom by force. Jude, like all the saints, is the saint of the impossible: Only God can create his divine life in human beings. And God wills to do so, for all of us.

Saint Jude is the Patron Saint of: Desperate Situations


Once upon a time St. Peter’s sacristy was really crowded in the early mornings with priests vesting for Mass at some of the scores of altars in this majestic basilica. Many of those priests worked in the Vatican and this was their morning Mass routine. Priests visiting Rome could say Mass at a side altar, and often invited a friend to do a reading. I was blessed to be a reader on many occasions at many altars, including at one of my favorites – the altar of Pope St. John XXIII.

Priests with a pilgrimage group could (and still can) say Mass in one of the chapels in the Grotto area.

All that (except for pilgrimage groups) changed over a year ago when orders came down that forbade priests to say individual Masses at the basilica chapels. If, for example, a Vatican or Roman Curia priest now wants to say morning Mass, he may do so only with other priests and only at those altars where they face the congregation, that is, the Altar of the Chair and the Altar of the Choir.

By its mere layout, the only chapel where a priest can have his back to the congregation is the Clementine Chapel in the Grottoes

You have no idea how many priests were saddened, even deeply wounded, by this change. You have no idea how many told me in person or sent emails or other messages with vivid memories of their special Masses at side altars and chapels.

One Saturday in June, after Mass in the Clementine Chapel with Fr. Ryan Brady and six seminarians, we roamed around the basilica a bit and I saw something that so shook me up, so saddened me, that even now, as I write, there is a little empty space in my heart.

There is an altar in the center of the left transept of the basilica dedicated to St. Joseph  an altar blessed by Pope John XXIII on March 19, 1963, the feast of St. Joseph.

Of the countless people who attend the daily Masses at this altar, most do not realize they are in the presence of two of the twelve apostles!  We know the basilica is dedicated to Peter but the relics of two more Apostles, Simon and Jude Thaddeus are in an ancient sarcophagus beneath the St. Joseph altar! At the sides of the altar are two round mosaics of these saints. I’ve attended Mass here dozens of times.

And here is what I saw that Saturday that broke my heart! A new altar was placed in front of the original, very beautiful, historic altar with relics of two Apostles. Its placement means that priests must now face the faithful.


No sign that the two Apostles and Saints, Simon and Jude Thaddeus are here as the new altar hides the one with their relics.