SAINT MARCELLUS I (?-309), pope and martyr
Today, the Church honors Saint Marcellus I, the 29th successor to Saint Peter as the bishop of Rome, a servant of the Church who had to rebuild and reorganize much of what had been destroyed as a result of the enormity of the Christian persecution which had claimed over 16,000 martyrs during the beginning of the 4th century.
The date of Marcellus’ birth remains unknown and nothing of his life before his papacy has survived the centuries. However, his papal ascension began at the end of the persecutions of the Roman emperor Diocletian in May or June of the year 308. The persecution of Christians had so disrupted the Church that there had been a period of about four years during which there was no one seated in the Chair of Peter.
Pope Marcellus worked to restore the clergy which had been decimated and whose remnant had practiced their vocation secretly, knowing that their exposure would lead to martyrdom, and that many of the faithful would remain without a shepherd to teach and guide them. He also showed mercy and welcomed back all those who repented for having denied their faith in Christ during the height of the Christian persecution.
However, Pope Marcellus’ biggest problem was dealing with the Christians who had apostatized during the persecution and who refused to repent. Known as the Lapsi, a group who had dissented from the Church and refused to do penance for their apostasy, Marcellus refused to offer them pardon and full communion into the Church. They, in turn, complained to the new Emperor Maxentius.
Known for being tyrannical, he banished the pope, during which time Marcellus died in 309 as a result of the terrible conditions he suffered in exile, in addition to being deprived of the basic necessities to sustain life.
We commemorate Saint Marcellus’ feastday on January 16, although it is unknown whether this was the exact date of his death or burial.
His remains were initially buried in the cemetery of Saint Priscilla in Rome. His relics were later transferred to be interred beneath the altar of the Church of San Marcello al Corso in Rome, where they remain today.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, catholicculture.org, catholic.org/saints and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Pastors ~ pope)
“All-powerful and Ever-living God, You called Saint Marcellus to guide Your people by his word and example. With him, we pray to You: watch over the pastors of Your Church with the people entrusted to their care, and lead them to salvation.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”