In the great Legenda Aurea ("The Golden Legend," though correctly translated "The Golden Readings") which Blessed Jacobus de Voragine, OP, Archbishop of Genoa, compiled about the year 1260, we find the following commentary regarding the liturgical celebration of the feasts of the saints of the Old Testament period:
"It is worthy of note that the Eastern Church celebrates the feasts of saints of both the Old and the New Testaments. The Western Church, on the other hand, does not celebrate feasts of saints of the Old Testament, on the ground that they descended into hell -- exceptions being made for the Holy Innocents, in each of whom Christ was put to death, and for the Maccabees. . . . the Church observes no feasts for them -- both because they descended into limbo and because of the great multitude of new saints has slipped into their places . . ." (Jacobus de Voragine: The Golden Legend -- Readings on the Saints, Princeton University Press, 1993, translated by William Granger Ryan, vol. II, p.33)
This Western liturgical tradition remains to this day, the Latin Church's traditional universal calendar being filled with saints of the New Testament era. The only saints on the universal calendar whose heavenly birthdays occurred before the ratification of the New Covenant in the Precious Blood of the Lord in A.D. 33 are St. John the Baptist, the Holy Innocents, and the Holy Maccabees. Even so, the Catholic Church, both in the East and the West, has always venerated the memory of the Old Testament saints, for, as St. Paul taught the Corinthians, all of the deeds and words of our Old Testament fathers -- especially of the pre-Christian saints -- "happened to them in figure: and they are written for our correction, upon whom the ends of the world are come" (I Cor. 10:11). As the second century Early Church Father St. Melito of Sardis said in his homily "On the Pasch" (Melito of Sardis: 'On Pascha' and Fragments, Oxford Clarendon Press, 1979, translated by Stuart George Hall, p. 37, v. 69):
". . . it is [Christ] that was in Abel murdered, and in Isaac bound, and in Jacob exiled, and in Joseph sold, and in Moses exposed, and in the lamb slain, and in David persecuted, and in the prophets dishonoured."
In another homily, "On Faith," St. Melito took up the same theme:
"It is [our Lord Jesus Christ] that steered Noah, who led Abraham, who was with Isaac bound, who was with Jacob exiled, who was with Joseph sold, who was with Moses a captain, who gave the people the law, who with Joshua son of Nun divided the inheritance, who in David and in the prophets predicted his sufferings, . . ." (ibid. p.83)
St. Melito is but one of many Church Fathers who stressed the allegorical, spiritual significance of the persons and events recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures. Apart from the allegorical truths, though, Christians also should look to the lives of the Old Testaments saints for inspiration and edification in the Catholic Faith. Though they lived before the fullness of truth was revealed in and by Jesus Christ, yet they were the "prophets and just men" of whom our Lord spoke, who "desired to see the things that you see, and [had] not seen them, and to hear the things that you hear and [had] not heard them" (Matt. 13:17). They died in faith and in hope of the divine promises of the coming Messiah, awaiting His coming in the Limbus Patrum. As St. Paul writes in the 11th chapter of his Epistle to the Hebrews (vv. 32-40):
"And what shall I yet say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, Barac, Samson, Jephthe, David, Samuel, and the prophets: Who by faith conquered kingdoms, wrought justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, recovered strength from weakness, became valiant in battle, put to flight the armies of foreigners: Women received their dead raised to life again. But others were racked, not accepting deliverance, that they might find a better resurrection. And others had trial of mockeries and stripes, moreover also of bands and prisons. They were stoned, they were cut asunder, they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being in want, distressed, afflicted: Of whom the world was not worthy; wandering in deserts, in mountains, and in dens, and in caves of the earth. And all these being approved by the testimony of faith, received not the promise; God providing some better thing for us, that they should not be perfected without us."
Although, as Blessed Jacobus de Voragine noted, the Western Church traditionally does not celebrate the feast days of Old Testament saints, even so several of their heavenly birthdays are marked on the Latin Church's calendar, and local celebrations or votive Masses in their honor are permissible. In fact, this day is one of the times when the Roman Church takes note of three saints of the Old Testament era. Among the saints' deaths recorded in the traditional Roman Martyrology for Sept. 1, we find the following:
"In Palestine, the Saints Josue and Gedeon."
"At Jerusalem, blessed Anna, prophetess, whose sanctity is revealed in the Gospel."
So, on this day we may pause to recall the life of Josue (Joshua), the faithful and obedient successor of Moses, leader of the late 15th century B.C. Israelite invasion and conquest of Canaan whose exploits were long remembered by the Canaanite exiles and colonists who fled to North Africa in the face of Joshua's onslaught (as attested by the Armenian historian Moses Chorenensis in the fifth century A.D. and independently attested by the later historians Procopius and Suidas, telling of a no longer extant Punic inscription at Tangier that said, "We are those exiles that were governors of the Canaanites, but have been driven away by Joshua the robber, and come to inhabit here.") Through Josue and his military actions, God punished the Canaanites for their idolatry, sexual debauchery and perversion, and child sacrifice. Today we may also remember the heroic and faith-driven exploits of Gedeon (Gideon), who opposed the infiltration of Canaanite Baal worship and liberated Israel from Madianite oppression in the 12th century B.C. Lastly, we honor the piety, faith, and chastity of the prophetess and widow Anna, of the tribe of Aser, of whom St. Luke tells in his account of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple in A.D. 1.
The old Catholic Encyclopedia from the early 20th century summarizes the lives of these three Old Covenant saints as follows:
(First called Osee; Septuagint 'Iesoûs, first Aúsé), the son of Nun; the genealogy of the family is given in 1 Chronicles 7:20-27; it belonged to the tribe of Ephraim. Josue commanded the army of Israel, after the Exodus, in its battle with Amalec (Exodus 17:9-13), was called the minister of Moses (xxiv, 13), accompanied the great lawgiver to and from Mount Sinai (xxxi, 17) and into the tabernacle of the covenant (xxxiii, 11), and acted as one of twelve spies whom Moses sent to view the land of Chanaan (Numbers 13:9). On this occasion Moses changed his servant's name from Osee to Josue (Numbers 13:17). The new name most likely means "the Lord is salvation." Josue and Caleb alone spoke well of the land, even though the people wished to stone them for not murmuring and these two lived on (Numbers 14:38). Josue was chosen by God to succeed Moses. The words of the choice show the character of the chosen (Numbers 27:17-18). Before Eleazar and all the assembly of the people Moses laid hands on Josue. Later this soldier was proposed by Moses to the people to lead them into the land beyond the Jordan (Deuteronomy 31:3), and was ordered by the Lord to do so (xxxi, 23). After the death of Moses, Josue was filled with the spirit of wisdom and was obeyed by the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 34:9). The rest of story of Josue is told in the Book of Josue.
[Note: Josue's deeds are also commemorated in Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 46:1, I Macc. 2:55, and II Macc. 12:15]
Gideon or Gedeon (Hebrew "hewer"), also called Jerobaal (Judges 6:32; 7:1; etc.), and Jerubesheth (2 Samuel 11:21, in the Hebrew text). Gideon was one of the Greater Judges of Israel. He belonged to the tribe of Manasses, and to the family of Abiezer (Judges 6:34). Gideon's father was Joas, and lived in Ephra (Judges 6:11). The following is in substance the account of Gideon's judgeship as related in Judges, vi-viii: Israel, having forsaken the Lord's worship, had been for seven years exceedingly humbled by the incursions of the Madianites and of other Eastern tribes. At length, they turned to God who sent them a deliverer in the person of Gideon. In a first theophany, granted him by day while he was threshing wheat, Gideon received the difficult mission of freeing his people; whereupon he built an altar to the Lord (Judges 6:24). In a second theophany during the following night, he was directed to destroy the village-altar to Baal, and to erect one to the Lord. This he did with the result that the people clamoured for his death to avenge his insult to their false god. Joas, however, saved his son's life by the witty taunt, which secured for the latter the name of Jerobaal: "Let Baal revenge himself!" (vi, 25-32). Thus divinely commissioned, Gideon naturally took the lead against Madian, and Amalec, and other Eastern tribes who had crossed the Jordan, and encamped in the valley of Jezrael. Comforted by the famous signs of the fleece (vi, 36-40), and accompanied by warriors from Manasses, Aser, Zabulon, and Nephthali, he took up his position not far from the enemy. But it was God's intervention to show that it was His power which delivered Israel, and hence He reduced Gideon's army from 32,000 to 300 (vii, 1-8). According to a divine direction, the Hebrew commander paid a night visit to the enemy's camp and overheard the telling of a dream which prompted him to act at once, certain of victory (vii, 9-15). He then supplied his men with trumpets and with torches enclosed in jars, which, after his example, they broke, crying out: "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon." Panic-stricken at the sudden attack, Israel's enemies turned their arms against one another, and broke up in flight towards the fords of the Jordan (vii, 16-23). But, summoned by Gideon, the Ephraimites cut off the Madianites at the fords, and captured and slew two of their princes, Oreb and Zeb, whose heads they sent to the Hebrew leader, rebuking him at the same time for not having called earlier upon their assistance. Gideon appeased them by an Eastern proverb, and pursued the enemy beyond the Jordan river (vii, 24; viii, 3). Passing by Soccoth and Phanuel, he met with their refusal of provisions for his fainting soldiers, and threatened both places with vengeance on his return (viii, 4-9). At length, he overtook and defeated the enemies of Israel, captured their kings, Zebee and Salmana, returned in triumph, punishing the men of Soccoth and Phanuel on his way, and finally put to death Zebee and Salmana (viii, 10-21).Grateful for this glorious deliverance, Gideon's countrymen offered him the dignity of an hereditary king, which he declined with these noble words: "I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you, but the Lord shall rule over you" (viii, 22-23). He nevertheless asked and obtained from his soldiers the golden rings and other ornaments which they had taken from the enemy; and out of this spoil he made what seems to have soon become an object of idolatrous worship in Israel. Gideon's peaceful judgeship lasted forty years. He had seventy sons, and "died in a good old age, and was buried in the sepulchre of his father in Ephra" (viii, 24-32). His victory is alluded to in Isaiah 10:26, and in Psalm 82:12, . . .
Anna is carefully described by Luke 2:36-38, as a prophetess, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser. The biographic notes given by Luke regarding the aged prophetess, of whom legend knows that she had had Mary under her tutelage in the Temple, bring out her great sanctity. In spite of her early widowhood, she had never married again, but had devoted her life to the service of God. She answers perfectly the portrait of the model widow of 1 Timothy 5:5-9. As she used to spend most of her time in the Temple, her presence at the scene narrated in Luke 2:25-35 is easily understood. Hence her praise to God, the subject of which was Jesus, with the burden that He was the longed-for Redeemer.
All ye holy patriarchs and prophets,
All ye holy virgins and widows,
Pray for us!