Summary: The Roman Martyrology, in the second paragraph says: “At Jerusalem, the commemoration of the good thief who confessed Christ on the cross, and who deserved to hear from him these words: ‘This day, I tell you thou shalt be with me in paradise.’ March 25th is the supposed date of the Crucifixion.
Patrick Duffy retells what is known about St Dismas.
The Good Thief
The Christian tradition of Saint Dismas (or, more correctly, Dysmas) is based on the story of The Good Thief, as told in Luke 23:39-43. One of the criminals crucified with Jesus abused him saying: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself, and us as well”. But the other rebuked him, saying: “Have you no fear of god at all? You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it. but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom“. Jesus replied,
“Indeed, I promise you, today you will be with me in Paradise”.
The name is used in the narrative of this incident in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (10.2). The word may be derived from a Greek word dusme meaning “sunset” or “death”. An Arabic Gospel of the Infancy further embellishes the story by identifying the Good Thief with Titus, one of a band of robbers who captured the Holy Family during the flight into Egypt, but later released them.
Dismas’s prayer in the liturgy
The prayer of Dismas, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom“ has a prominent place in the Orthodox Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, where it is repeated three times as part of the Prayer before Communion. It is occurs in a beautiful and popular Taizé chant, often used also as a recessional in Christian funerals.
Patron of prisoners and thieves
In the Middle Ages Dismas came to be regarded as the patron saint of prisoners and thieves. His feast day is given in the Roman Martyrology as 25th March is the supposed date of the crucifixion. In 1959 in the USA Fr Charles Dismas Clar, S.J. and attorney Morris Shenker founded Dismas House, a half-way house which offers ex-convicts a temporary home, counselling and help to find a job. Fr Clark’s story was dramatised in the 1961 film The Hoodlum Priest. Today there are many Dismas Houses throughout the US.