Saint Lawrence crowned by Baby Jesus * Novena Prayer to St. Lawrence, Martyr
O glorious Saint Lawrence, Martyr and Deacon, who, being subjected to the most bitter torments, didst not lose thy faith nor thy constancy in confessing Jesus Christ; obtain in like manner for us such an active and solid faith, that we shall never be ashamed to be true followers of Jesus Christ, and fervent Christians in word and in deed. Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be.
V. Pray for us, O holy Lawrence,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray:
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, the grace to quench the flames of our wicked desires, who didst give unto blessed Lawrence power to be more than conqueror in his fiery torments. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. (An indulgence of 300 days, once a day. 1934)
Martyr: A witness for Christ. In early times this title was given generally to those who were distinguished witnesses for Christ, then to those who suffered for Him; lastly, after the middle of the third century, the title was restricted to those who actually died for Him. The very first records of the Church which we possess tell us of the honours done to the martyrs. It was the martyrs who, first of all, were regarded as saints; the relics of the martyrs which were first revered; to the martyrs that the first churches were dedicated. The name "martyrium", which at first meant the church built over a martyr's remains, was given to churches generally, even if dedicated to saints who were not martyred, though this usage was partly justified by the fact that a church was not consecrated till the relics of some martyr had been placed in it. Benedict XIV., in his work on "Canonisation" (lib. iii. cap. 11 seq.), gives the modern law of the Church on the recognition of martyrdom with great fulness. He defines martyrdom as the "voluntary endurance of death for the faith or some other act of virtue relating to God." A martyr, he says, may die not only for the faith directly, but also to preserve some virtueâ€”e.g. justice, obedience, or the like, enjoined or counseled by the faith. Further, he explains that to be a martyr a man must actually die of his sufferings or else have endured pains which would have been his death but for miraculous intervention.
Hymn: St. Lawrence, Martyr
Holy Deacon! by thy yearning
For the Martyr's glorious crown;
By thy tortures, by thy burning,
By thy death of bright renown;
When the world and flesh and devil
Tempt our souls to sin and evil,
Dear Saint Lawrence, pray for us!
By the love that thou didst ever
To thy Pontiff-Father bear,
Pray that no base act may sever
Us from Peter's loving care!
But when men would once more lead us
Into bonds from which Christ freed us,
Dear Saint Lawrence, pray for us!
By the Pontiff's words of warning,
Bidding all thy sorrows cease,
Words foretelling bitter mourning
Leading unto lasting peace!
That to Jesus in our sadness
We may look for help and gladness,
Dear Saint Lawrence, pray for us!
By thy love, which knew no measure,
For the needy and the old,
Giving them the Church's treasure
Dearer they than gems and gold!
Teaching us that alms well given
Are but treasures stored in heaven,
Dear Saint Lawrence, pray for us!
By thy fervent love for Jesus,
By thy strong and constant faith,
Of our sinful burdens ease us!
Help us at the hour of death!
When the fears of death confound us
When the cleansing fires surround us!
Dear Saint Lawrence, pray for us!
St. Lawrence, Martyr
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
The many and high encomiums which were paid to St. Lawrence by the most ancient and illustrious of the holy Fathers of the Church, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Leo I., St. Maximus and St. Peter Chrysologus, are the surest sign that this Saint has always been considered one of the most famous martyrs who gave their blood for Christ. He was born of Christian parents, in the middle of the third century, at Osca, a city in Aragon. His father's name was Orentius, his mother's, Patientia; both are honored as Saints. Such parents gave a holy education to their son. He early evinced, on all occasions, an especial love for God, a fearless constancy in the true faith, and a watchful care over the preservation of his purity. While yet young in years, he went to Rome, and won, by his blameless life, the highest regard of all who came in contact with him. Pope Xystus or Sixtus ordained him deacon. His functions were to serve the Pope at the altar, to take charge of the treasures of the church, and to distribute the revenues which were destined for the maintenance of the sextons and the poor.
A terrible persecution of the Christians took place at the period of which we speak. Pope Sixtus was seized and thrown into the Mamertine prison. Lawrence seeing him, from a distance, dragged along, ran towards him and bitterly weeping, said: "Father, whither are you going without your son? Holy Pontiff, whither are you hastening without your deacon? You have never been wont to offer the holy sacrifice without me, your servant. In what have I displeased you, O my Father? Have you found me unworthy of you and of your sacred service? Prove me now, and see if you have chosen a fit servant in trusting me with the dispensing of the blood of Christ!" This and more said the Saint, desiring to suffer with St. Sixtus for the Lord's sake. The holy Pope replied: "I do not leave you, my son; but you will have to suffer a great trial. We being old, have not much to endure; but you, strong in your youth, must gain a more glorious victory over the tyrant. Do not weep. In three days, you will follow me. Go now and take care of the treasures of the church that are in your keeping." Lawrence, comforted by the prophecy of the holy Pope, went immediately and secured the sacred vessels of the altar and the vestments of the priests, distributed among the poor the money which had been collected for them, visited the Christians assembled in different houses and subterranean vaults, exhorted all to constancy, and employed the whole night in deeds of charity and humility. The following day, when the Pope was being led away to execution, the holy Levite approached him again, saying: "Holy Father, do not leave me; for, the treasures which you committed to my care, are all distributed." The Pope comforted the Saint as he had done the day before, and was led away and ended his life by the sword.
Meanwhile, some of the soldiers, having heard Lawrence speak of treasures, informed the emperor Valerian of the fact, and that tyrant, as avaricious as he was cruel, had Lawrence apprehended, and gave him in charge of Hippolytus, an officer, who placed him in a prison where several malefactors were kept. One of these, Lucilius, had wept so much during his imprisonment, that he had become blind. St. Lawrence, pitying him, advised him to embrace the Christian faith and be baptized, as by that, his sight would be restored. Lucilius followed his advice, and soon after baptism, his sight returned. Hippolytus, touched by the grace of God at this miracle, was converted with his whole household. The next day, the emperor commanded that Lawrence should be brought to him.
The valiant confessor of Christ rejoiced at this message and said to Hippolytus: "Let us go; for two glorious crowns are prepared for you and me." The emperor asked him who he was, whence he came and where he had concealed the treasures of the church. The first and second questions Lawrence fearlessly answered, saying: "I am a Christian, born in Spain." To the third he made answer, that if the emperor would allow him a little time, he would gather the treasures and show them to him. Delighted at this, the emperor willingly granted him the desired time, but ordered Hippolytus not to leave his side for a moment, lest he should escape.Practical Considerations
The Saint assembled all the poor he could find, and leading them to the tyrant, said: "Behold, these are the treasures of our church." The emperor, regarding this as an insult, was greatly enraged, and swore by the gods to be revenged. He gave Lawrence over to the prefect with the command to torture him in the most painful manner if he refused to worship the idols. The prefect, who was as cruel as the emperor himself, ordered his lictors to tear off the Saint's clothes and to lash him, like a vile slave, till his whole body was a mass of blood and wounds. After this, he displayed a great many instruments of torture, with the menace that they would be used upon him, if he longer refused to worship the gods. Lawrence looked unconcernedly upon them, and said: "They cannot frighten me. I have long desired to suffer for the sake of Christ. Your idols are not worthy to be worshipped; they are no gods, and I will never sacrifice to them." Hardly had these words passed his lips, when the holy man was stretched upon the rack, then raised high in the air and his whole body whipped with scourges on the ends of which were fastened iron stars or spurs. After this, they applied lighted torches to his mangled body. The martyr's constancy could not be shaken. Turning his eyes heavenward, he only asked for strength to endure.
The prefect, astonished at this heroism, ascribed it to magic, and threatened him with still greater torment. The Saint, full of courage, replied: "Do with me as you like. Sheltering myself beneath the name of Jesus, I do not fear pain. It does not last long." The tyrant caused him to be beaten, a third time, with such cruelty, that the Saint himself thought he would die. He cried to God: "Take my soul, O Lord, and release it from mortality." But a voice from Heaven was heard saying: "A still more glorious victory awaits thee." The people were awestruck at this, but the tyrant said: "Do you hear, Romans, how the demons console this godless man? We, however, will see who is to conquer." The Saint was scourged again, and it was then that Romanus saw an angel, who consoled the Saint and wiped the perspiration from his brow and the blood from his wounds, by which miracle he was converted. The executioners were tired of torturing, but the Saint was not tired of suffering. Joy and peace beamed from his countenance. The tyrant threatened to torture him through the whole night, if he would not sacrifice to the gods. But the Saint replied: "No night can be more agreeable to me, than the one with which you threaten me. I will never sacrifice to your false gods." At this answer they beat the Saint's mouth with stones, and carried him back to prison.
During the night, the prefect endeavored to devise some new way in which he might most cruelly torture Lawrence on the following day, and at last resolved upon roasting him alive. Early on the next day, he ordered the executioners to make an iron bed in the form of a gridiron, put live coals under it, stretch and bind the Saint upon it, and slowly roast him. The command was fulfilled to the great horror of all present. The Saint, however, lay as quietly on the red hot gridiron as if it had been a bed of roses, only saying at intervals: "Receive, O Lord, this burnt-offering as an agreeable fragrance." His countenance beamed with heavenly joy, and the Christians, who were present, said that a divine light had surrounded him and his body exhaled a sweet odor. After having been burned thus a long time, he turned his eyes towards the prefect and said: "I am sufficiently roasted on one side; turn me over and eat my flesh." How the tyrant received these words can easily be imagined. The Saint, however, continued to be cheerful and filled with divine consolation. He praised God and thanked Him for the grace vouchsafed him to die for his faith. At last, with his eyes raised to Heaven, he gave his heroic soul into the hands of his Redeemer, on the 10th of August, 258. Many of the heathens, who were present, were converted by this glorious martyrdom to the Faith of Christ.
I. The life of the great Christian hero, Lawrence, contains an indisputable proof that the Holy Mass was said as early as the first centuries of the Christian Era, and was considered the true sacrifice of the New Testament; for St Lawrence said, that when St. Sixtus officiated as priest he served him as deacon. How then dare the non-Catholics regard this holy sacrifice as a superstitious act, when they themselves allow that the Catholic Church, in the first four hundred years after Christ, was the true church? Catholic Christian, let nothing shake your faith. You are assured that in the holy Mass, He, who once offered Himself on the cross to His heavenly Father as a victim for all men, is offered again daily as an unbloody sacrifice. But as you truly believe this, manifest your faith by frequently and devoutly assisting at this holy sacrifice. If you have opportunity, let no day pass without it; for the words of St Justinian are true who says, "There is no sacrifice more excellent or more agreeable to the Majesty of God, none more beneficial to ourselves, than this."
II. "Sheltered under the name of Jesus Christ, I do not fear these pains," said St. Lawrence to the tyrant, "for they do not last long." And it was so. The torments which he suffered, though terrible, were of short duration; but even had they lasted months or years, they would have come to an end, and that which finally ends, we may truthfully say, is short. "All that ends with time," says St. Augustine, "is short." Quite different is it with those pains, with which the Almighty punishes sin in hell. They are terrible, they last eternally, and never end. Hundreds of thousands of years will pass, and yet these pains never end. "The worm dieth not, and the fire is not extinguished, " says the Lord Himself. (Mark, 1x.) When you have to suffer, think of those long and dreadful pains, and you will certainly never complain of the weight or duration of your trials, but will be encouraged to bear them all patiently. Think that what you suffer is short, soon ended; while the torments of hell never end. What, therefore, must we do to escape those terrible pains? If we should even be roasted on a red-hot gridiron, like St. Lawrence, to escape hell, we should gladly accept it. St. Augustine says: "Who would not gladly burn one hour with St. Lawrence, to escape the fire of hell?"
Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr
from the Liturgical Year, 1909
"Once the mother of false gods, but now the bride of Christ, O Rome, it is through Laurence thou art victorious! Thou hadst conquered haughty monarchs and subjected nations to thine empire; but though thou hadst overcome barbarism, thy glory was incomplete till thou hadst vanquished the unclean idols. This was Laurence's victory, a combat bloody yet not tumultuous like those of Camillus or of Caesar; it was the contest of faith, wherein self is immolated, and death is overcome by death. What words, what praises suffice to celebrate such a death? How can I worthily sing so great a, martyrdom (Prudent. Peristephanon, Hymn ii)."
Thus opens the sublime poem of Prudentius, composed little more than a century after the Saint's martyrdom. In this work the poet has preserved to us the traditions existing in his own day, whereby the name of the Roman deacon was rendered so illustrious. About the same time St. Ambrose, with his irresistible eloquence, described the meeting of Sixtus and his deacon on the way to martyrdom (Amber. De offic. i. 41). But, before both Ambrose and Prudentius, Pope St. Damasus chronicled the victory of Laurence's faith, in his majestic monumental inscriptions, which have such a ring of the days of triumph (De Rossi, Inscript.ii. 82).
Rome was lavish in her demonstrations of honour towards the champion who had prayed for her deliverance, upon his red-hot gridiron. She inserted his name in the Canon of the Mass, and moreover celebrated the anniversary of his birth to heaven with as much solemnity as those of the glorious Apostles her founders, and with the same privileges of a Vigil and an Octave. She has been dyed with the blood of many other witnesses of Christ, yet, as though Laurence had a special claim upon her gratitude, every spot connected with him has been honoured with a Church. Amongst all these sanctuaries dedicated to him, the one which contains the martyr's body ranks next after the churches of St. John Lateran, St. Mary's on the Esquiline, St. Peter's on the Vatican, and St. Paul's on the Ostian Way. St. Laurence outside the Walls completes the number of the five great basilicas, that form the appanage and exclusive possession of the Roman Pontiff. They represent the patriarchates of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem, which divide the world between them, and express the universal and immediate jurisdiction of the Bishops of Rome over all the churches. Thus through Laurence the eternal City is completed, and is shown to be the centre of the world and the source of every grace.
Just as Peter and Paul are the riches, not of Rome alone, but of the whole world, so Laurence is called the honour of the world, for he, as it were, personified the courage of martyrdom. At the beginning of this month, we saw Stephen himself come to blend his dignity of Protomartyr with the glory of Sixtus II's deacon, by sharing his tomb. In Laurence, it seemed that both the struggle and the victory of martyrdom reached their highest point; persecution, it is true, was renewed during the next half century, and made many victims, yet his triumph was considered as the death-blow to paganism.
"The devil," says Prudentius, "struggled fiercely" with God's witness, but he was himself wounded and prostrated forever. The death of Christ's martyr gave the death-blow to the worship of idols, and from that day Vesta was powerless to prevent her temple from being deserted. All these Roman citizens, brought up in the superstitions taught by Numa, hasten, O Christ, to thy courts, singing hymns to Thy martyr. Illustrious senators, flamens and priests of Lupercus, venerate the tombs of Apostles and Saints. We see patricians and matrons of the noblest families vowing to God the children in whom their hopes are centered. The Pontiff of the idols, whose brow but yesterday was bound with sacred fillet, now signs himself with the cross, and the Vestal Virgin Claudia visits thy sanctuary, O Laurence (Prudent)."
It need not surprise us, that this day's solemnity carries its triumphant joy from the city of the seven hills to the entire universe. "As it is impossible for Rome to be concealed," says St. Augustine, "so it is equally impossible to hide Laurence's crown." Everywhere, in both East and West, churches were built in his honour; and in return, as the Bishop of Hippo testifies, "the favours he conferred were innumerable, and prove the greatness of his power with God; who has ever prayed to him and has not been graciously heard (Aug. Serm. 303 and 302)?"
Let us then conclude with St. Maximus of Turin that, in the devotion wherewith the triumph of St. Laurence is being celebrated throughout the entire world, we must recognize that it is both holy and pleasing to God to honour, with all the fervour of our souls, the birth to heaven of the martyr, who "by his radiant flames has spread the glory of his victory over the whole Church. Because of the spotless purity of soul which made him a true Levite, and because of that fullness of faith which earned him the martyr's palm, it is fitting that we should honour him almost equally with the Apostles (Maxim Taurin. Homil. 75 and 74)."
The August sun has set behind the Vatican, and the life and animation, which his burning heat had stilled for a time, begins once more upon the seven hills. Laurence was taken down from the rack about mid-day. In his prison, however, he took no rest, but wounded and bleeding as he was, he baptized the converts won to Christ by the sight of his courageous suffering. He confirmed their faith, and fired their souls with a martyr's intrepidity. When the evening hour summoned Rome to its pleasures, the prefect re-called the executioners to their work; for a few hours' rest had sufficiently restored their energy to enable them to satisfy his cruelty.
Surrounded by this ill-favoured company, the prefect thus addressed the valiant deacon: "Sacrifice to the gods, or else the whole night long shall be witness of your torments." "My night has no darkness," answered Laurence, "and all things are full of light to me." They struck him on the mouth with stones, but he smiled and said: "I give Thee thanks, O Christ."
Then an iron bed or gridiron with three bars was brought in and the Saint was stripped of his garments and extended upon it while burning coals were placed beneath it. As they were holding him down with iron forks, Laurence said: "I offer myself as a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness." The executioners continually stirred up the fire and brought fresh coals, while they still held him down with their forks. Then the Saint said: "Learn, unhappy man, how great is the power of my God; for your burning coals give me refreshment, but they will be your eternal punishment. I call thee, O Lord, to witness: when I was accused, I did not deny thee; when I was questioned, I confessed thee, O Christ; on the red-hot coals I gave thee thanks." And with his countenance radiant with heavenly beauty, he continued: "Yea, I give thee thanks, O Lord Jesus Christ, for that thou hast deigned to strengthen me." He then raised his eyes to his judge, and said: "See, this side is well roasted; turn me on the other and eat." Then continuing his canticle of praise to God: "I give thee thanks, O Lord, that I have merited to enter into thy dwelling-place (Adon. Martyrol)."
As he was on the point of death, he remembered the Church. The thought of the eternal Rome gave him fresh strength, and he breathed forth this ecstatic prayer: "O Christ, only God, O Splendour, O Power of the Father, O Maker of heaven and earth and builder of this city's walls! Thou hast placed Rome's sceptre high over all; thou hast willed to subject the world to it, in order to unite under one law the nations which differ in manners, customs, language, genius, and sacrifice. Behold the whole human race has submitted to its empire, and all discord and dissensions disappear in its unity. Remember thy purpose: thou didst will to bind the immense universe together into one Christian Kingdom. O Christ, for the sake of thy Romans, make this city Christian; for to it thou gavest the charge of leading all the rest to sacred unity. All its members in every place are united, a very type of thy Kingdom; the conquered universe has bowed before it. Oh! may its royal head be bowed in turn! Send thy Gabriel and bid him heal the blindness of the sons of Julus that they may know the true God. I see a prince who is to come, an Emperor who is a servant of God. He will not suffer Rome to remain a slave; he will close the temples and fasten them with bolts forever."
Thus he prayed, and with these last words he breathed forth his soul. Some noble Romans who had been conquered to Christ by the martyr's admirable boldness, removed his body: the love of the Most High God had suddenly filled their hearts and dispelled their former errors. From that day the worship of the infamous gods grew cold; few people went now to the temples, but hastened to the altars of Christ. Thus Laurence, going unarmed to the battle, had wounded the enemy with his own sword (Prudent).
The Church, which is always grateful in proportion to the service rendered her, could not forget this glorious night. At the period when her children's piety vied with her own, she used to summon them together at sunset on the evening of the 9th August for a first Night-Office. At midnight the second Matins began, followed by the first Mass called of the night or of the early morning (De nocte, in primo mane: Sacramentar. Greg. apud H. Menard)." Thus the Christians watched around the holy deacon during the hours of his glorious combat. "O God, thou hast proved my heart, and visited it by night, thou hast tried me by fire, and iniquity hath not been found in me. Hear, O Lord, my justice; attend to my supplication (Introit, wx Ps. xvi.: Antiphona apud Tommasi)." Such is the grand Introit which immediately after the night Vigils, hallowed the dawn of the 10th August, at the very moment when Laurence entered the eternal sanctuary to fulfil his office at the heavenly altar.
Later on certain churches observed on this feast a custom similar to one in use at the Matins of the commemoration of St. Paul; it consisted in reciting a particular Versicle before repeating each Antiphon of the Nocturns. The Doctors of the sacred Liturgy tell us that the remarkable labours of the Doctor of the Gentiles and those of St. Laurence earned for them this distinction (Beleth. cxlv.; Sicard. IX., xxxix.; Durand. VII., xxiii. Pent. IV).
Our forefathers were greatly struck by the contrast between the endurance of the holy deacon under his cruel tortures and his tender-hearted, tearful parting with Sixtus II., three days before. On this account, they gave to the periodical showers of "falling stars," which occur about the 10th August, the graceful name of St. Laurence's tears: a touching instance of that popular piety which delights in raising the heart to God through the medium of natural phenomena.
Hymn: Deus, tuorum militum
God, of those that fought Thy fight,
Portion, and prize, and crown of light,
Break every bond of sin and shame
As now we praise Thy Martyr's name.H
e recked not of the world's allure,
But sin and pomp of sin forswore:
Knew all their gall, and passed them by,
And reached the throne prepared on high.B
ravely the course of pain he ran,
And bare his torments as a man:
For love of Thee his blood outpoured,
And thus obtained the great reward.W
ith humble voice and suppliant word
We pray Thee therefore, holy Lord,
While we thy Martyr's feast-day keep,
Forgive Thy loved and erring sheep.A
ll honor, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to Thee,
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete. Amen
This morning, as soon as Laurence had given up his brave soul to his Creator, his body was taken, like precious gold from the crucible, and wrapt in linen cloths with sweet spices. As in the case of Stephen the protomartyr, and of Jesus the King of martyrs, so now, too, noble persons vied with each other in paying honour to the sacred remains. In the evening of the 10th August, the noble converts mentioned by Prudentius bowed their heads beneath the venerable burden; and followed by a great company of mourners, they carried him along the Tiburtian Way, and buried him in the cemetery of Cyriacus. The Church on earth mourned for her illustrious son; but the Church in heaven was already overflowing with joy, and each anniversary of the glorious triumph was to give fresh gladness to the world.Prayer:
Thrice blessed are the Roman people, for they honour thee on the very spot where thy sacred bones repose! They prostrate in thy sanctuary, and watering the ground with their tears they pour out their vows. We who are distant from Rome, separated by Alps and Pyrenees, how can we even imagine what treasures she possesses, or how rich is her earth in sacred tombs? We have not her privileges, we cannot trace the martyrs' bloody footsteps; but from afar we gaze on the heavens. O holy Laurence! it is there we seek the memorial of thy passion; for thou hast two dwelling-places, that of thy body on earth and that of thy soul in heaven. In the ineffable heavenly city thou hast been received to citizenship, and the civic crown adorns thy brow in its eternal Senate. So brightly shine thy jewels that it seemeth the heavenly Rome hath chosen thee perpetual Consul. The joy of the Quirites proves how great is thine office, thine influence, and thy power, for thou grantest their requests. Thou hearest all who pray to thee, they ask what they will and none ever goes away sad.
Ever assist thy children of the queen city; give them the strong support of thy fatherly love, and a mother's tender, fostering care. Together with them, O thou honour of Christ, listen to thy humble client confessing his misery and sins. I acknowledge that I am not worthy that Christ should hear me; but through the patronage of the holy Martyrs, my evils can be remedied. Hearken to thy suppliant; in thy goodness free me from the fetters of the flesh and of the world. Amen.
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