Friday, August 10, 2018

St. Lawrence, Martyr

Today, August 10, is the feast of St. Lawrence. There is still the usual Friday obligation of abstinence from meat or an equivalent act of penance.

St. Lawrence was born in AD 225 in Valencia, part of modern-day Spain. His parents were St. Orentius and St. Patientia, also both martyrs.

His story begins in Caesaraugusta (modern-day Zaragoza), where he encountered the highly respected Greek scholar, St. Sixtus. In AD 257, Sixtus became Pope Sixtus II, and he ordained St. Lawrence and six other men as deacons. St. Sixtus appointed St. Lawrence as Archdeacon of Rome, the highest ranking deacon in the city of Rome, and gave him charge over the Church's treasury. The next year, on August 6, AD 258, St. Sixtus, the other six deacons, and many other clergy were executed at the order of Emperor Valerian, leaving St. Lawrence as the highest ranking cleric in Rome.

The prefect of Rome (a military officer who served as a magistrate) then gave St. Lawrence three days to hand over all the Church's treasures and wealth. St. Lawrence distributed as much wealth to the poor, sick, suffering, and needy as quickly he possibly could. After the three days were over, St. Lawrence presented the prefect of Rome with the true treasures of the Churchher poor and suffering members. St. Lawrence declared, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.” Needless to say, the prefect was not pleased, and he ordered St. Lawrence to be burnt to death on a grill over hot coals. While St. Lawrence was in prison awaiting execution, he baptized his fellow prisoners. As St. Lawrence suffered on the grill, he joked, “Turn me over, I'm done on this side!” Imagine the faith that allowed him to be so happy while suffering so cruel a death! He was martyred and entered the glorious Kingdom of Heaven on August 10, AD 258. Due to his method of martyrdom and this cheerful remark, he is the patron saint of both chefs and comedians.

Ever since his martyrdom in AD 258, St. Lawrence has been highly revered and venerated throughout the Chruch. There are nine churches in Rome dedicated to him. Six of them are associated with different parts of his life. For example, the Church of St. Lawrence in Panisperna (Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Panisperna) is the site of his martyrdom on the grill. He is buried at the Papal Minor Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls (Basilica Minore Papale di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura), so-called because it is outside the original walls of the city of Rome. St. Lawrence Outside the Walls is one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome, which pilgrims visit to obtain a plenary indulgence. The first church on this site was established by Emperor Constantine the Great. As the third patron saint of Rome after Ss. Peter and Paul, St. Lawrence is highly venerated throughout the whole Church.

The most important feasts of the Church's calendar are anticipated with a vigil. In earlier times, every feast had a vigil, but as more and more feasts were added, vigils became restricted to only the greatest feasts. Since 1955, the only saints whose feasts have vigils are St. John the Baptist, Ss. Peter and Paul, and St. Lawrence. Even before then, St. Lawrence was the only saint not mentioned in the Bible who was given the honor of a vigil. Thus, St. Lawrence is given the dignity of the Church's greatest saints. The Vigil of St. Lawrence is celebrated on August 9. Like all vigils, it has a penitential character. The liturgical color is violet, and there is no Gloria or Credo at Mass. There is a commemoration at this Mass of St. Romanus Ostiarius, a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity and was baptized by St. Lawrence.

The Epistle for the Mass of the Vigil of St. Lawrence is taken from the prayer of Jesus son of Sirach in Ecclesiasticus 51:1‑8, 12. The Church joins St. Lawrence in this prayer of praise and adoration to God.

Confitébor tibi, Dómine, Rex, et collaudábo te Deum, Salvatórem meum. Confitébor nómini tuo: quóniam adiútor et protéctor factus es mihi, et liberásti corpus meum a perditióne, a láqueo linguæ iníquæ et a lábiis operántium mendácium, et in conspéctu astántium factus es mihi adiútor. Et liberásti me secúndum multitúdinem misericórdiæ nóminis tui a rugiéntibus, præparátis ad escam, de mánibus quæréntium ánimam meam, et de portis tribulatiónum, quæ circumdedérunt me: a pressúra flammæ, quæ circúmdedit me, et in médio ignis non sum æstuátus: de altitúdine ventris ínferi, et a lingua coinquináta, et a verbo mendácii, a rege iníquo, et a lingua iniústa: laudábit usque ad mortem ánima mea Dóminum: quóniam éruis sustinéntes te, et líberas eos de mánibus géntium, Dómine, Deus noster. I will give glory to thee, O Lord, O King, and I will praise thee, O God my Saviour. I will give glory to thy name: for thou hast been a helper and protector to me. And hast preserved my body from destruction, from the snare of an unjust tongue, and from the lips of them that forge lies, and in the sight of them that stood by, thou hast been my helper. And thou hast delivered me, according to the multitude of the mercy of thy name, from them that did roar, prepared to devour. Out of the hands of them that sought my life, and from the gates of afflictions, which compassed me about: From the oppression of the flame which surrounded me, and in the midst of the fire I was not burnt. From the depth of the belly of hell, and from an unclean tongue, and from lying words, from an unjust king, and from a slanderous tongue: My soul shall praise the Lord even to death: because thou deliverest them that wait for thee, O Lord, and savest them out of the hands of the nations.

The Gradual is taken from Psalm 111:9, 2, which honors St. Lawrence's work in giving alms to the poor. There is no Alleluia verse or Tract.

Dispersit, dedit paupéribus: iustítia eius manet in saeculum saeculi. Potens in terra erit semen eius: generátio rectórum benedicétur. Lavishly he gives to the poor; his generosity shall endure forever. His posterity shall be mighty upon the earth; the upright generation shall be blessed.

The Gospel is taken from Matthew 16:24-27, in which Jesus admonishes his apostles to give up everything for him, even their own lives. In this passage, Jesus foretells the deaths of many holy martyrs, including all but one of his own apostles. It is an appropriate passage to celebrate a great martyr such as St. Lawrence.

In illo témpore: Dixit Iesus discípulis suis: Si quis vult post me veníre, ábneget semetípsum, et tollat crucem suam, et sequátur me. Qui enim volúerit ánimam suam salvam fácere, perdet eam: qui autem perdíderit ánimam suam propter me, invéniet eam. Quid enim prodest hómini, si mundum univérsum lucrétur, ánimæ vero suæ detriméntum patiátur? Aut quam dabit homo commutatiónem pro ánima sua? Fílius enim hóminis ventúrus est in glória Patris sui cum Angelis suis: et tunc reddet unicuíque secúndum ópera eius. At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it. For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels: and then will he render to every man according to his works.

On the feast of St. Lawrence itself, the liturgical color is red, representing the blood of martyrs. The readings for the first nocturn at Matins are taken from the same prayer in Ecclesiasticus that provided the Epistle for the vigil. The readings for the second nocturn are taken from St. Leo the Great's account of St. Lawrence's martyrdom.

Then the fury of the heathen power was raging against Christ's choicest members, in aiming in especial at such as were of the Priestly Order, the wicked persecutor turned fiercely on the Levite Lawrence, who was remarkable, not only as a minister of the Sacraments, but also as distributor of the property of the Church, promising himself a double prey by the taking of this one man, namely, to make him betray the consecrated treasure, and apostatise from the true faith. The wretch was thus doubly fired by his greed for money and his hatred of the truth, his greed urging him to seize the gold, and his wickedness to rob a believer of Christ. He demanded of the upright keeper of the sacred treasury, to bring him the wealth of the Church, for which his rapacity longed. But the pureminded Levite showed him where these riches were stored, by bringing before him a great multitude of holy poor, by the feeding and clothing of whom he had laid up all. that he had, in such wise, that it could be lost no more, and was now all the safer, as the way of spending it had been the holier.

The baffled thief chafed, and his hatred for the godliness which had appointed such an use of riches, flaming forth, he attempted the robbery of a dearer treasure from him in whose hands he had found no coin, even to take from him that possession wherein he had holier wealth. He commanded Lawrence to deny Christ, and made ready to assail the immovable firmness of the Levite's soul with appalling tortures, of which the failure of the first was followed by the application of others more fearful still. When his limbs had been mangled and cut by many stripes, his tormentor ordered them to be roasted over a fire. He was laid on an iron grating, the bars of which by the continual fire below, became themselves burning hot, so that by turning and rearranging his limbs upon them, his agony was kept keener, and his suffering made to last longer.

Cruel savage! thou gainest nothing, and advancest nothing. That which can die passeth by degrees beyond the reach of thy tortures, and when Lawrence departeth to heaven, thou and thy fires are conquered. The love of Christ could not be overcome by the flames, and the glow that scorched the outward man was colder than that that burnt in the inner. Thou didst rage, O thou persecutor thou didst rage against the Martyr, but by making keener his agony, thou hast but made nobler his palm. What did thine imagination fail to discover that could minister to the glory of him who conquered thee, since even the means of his execution have turned to the honour of his triumph. Wherefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us rejoice with spiritual joy, and make our boast in the Lord, who is wonderful in his saints, and hath given unto us, in them an help and an example let us, I say, make our boast of the extraordinary happiness of the illustrious Lawrence's end, in that same Lord who hath so glorified the name of his servant throughout the whole world, that from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof, wheresoever the constellation of the Levitical lights shineth, even as Jerusalem is made glorious by Stephen, so Rome is made famous by Lawrence.

The Introit of the Mass of St. Lawrence is taken from Psalm 95:6, 2, giving praise to God for the glory of his holy martyr.

Conféssio et pulchritúdo in conspéctu eius: sánctitas et magnificéntia in sanctificatióne eius.
Cantáte Dómino cánticum novum: cantáte Dómino, omnis terra.
Glória Patri, et Fílio, et Spirítui Sancto.
Sicut erat in princípio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculórum. Amen
Conféssio et pulchritúdo in conspéctu eius: sánctitas et magnificéntia in sanctificatióne eius.
Splendor and majesty go before him; praise and grandeur are in his sanctuary.
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all you lands.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Splendor and majesty go before Him; praise and grandeur are in His sanctuary.

The Collect of the Mass compares the fire of sin to the fire of St. Lawrence's martyrdom. Just as he overcame his flames to be glorified in heaven, we must overcome vice in order to be glorified.

Da nobis, quǽsumus, omnípotens Deus: vitiórum nostrorum flammas exstínguere; qui beáto Lauréntio tribuísti tormentórum suórum incéndia superáre. Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum, Filium tuum: qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum.
Grant us, we beseech thee, almighty God, to extinguish the flames of our sins, as thou hast granted St. Lawrence to overcome the fires of his tortures. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.

The Gradual is from Psalm 16:3, which references a “trial by fire” as an allusion to St. Lawrence's martyrdom. It is followed by the Alleluia verse, composed by the Church, which praises the “Levite Lawrence.” Like in the Matins readings, the deacon St. Lawrence is referred to as a “Levite,” because the Levites of the Old Testament forshadowed the office of deacon.

Probásti, Dómine, cor meum, et visitásti nocte. Igne me examinásti, et non est invénta in me iníquitas.

Allelúia, allelúia. Levíta Lauréntius bonum opus operátus est: qui per signum crucis coecos illuminávit. Allelúia.
Thou hast proved my heart, O Lord, and visited it by night. Thous hast tried me by fire, and iniquity hath not been found in me.

Alleluia, alleluia. The Levite Lawrence wrought a good work, who by the Sign of the Cross gave sight to the blind. Alleluia.

The Gospel is taken from John 12:24-26. In this passage, Jesus begins, “Amen, amen I say to you,” which he always said when giving warnings about the end times and the Last Judgment. Like in the Gospel of the vigil, Jesus preaches to his apostles about the glory of martyrdom.

In illo témpore: Dixit Iesus discípulis suis: Amen, amen, dico vobis, nisi granum fruménti cadens in terram, mórtuum fúerit, ipsum solum manet: si autem mórtuum fúerit, multum fructum affert. Qui amat ánimam suam, perdet eam: et qui odit ánimam suam in hoc mundo, in vitam ætérnam custódit eam. Si quis mihi mínistrat, me sequátur: et ubi sum ego, illic et miníster meus erit. Si quis mihi ministráverit, honorificábit eum Pater meus. At that time, Jesus said to his disciples: Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it brings forth much fruit. He who loves his life, loses it; and he who hates his life in this world, keeps it unto life everlasting. If anyone serves me, let him follow me; and where I am there also shall my servant be. If anyone serves me, my Father will honor him.

Finally, the five antiphons for the psalms at Vespers describe different parts of St. Lawrence's life, ministry, and martyrdom. The first, second, and fifth antiphons were composed by the Church. The third antiphon is from Psalm 62:9, and the fourth antiphon is from Ecclesiasticus 51:6 (like the Epistle of the vigil and the readings of the first nocturn.)

Lauréntius ingréssus est Martyr, et conféssus est nomen Dómini Iesu Christi.

Lauréntius bonum opus operátus est, qui per signum crucis cæcos illuminávit.

Adhæsit ánima mea post te, quia caro mea igne cremáta est pro te, Deus meus.

Misit Dóminus Angelum suum, et liberávit me de médio ignis, et non sum æstuatus.

Beátus Lauréntius orábat, dicens: Gratias tibi ago, Dómine, quia iánuas tuas ingredi merui.
Lawrence went in to be a martyr, and acknowledged the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lawrence wrought a good work, in that with the Sign of the Cross he gave sight to the blind.

O my God, my soul cleaveth fast after thee, for my flesh hath been burnt with fire for thy sake.

The Lord hath sent his Angel, and hath delivered me out of the midst of the fire, so that I am not scorched.

The blessed Lawrence prayed and said: I give thee thanks, O Lord, that thou hast made me worthy to enter within thy gates.

Thus, Holy Mother Church gives her highest praise and honor to St. Lawrence both on his heavenly birthday, August 10, and on its vigil. She honors her great saint and martyr through her infinite spiritual treasury, the sacred liturgy. St. Lawrence, pray for us!

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