August 10, 2018: ST. LAURENCE, MARTYR
August 10, 2018: ST. LAURENCE, MARTYR
Rank: Double of the II Class
“My soul hath stuck to Thee, because my body hath been burnt with the fire for Thee, O my God.”
While blessed Laurence was burning, stretched upon the gridiron, he said to the wicked tyrant: I am now roasted, turn and eat: as to the goods of the Church which thou demandest, the hands of the poor have already conveyed them into the heavenly treasures.
Enable us, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, to extinguish in ourselves the noxious heat of sin, by whose grace blessed Laurence triumphed over flames and the most exquisite torments. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
“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 Cӕsar; 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.”
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. 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.
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... 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 for ever. 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.”
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?”
Let us then conclude with St. Maxinius of Turin that, “in the devotion wherewith the triumph of St. Laurence is being celebrated throughout the entire world, we must recognise 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 fulness of faith which earned him the martyr's palm, it is fitting that we should honour him almost equally with the Apostles.
On the very day of the martyrdom of Sixtus II, Cornelius Secularis, prefect of Rome, summoned Laurence before his tribunal, but granted him the delay necessary for gathering together the riches required by the imperial treasury. Valerian did not include the obscure members of the Church in his edicts of persecution; he aimed at ruining the Christians by prohibiting their assemblies, putting their chief men to death, and confiscating their property. This accounts for the fact that, on the 6th August, the faithful assembled in the cemetery of Pretextatus were dispersed, the Pontiff executed, and the chief deacon arrested and ordered to deliver up the treasures which the government knew to be in his keeping. “Acknowledge my just and peaceable claims,” said the prefect. “It is said that at your orgies, your priests are accustomed, according to the laws of your worship, to make libations in cups of gold; that silver vessels smoke with the blood of the victims, and that the torches that give light to your nocturnal mysteries are fixed in golden candlesticks. And then you have such love and care for the brotherhood: report says you sell your lands in order to devote to their service thousands of sesterces; so that while the son is disinherited by his holy parents and groans in poverty, his patrimony is piously hidden away in the secrecy of your temples. Bring forth these immense treasures, the shameful spoils you have won by deceiving the credulous; the public good demands them; render to Cӕsar the things that are Cӕsar's, that he may have wherewith to fill his treasury and pay his armies.”
Laurence, untroubled by these words and as if quite willing to obey, gently answered: “I confess you speak the truth; our Church is indeed wealthy; no one in the world, not even Augustus himself, possesses such riches. I will disclose them all to you, and I will show you the treasures of Christ. All I ask for is a short delay, which will enable me the better to perform what I have promised. For I must make an inventory of all, count them up, and value each article.”
The prefect's heart swelled with joy and gloating over the gold he hoped soon to possess, he granted him a delay of three days. Meanwhile Laurence hastened all over the town and assembled the legions of poor whom their Mother the Church supported; lame and blind, cripple and beggars, he called them all. None knew them better than the Archdeacon. Next he counted them, wrote down their names, and arranged them in long lines. On the appointed day he returned to the judge and thus addressed him: “Come with me and admire the incomparable riches of the sanctuary of our God.” They went together to the spot where the crowds of poor were standing, clothed in rags and filling the air with their supplications. “Why do you shudder?” said Laurence to the prefect, “do you call that a vile and contemptible spectacle? If you seek after wealth, know that the brightest gold is Christ, who is the light, and the human race redeemed by him; for they are the sons of the light, all these who are shielded by their bodily weakness from the assault of pride and evil passion; soon they will lay aside their ulcers in the palace of eternal life, and will shine in marvellous glory, clothed in purple and bearing golden crowns upon their heads. See here is the gold which I promised you—gold of a kind that fire cannot touch or thief steal from you. Think not then that Christ is poor: behold these choice pearls, these sparkling gems that adorn the temple, these sacred virgins I mean, and these widows who refuse second marriage; they form the priceless necklace of the Church, they deck her brow, they are her bridal ornaments, and win for her Christ's love. Behold then all our riches; take them: they will beautify the city of Romulus, they will increase the Emperor's treasures, and enrich you yourself.”
From a letter of Pope St. Cornelius, written a few years after these events, we learn that the number of widows and poor persons that the Church of Rome supported, exceeded 1500. By thus exhibiting them before the magistrate, Laurence knew that he endangered no one but himself, for the persecution of Valerian, as we have already observed, overlooked the inferior classes and attacked the leading members of the Church. Divine Wisdom thus confronted Cӕsarism and its brutality with Christianity which it so despised, but which was destined to overcome and subdue it.
This happened on the 9th August, 258. The first answer the furious prefect made, was to order Laurence to be scourged and tortured upon the rack. But these tortures were only a prelude to the great ordeal he was preparing for the noble-hearted Deacon. We learn this tradition from St. Damasus, for he says that, besides the flames, Laurence triumphed over “blows, tortures, torments, and chains.”
We have also the authority of the notice inserted by Ado of Vienne in his martyrology in the ninth century, and taken from a still more ancient source. The conformity of expression proves that it was partly from this same source that the Gregorian Antiphonal had already taken the Antiphons and Responsories of the feast.
Besides the details which we learn from Prudentius and the Fathers, this Office alludes to the converts Laurence made while in prison, and to his restoring sight to the blind. This last seems to have been the special gift of the holy deacon during the days preceding his martyrdom.
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.” 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 for ever.”
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.
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.” 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.” 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.
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.
The deacon has followed his Pontiff beyond the veil; the faithful Levite is standing beside the ark of the eternal covenant. He now gazes on the splendour of that tabernacle not made with hands, feebly figured by that of Moses, and but partially revealed by the Church herself.
And yet to-day, though still an exile, Mother Church thrills with a holy pride, for she has added something to the glory and the sanctity of heaven. She triumphantly advances to the altar on earth, which is one with that in heaven. Throughout the night she has had her eyes and her heart fixed on her noble son; and now she dares to sing of the beauty, the holiness, the magnificence of our fatherland, as though they were already hers; for the rays of eternal light seem to have fallen upon her as the veil lifted to admit Laurence into the Holy of Holies.
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.
A detailed account of the Heroic Martyrdom of St. Laurence.
There are few martyrs in the church whose names are so famous as that of the glorious St. Laurence, in whose praises the most illustrious among the Latin fathers have exerted their eloquence, and whose triumph, to use the words of St. Maximus, the whole church joins in a body to honour with universal joy and devotion. The ancient fathers make no mention of his birth or education, but the Spaniards call him their countryman. His extraordinary virtue in his youth recommended him to St. Xystus [Pope Sixtus II], then archdeacon of Rome, who took him under his protection, and would be himself his instructor in the study of the holy scriptures, and in the maxims of Christian perfection. St. Xystus being raised to the pontificate in 257, he ordained Laurence deacon; and though he was yet young, appointed him the first among the seven deacons who served in the Roman Church; hence by several fathers he is called the pope's archdeacon. This was a charge of great trust, to which was annexed the care of the treasury and riches of the church, and the distribution of its revenues among the poor. How faithful and disinterested our holy deacon was in the discharge of this important and difficult office appears from the sequel.
The Emperor Valerian, through the persuasion of Macrian, in 257, published his bloody edicts against the church, which he foolishly flattered himself he was able to destroy, not knowing it to be the work of the Almighty. That by cutting off the shepherds he might disperse the flocks, he commanded all bishops, priests, and deacons to be put to death without delay. The holy pope, St. Xystus, the second of that name, was apprehended the year following. As he was led to execution, his deacon, St. Laurence, followed him weeping; and judging himself ill-treated, because he was not to die with him, said to him, “Father, where are you going without your son? Whither are you going, O holy priest, without your deacon? You were never wont to offer sacrifice without me, your minister. Wherein have I displeased you? Have you found me wanting to my duty? Try me now, and see, whether you have made choice of an unfit minister for dispensing the blood of the Lord.” He could not, without an holy envy, behold his bishop go to martyrdom, and himself left behind; and being in flamed with a desire to die for Christ, he burst into this complaint. From the love of God, and an earnest longing to be with Christ, he contemned liberty and life, and thought of no other honour but that of suffering for his Lord. Hence he reputed the world as nothing, and accounted it his happiness to leave it, that he might come to the enjoyment of his God; for this he grieved to see himself at liberty, was desirous to be in chains, and was impatient for the rack. The holy pope, at the sight of his grief, was moved to tenderness and compassion, and comforting him, he answered, “I do not leave you, my son; but a greater trial and a more glorious victory are reserved for you, who are stout and in the vigour of youth. We are spared on account of our weakness and old age. You shall follow me in three days.” He added a charge to distribute immediately among the poor, the treasures of the church, which were committed to his care, lest the poor should be robbed of their patrimony if it should fall into the hands of the persecutors. Laurence was full of joy, hearing that he should be so soon called to God, set out immediately to seek all the poor widows and orphans, and gave among them all the money which he had in his hands; he even sold the sacred vessels to increase the sum, employing it all in the like manner. The church at Rome was then possessed of considerable riches. For, besides the necessary provision of its ministers, it maintained many widows and virgins, and fifteen hundred poor people, of whose names the bishop or his archdeacon kept the list; and it often sent large alms into distant countries. It had likewise very rich ornaments and vessels for the celebration of the divine mysteries, as appears from Tertullian, and the profane heathen scoffer, Lucian. Eusebius tells us, that the magnificence of the sacred vessels inflamed the covetousness of the persecutors. St. Optatus says, that in the persecution of Dioclesian the churches had very many ornaments of gold and silver. St. Ambrose, speaking of St. Laurence, mentions consecrated vessels of gold and silver; and Prudentius speaks of chalices of gold and silver, embossed, and set with jewels.
The prefect of Rome was informed of these riches, and imagining that the Christians had hid considerable treasures, he was extremely desirous to secure them: for he was no less a worshipper of gold and silver than of Jupiter and Mars. With this view he sent for St. Laurence, to whose care these treasures were committed. As soon as he appeared, he said to him, according to Prudentius, “You often complain that we treat you with cruelty; but no tortures are here thought of; I only inquire mildly after what concerns you. I am informed that your priests offer in gold, that the sacred blood is received in silver cups, and that in your nocturnal sacrifices you have wax tapers fixed in golden candlesticks. Bring to light these concealed treasures; the prince has need of them for the maintenance of his forces. I am told that, according to your doctrine, you must render to Caesar the things that belong to him. I do not think that your God causeth money to be coined; he brought none into the world with him; he only brought words. Give us therefore the money, and be rich in words.” St. Laurence replied, without showing any concern, “The church is indeed rich; nor hath the emperor any treasure equal to what it possesseth. I will show you a valuable part; but allow me a little time to set everything in order, and to make an inventory.” The prefect did not understand of what treasure Laurence spoke, but imagining himself already possessed of hidden wealth, was satisfied with this answer, and granted him three days’ respite. During this interval, Laurence went all over the city, seeking out in every street the poor who were supported by the church, and with whom no other was so well acquainted. On the third day he gathered together a great number of them before the church, and placed them in rows, the decrepit, the blind, the lame, the maimed, the lepers, orphans, widows, and virgins; then he went to the prefect, invited him to come and see the treasure of the church, and conducted him to the place. The prefect, astonished to see such a number of poor wretches, who made a horrid sight, turned to the holy deacon with looks full of disorder and threatenings, and asked him what all this meant, and where the treasures were which he had promised to show him. St. Laurence answered, “What are you displeased at? The gold which you so eagerly desire is a vile metal, and serves to incite men to all manner of crimes. The light of heaven is the true gold, which these poor objects enjoy. Their bodily weakness and sufferings are the subject of their patience, and the highest advantages; soon they will lay aside their ulcers in the palace of eternal life, and will shine in marvellous glory, clothed in purple and bearing golden crowns upon their heads. Vices and passions are the real diseases by which the great ones of the world are often most truly miserable and despicable. Behold in these poor persons the treasures which I promised to show you; — gold of a kind that fire cannot touch or thief steal from you. Think not then that Christ is poor: to which I will add pearls and precious stones, — those widows, who refuse second marriage, and consecrated virgins, which are the church’s crown, they form the priceless necklace of the Church, they deck her brow, they are her bridal ornaments, by which it is pleasing to Christ; it hath no other riches; make use then of them for the advantage of Rome, of the emperor, and yourself.” Thus he exhorted him as Daniel did Nabuchodonosor, to redeem his sins by sincere repentance and almsdeeds, and showed him where the church placed its treasure. By thus exhibiting them before the magistrate, Laurence knew that he endangered no one but himself, for the persecution of Valerian, as we have already observed, overlooked the inferior classes and attacked the leading members of the Church. Divine Wisdom thus confronted Caesarism and its brutality with Christianity which it so despised, but which was destined to overcome and subdue it. This happened on the 9th August, 258. The earthly-minded man was far from forming so noble an idea of an object, the sight of which offended his carnal eyes, and he cried out in a transport of rage, “Do you thus mock me? Is it thus that the axes and the fasces, the sacred ensigns of the Roman power, are insulted? I know that you desire to die; that is your frenzy and vanity: but you shall not die immediately, as you imagine. I will protract your tortures, that your death may be the more bitter as it shall be slower. You shall die by inches.” The first answer the furious prefect made, was to order Laurence to be scourged and tortured upon the rack. But these tortures were only a prelude to the great ordeal he was preparing for the noble-hearted Deacon. We learn this tradition from St. Damasus, for he says that, besides the flames, Laurence triumphed over “blows, tortures, torments, and chains.” 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 he caused a great gridiron to be made ready, and live coals almost extinguished to be thrown under it, that the martyr might be slowly burnt. Laurence was stripped, extended, and bound with chains upon this iron bed over a slow fire, which broiled his flesh by little and little, piercing at length to his very bowels. 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.” His face appeared to the Christians newly baptized, to be surrounded with a beautiful extraordinary light, and his broiled body to exhale a sweet agreeable smell; but the unbelievers neither saw this light nor perceived this smell. The martyr felt not the torments of the persecutor, says St. Austin, so vehement was his desire of possessing Christ: and St. Ambrose observes, that whilst his body broiled in the material flames, the fire of divine love, which was far more active within his breast, made him regardless of the pain: having the law of God before his eyes, he esteemed his torments to be a refreshment and a comfort. Such was the tranquility and peace of mind which he enjoyed amidst his torments, that having suffered a long time, he turned to the judge, and said to him, with a cheerful and smiling countenance, “Let my body be now turned; one side is broiled enough.” When, by the prefect's order, the executioner had turned him, he said, “It is dressed enough, you may 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.” The prefect insulted him, but the martyr continued in earnest prayer, with sighs and tears imploring the divine mercy with his last breath for the conversion of the city of Rome. 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 for ever.” This he begged Christ speedily to accomplish, who had subjected the world to this city, that his faith might, by triumphing one day in it, more easily spread itself from the head over all the provinces or members of its empire. This grace he asked of God for that city for the sake of the two apostles, St. Peter and St. Paul, who had there begun to plant the cross of Christ, and had watered that city with their blood. The saint having finished his prayer, and completed his holocaust, lifting up his eyes towards heaven, gave up the ghost.
Prudentius doubts not to ascribe to his prayer the entire conversion of Rome, and says God began to grant his request at the very time he put it up; for several senators, who were present at his death, were so powerfully moved by his tender and heroic fortitude and piety, that they became Christians upon the spot. These noblemen took up the martyr’s body on their shoulders, and gave it an honourable burial in the Veran field, near the road to Tibur, on the 10th of August, in 258. His death, says Prudentius, was the death of idolatry in Rome, which, from that time, began more sensibly to decline; and now, adds the same father, the senate itself venerates the tombs of the apostles and martyrs. He describes with what devotion and fervour the Romans frequented the Church of St. Laurence, and commended themselves in all their necessities to his patronage; and the happy success of their prayers proves how great his power is with God. The poet implores the mercy of Christ for himself, and begs he may obtain, by the prayers of the martyrs, what his own cannot. St. Austin assures us that God wrought in Rome an incredible number of miracles through the intercession of St. Laurence. St. Gregory of Tours, Fortunatus, and others, relate several performed in other places. It appears, from the Sacramentary of Pope Gelasius, that his feast has been kept with a vigil and an octave, at least, ever since the fifth age. In the reign of Constantine the Great, a church was built over his tomb, on the road to Tibur, which is called St. Laurence's without the walls; it is one of the five patriarchal churches in Rome. Seven other famous churches in that city bear the name of this glorious saint.
In St. Laurence we have a sensible demonstration how powerful the grace of Jesus Christ is, which is able to sweeten whatever is bitter and harsh to flesh and blood. If we had the resolution and fervour of the saints in the practice of devotion, we should find all seeming difficulties which discourage our pusillanimity to be mere shadows and phantoms. A lively faith, like that of the martyrs, would make us, with them, contemn the honours and pleasures of the world, and measure the goods and evils of this life, and judge of them, not by nature, but by the light and principles of faith only; and did we sincerely love God, as they did, we should embrace his holy will with joy in all things, have no other desire, and find no happiness but in it. If we are dejected or impatient under troubles, indulge murmurs and complaints, or call ourselves unhappy in them, it is evident that inordinate self-love reigns in our hearts, and that we seek our own inclinations more than the will of God. The state of suffering is the true test of our love, by which we may judge, whether in duties that are agreeable to nature, we love the will of God, or only do in them our own will. If self-love discovers itself in our sufferings, all the rest of our lives is to be suspected of the same disorder; nor can we easily give any other evidence that faith and divine love are the principles of our actions.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. IV, Dublin, Edition 1901;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Laurence, pray for us.