Today is the feast day of Saint Lawrence. Ora pro nobis.
According to tradition, Lawrence was born at Huesca, Spain. Saint Lawrence, one of the deacons of the Roman Church, was one of the victims of the persecution of Valerian in 258, like Pope Sixtus II and many other members of the Roman clergy. At the beginning of the month of August, 258, the emperor issued an edict, commanding that all bishops, priests, and deacons should immediately be put to death (“episcopi et presbyteriet diacones incontinenti animadvertantur” — Cyprian, Epist. lxxx, 1). This imperial command was immediately carried out in Rome.
When the soldiers of the emperor Valerian arrested Pope Sixtus and his four deacons while saying Mass in the cemetery of Saint Callistus, and took them off to martyrdom, Lawrence tried to hold Sixtus back, saying, “Where are you going, priest, without your deacon? Where are you going, father, without your son?” Sixtus promised Lawrence they would be reunited within three days.
Because he had charge of the sacred vessels used for saying Mass, Lawrence, fearing these would be confiscated by the State officials, sold them and distributed the money to the poor. A Roman official heard he was selling off the treasures of the Church and, assuming the Church had great wealth, promised he would not harm Lawrence if he handed over the treasures within three days. When Lawrence returned to the official after three days, he was followed by a large crowd of the poor, the blind, the lame and the helpless. “These,” he said, “are the treasures of the Church.”
The prefect replied: How dare you play games with me, miserable one? Is this how you show your contempt for the imperial power? Christ, whom Lawrence had served, gave him strength in the conflict which ensued. After being placed on the rack, he was stretched on a grill over a slow fire. He joked about his pains. I am roasted enough on this side, he said, perhaps you should turn me over. Soon, his gaze towards heaven, he gave up his soul to God. This story comes to us from St Ambrose of Milan (340-397).
His fellow Christians buried Lawrence on the Via Tiburtina outside the city walls. About fifty years later in recognition of the reverence in which he was held by the Christians of Rome, the emperor Constantine had a basilica constructed over his tomb. With various modifications made over the centuries, it remains today as the Basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (St Lawrence outside-the-Walls) and is just one of seven major churches in his honour in the city. Saint Lawrence continued from his throne in heaven his charity to those in need, granting them, as Saint Augustine says, the smaller graces which they sought, and leading them to the desire of better gifts.
The fact that the name of Lawrence name is included among those commemorated in the Roman Canon (First Eucharistic Prayer) shows the extraordinary reverence in which he was held in the fourth and fifth centuries. In the Veronese Sacramentary, which is a record of the liturgy of Rome in the sixth century, there are prayers for fourteen Masses of St Lawrence and his feast has a vigil before it and an octave following it. Pope St. Damasus (366-84) wrote a panegyric in verse, which was engraved in marble and placed over his tomb.
Saint Lawrence is regarded as the patron saint of tanners, roasters, chefs, archivists, librarians and treasurers. He is one of the most widely venerated saints in the Catholic world, giving his name even to Lund Cathedral in Sweden, the Basilica in the Escorial Palace in Spain and the St Lawrence River in Canada.
The Escorial Palace, situated at the foot of Mt. Abantos in the Sierra de Guadarrama, was built by King Philip II of Spain to commemorate the victory of Spanish forces over those of King Henry II of France at the Battle of St Quentin, which took place on the feast of St Lawrence on 10 August 1557. To honour the martyr, the entire floor plan of this imposing edifice was laid out in the form of a gridiron, the means by which St Lawrence was martyred.
St. Lawrence, Martyr Prayer
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)
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.
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. (5)
Image: St. Lawrence Distributing the Treasures of the Church. Bernardo Strozzi. circa 1625. (6)
Research by REGINA Staff