Monday, August 17, 2020

Octave of Saint Laurence


At Christmas Stephen watched beside the crib, where the Infant God attracted our hearts; Laurence today escorts the Queen whose beauty outshines the heavens. It was fitting that a deacon should be present at both triumphs of love, shown at Bethlehem in the weakness of the Babe, and in heaven in the glory wherewith the Son delights to honor his Mother. During her pilgrimage through the desert of this world, the deacons are the guardians of the Bride, the Church, signified by the ancient tabernacle, wherein was the Ark of the Covenant, a figure of Mary.

“Beloved sons,” said the Pontiff to them on the day of their consecration, “consider by how great a privilege, inheriting both the office and the name of the Levitical tribe, you surround the tabernacle of th etestimony, which is the Church, to defend it against an untiring enemy. As your fathers carried the tabernacle, so must you support the Church; adorn her by sanctity, strengthen her by the divine word, uphold her by the example of perfection. Levi signifies set apart; be you then separated from earthly desires; shine with the brightness of spotless purity, as beseems the tribe beloved of the Lord.”

By this disengagement from earth which gives true liberty, the Church, who is free herself, whereas the Synagogue was a slave, clothes her deacons with a grace unknown to the Levites of old. It were true to say of Laurence what was written of Stephen, that his face appeared as the face of an Angel amongst men; from the brow of each shone the light of Wisdom who dwelt in them, and the Holy Ghost who spoke by them put a grace upon their lips. In blood not his own did the Levite of Sinai, raising his sword, consecrate his hands to Jehovah; the deacon, ever ready to give his own blood, manifests his power by a fidelity of love, not of servitude; keeps up his energy by righteousness and self-forgetfulness; and while his feet are on the earth, where he combats, his eyes are on heaven, to which he aspires, and his heart is given to the Church, who has entrusted herself to him.

With what devotedness he guards both her and her treasures; from the precious Pearl of the Body of her spouse, to the jewels of the Mother, which are her poor and suffering children: from the purely spiritual riches springing from Baptism and the word of God, to those material goods, the possession of which proves the Bride’s right of citizenship here below. It were well to recall this lesson in our days: God willed that the greatest martyr of the holy City should win his crown by refusing to deliver up the revenues of the Church; and yet, under the circumstances, the confiscation of the treasure was legal, at least as far as an edict of Cæsar could legalize injustice. Laurence did not consider that this pretended legality authorized him to yield to the governor’s demands; he had no answer but disdain for this man who knew not that, the earth being the Lord’s, the Bride of the Lord is responsible to him alone in the administration of his goods. Would he have acted differently if the State had then, as later, joined hypocrisy to tyranny, and tried to vindicate its apoliations by artful language, unknown to the straightforward highway robber? Where are now the State and the Cæsar of those days? It is no new thing for persecutors to end in shame; the imperial murderer of the great deacon had not long to wait; in less than two years, Valerian had become the footstool of Sapor, and afterwards his skin, dyed red, was hung from the roof of a Persian temple.

Laurence, meanwhile, has received more homage than was ever offered to king or Cæsar. What ancient Roman conqueror ever attained to his glory? Rome itself became his conquest: twenty-four sanctuaries dedicated to Christ in his name in the Eternal City eclipse all the imperial palaces. And throughout the world, how many important churches and monasteries rejoice in his powerful patronage. The New World imitates the Old, giving the name of St. Laurence to its towns and provinces, its islands, bays, rivers, capes and mountains. But among all Christian kingdoms, his native Spain justly distinguishes itself in paying honor to the illustrious Archdeacon; it celebrates on the 1st May his holy parents Orentius and Patience, who gve him birth in the territory of Huesca; and it consecrated to him the noblest monument of its grandest age, St. Laurence of the Escurial, at once a church, a monastery, and a palace, built in the form of a gigantic gridiron.

Let us close the Octave with the prayer addressed to him today by our common Mother: “Raise up, O Lord, in thy Church, the spirit which was followed by the blessed Levite, Laurence; that we being filled with it, may study to love what he loved, and in our works to practice what he taught.”

We have just quoted the Collect of the Octave day; it is borrowed, together with the Introit and other prayers of today, from the Mass which was anciently celebrated in the night of the 10th August. We take the opportunity of remarking that supernatural prodigies at various times have proved that this glorious night won for the martyr a special privilege of delivering souls from Purgatory in virtue of his own fiery torture. It became the custom in Rome to pray for the dead in the basilica of St. Laurence in agro Verano, raised by the first Christian emperor over the martyr’s tomb. The faithful of the Eternal City come to sleep their last sleep under its shadow, and within its walls Pius IX, of happy memory, willed to await his resurrection.

Notker gives us this fine Sequence, after which we will conclude with a prayer from the Leonian Sacramentary.


Laurenti, David magni martyr milesque fortis,

O Laurence, martyr and brave soldier of the great and true David,

Tu imperatoris tribunal,

The tribunal of the emperor,

Tu manus tortorum eruentas,

The blood-stained hand of the executioners,

Sprevisti, secutus desiderabilem atque manu fortem,

Are set at nought by thee, who followest the Desirable One, who is mighty of hand,

Qui solus potuit regna superare tyranni crudelis,

Who alone could overthrow the Kingdom of the cruel tyrant,

Cujusque sanctus sanguinis prodigos facit amor milites ejus,

And whose holy love maketh his soldiers prodigal of their blood,

Dummodo illum liceat cernere dispendio vitæ præsentis.

Provided they may behold him, at the price of the present life.

Cæsaris tu fasces contemnis et judicis minas derides.

Thou despisest the fasces of Cæsar, and laughest to scorn the judge’s threats.

Carnifex ungulas et uator craticulam vane consumunt.

In vain does the torturer use his iron hooks and the executioner his gridiron.

Dolet impius urbis præfectus, victus a pisce assato, Christi cibo.

The impious prefect of the city laments, overcome by the broiled fish, the food of Christ;

Gaudet Domini conviva favo, conresurgendi, cum ipso saturatus.

But the guest of the Lord rejoices, feasting with him on the honeycomb, the type of resurrection.1

O Laurenti, militum David invictissime, regis æterni,

O Laurence, most invincible of all the soldiers of the eternal king David,

Apud illum servulis ipsius deprecare veniam semper,

Ever implore of him pardon for his servants,

Martyr milesque fortis.

O brave martyr and soldier.



1 An allusion to the mysterious scene of Easter evening, when our risen Lord ate a piece of broiled fish and some honey-comb before his disciples, and gave them the remains.


Auge, quæsumus Domine, fidem populi tui, de sancti Laurentii Martyris festivitate conceptam; ut ad confessionem tui Nominis nullis properare terreamur adversis, sed tantæ virtutis intuitu potius incitemur. Per Dominum.

Increase, O Lord, we beseech thee, the faith of thy people gotten on the feast of the holy martyr Laurence; that we may by no adversities be terrified from hastening to confess thy Name, but may rather be encouraged by the sight of such great valor. Through, &c.


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