The Holy Spirit puts it well indeed in the Sacred Scriptures when it says: “Who shall find a valiant woman? far and from the uttermost coasts is the price of her.” (Prov. 31:10) Never were these words more true than in these days, and so who can the little girls and young women of today look up to for role models? For the most part we find them idolizing various actresses and pop-stars who, even if they appear to be wholesome and virtuous at first, almost inevitably fall prey to some disgusting vice and/or use their power to promote all manner of sin and error. This is why young women ought to be raised with no other role models and the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Women found in the Church Calendar, especially the holy Virgin Martyrs. Of this last group the most powerful and famous and worthy of imitation are those found in the Roman Canon as is the Saint whose feast we celebrate each year on the 5th of February.
Victories of the Martyrs
Saint Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
St. Agatha, Virgin
This holy virgin and martyr is held in great veneration by the Greek as well as the Latin Church; and although her original Acts have not been preserved, many well-authenticated facts concerning her martyrdom are found in the Bollandists, Surius, and others. She was a native of Sicily, and descended of a noble and opulent family. These circumstances, added to her extraordinary beauty, inflamed Quintianus, a man of consular dignity, with such love of her, that he resolved to compel her to become his wife. The edicts of the emperor Decius against the Christians having been published, he ordered Agatha to be arrested as a Christian, and conducted to Catania, where he then resided.
The holy virgin having heard the proclamation against the Christians, retired to a solitary place in order to avoid the snares of Quintianus, concerning which she had received some intimation. The emissaries of the governor, however, discovered her place of concealment, and after having been arrested, she prayed after the following manner: “O Jesus Christ, Lord of all things, Thou seest my heart, and knowest my desire, which is to possess only Thee, since I have consecrated myself entirely to Thee. Preserve me, dear Lord, from this tyrant, and enable me to overcome the devil, who layeth snares for my soul.”
When the saint appeared before Quintianus, in order the more easily to overcome her modesty, he gave her up to Aphrodisia, an abominable woman, who, together with her daughters, publicly professed immodesty. In her infamous house the saint suffered greater torture than the darkest and most fetid dungeon could afford. All the arts of Aphrodisia and her partners in crime were unceasingly applied, in order to induce the saint to comply with the wishes of Quintianus; but Agatha, who from her infancy had been consecrated to Jesus Christ, was enabled by his divine grace to overcome all their attempts.
Quintianus, having been informed that the efforts of Aphrodisia for an entire month had been employed in vain, commanded that the saint should be again brought before him. He upbraided her, that, being a free woman and noble, she had allowed herself to be seduced into the humble servitude of the Christians. The holy virgin courageously confessed that she was a Christian, and that she knew of no nobility more illustrious, nor liberty more real, than to be a servant of Jesus Christ. In order to give the governor to understand how infamous were the deities which he adored and desired her to worship, she asked whether he would wish that his wife should be a prostitute, like Venus, or that he himself should be considered an incestuous adulterer like Jupiter. Quintianus, irritated at her rebuke, commanded her to be buffeted and led to prison. The following day she was again summoned, and asked whether she had resolved to save her life. She replied: “God is my life and my salvation.” The governor then put her to the torture; but perceiving how little it affected her, he commanded her breasts to be lacerated, and afterwards cut off, which was executed with barbarous cruelty.
Quintianus then remanded the saint to prison, commanding that her wounds should be left undressed, in order that she might expire under the torture. But at midnight St. Peter appeared to her in a vision, perfectly cured her wounds, and freed her from all pain: during the entire of that night there appeared in the interior of the prison so resplendent a light that the guards fled in terror, leaving the door of her dungeon open, so that she could have escaped, as the other prisoners advised her, but that she was unwilling, as she said, to lose by flight the crown which was being prepared for her in heaven.
Quintianus, nothing moved by her miraculous cure, but on the contrary more irritated, after four days devised new torments for the saint. He commanded that she should be rolled over broken tiles, mixed with burning coals; but she endured all with constancy; and while the tyrant was planning fresh torments, the saint, perceiving that her life was drawing to a close, made the following prayer: “O Lord, my Creator, who hast preserved me from my infancy, hast given me strength to overcome these torments, and hast taken from me the love of the world, receive now my soul. It is time that I should at last pass from this miserable life to the fruition of Thy glory.” Just as she had finished these words, she tranquilly expired, and went to be united to God, to praise him and love him forever. This happened in 251. Her name is mentioned in the Canon of the Mass.
The Liturgical Year
Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B.
Virgin and Martyr
Since the commencement of the ecclesiastical year, we have kept the feasts of two out of the four illustrious virgins whose names are daily honoured in the holy Sacrifice of the Lamb : the third comes to-day, lighting up the heaven of the Church with per bright soft rays. Lucy first, then Agnes, and now the gracious visit of Agatha. The fourth, Cecily, the immortal Cecily, is to be one of that magnificent constellation which gives such splendour to the closing of the year. To-day, then, let us keep a feast in honour of Agatha, the virgin daughter of that same fair Sicily which can boast of her Lucy. We must not allow the holy sadness of our present season to take aught from the devotion we owe to our saint. The joy wherewith we celebrate her merits will lead us· to study her virtues. She will repay us by her prayers ; she will encourage us to persevere in the path which is to bring us to the God she so nobly loved and served, and with whom she is now for ever United. Let us begin by reading what the Church tells us of the virtues and combats of this glorious bride of Christ.
The holy virgin Agatha was born in Sicily, of noble parents. The cities of Palermo and Catania both claim the honour of having been the place of her birth. She received the crown of a glorious martyrdom at Catania, under the persecution of the Emperor Decius. Her beauty, which was as great as her chaste and innocent life ‘ was praiseworthy, attracted the notice of Quintianus, the governor of Sicily. He spared no means whereby to compass his lustful designs upon the innocent virgin ; but seeing that she scorned his offers, he had her apprehended as being guilty of the Christian superstition, and gave her in charge of a woman, named Aphrodisia, who was noted for her power of alluring to evil. But finding that her words and company had no effect on the holy maiden, and that she was immovable in her resolution to maintain both her faith and her virginity, Aphrodisia told Quintianus that she was but losing her time with Agatha. Whereupon, he ordered the virgin to be brought before him, and he said to her: ‘Art not thou, that art so noble by birth, ashamed to lead the life of a base and slavish Christian?’ She replied: ‘Better by far is the baseness and slavery of a Christian than the wealth and pride of kings.’
Angered by her words, the governor bids her choose one of these two : adoration of the gods, or sharp tortures. On her refusal to deny her faith, he ordered her to be buffeted, and cast into prison. On the following day, she was again led to trial. Finding that she was still firm in her purpose, they hoisted her on the rack, and laid hot iron plates on her flesh, and cut off her breast. While suffering this last torture, she thus spoke to Quintiauus: ‘ Cruel tyrant, art thou not ashamed to cut a woman’s breast, who wast thyself fed at the breast of thy mother ?’ She was then sent back to prison, where, during the night, a venerable old man, who told her that he was the apostle of Christ, healed her. A third time she was summoned by the governor, and being still firm in confessing Christ, she was rolled upon sharp potsherds, and burning coals.
Suddenly, the whole city was shaken by a violent earthquake, and two of the governor’s intimate friends were killed by the falling of two walls. The people were in such a state of excitement that the governor began to fear a sedition, and therefore ordered the almost lifeless Agatha to be secretly conveyed back to her prison. She thus prayed to our Lord: ‘O God I who hast watched over me from my infancy, who hast separated me from the love of this world, and hast given me strength to bear the tortures of my executioners, receive my soul!’ Her prayer being ended, her soul took its flight to heaven, on the Nones of February (February 5), and the Christians buried her body.
The ancient books of the liturgy abound with verses in honour of St. Agatha; but most of them are so poor in sentiment that we pass them over. The following beautiful hymn is the composition of Pope St. Damasus.
Martyris ecce dies Agathae
Virginis emicat eximiae:
Christus eam sibi qua sociat
Et diadema duplex decorat.
Stirpe decens, elegans specie,
Sed magis actibus atque fide,
Terrea prospera nil reputans,
Jussa Dei sibi corde ligans.
Fortior haec trucibusque viris,
Exposuit sua membra flagris,
Pectore quam fuerit valido
Torta mamilla docet patulo.
Deliciae cui carcer erat,
Pastor ovem Petrus hanc recreat:
Inde gavisa magisque flagrans,
Cuncta flagella ovans.
Ethnica turba rogum fugiens
Hujus et ipsa meretur opem;
Quos fidei titulus decorat,
His Venerem magis ipsa premat.
Jam renitens quasi sponsa polo,
Pro miseris supplica Domino,
Sic tua festa coli faciat,
Te celebrantibus ut faveat.
Gloria cum Patre sit Genito,
Spirituique proinde sacro,
Qui Deus unus et omnipotens
Hanc nostri faciat memorem. Amen.
Lo I the bright festal day of the glorious martyr and virgin Agatha, when Christ took her to himself, and a double crown wreathed her brow.
Though noble by birth and blessed with beauty, her grandest riches were her deeds and her faith. Earthly prosperity was nothing in her eyes, but her whole heart was on the precepts of her God.
Her bravery tired out the men that tortured her ; she flinched not as they lashed her limbs : and her wounded breast reveals a dauntless heart.
Her prison was her paradise, where the pastor Peter beals his bleeding lamb; and thence once more she runs to suffer, gladder and braver at every wound.
A pagan city once in flames was saved by Agatha’s prayer. The same can check, in Christian hearts, the threatening :fire of lust.
Now that thou art in heaven, clad as a bride of Christ, intercede with him for us miserable sinners, that he grant us so to spend thy feast, that our celebration may draw down his grace.
Glory be to the Son, together with the Father and the Holy Ghost. May the one almighty God grant that this his saint be mindful of us. Amen.
How lovely are thy palms, O Agatha ! But how long and cruel was thy combat for them! The day was thine thy faith and thy virginity triumphed, but the battlefield streamed with thy blood, and thy glorious wounds bear testimony to the angels bow stern was the courage of thy fidelity to Jesus thy Spouse. When thine enemies left thee, it was to Him thou didst look up; and then thy soul flew to its rest, in the bosom of thy King and God. The whole Church keeps feast to-day, praising her Lord in thee, great martyr and virgin! She knows the love thou bearest her, and how, amidst the joys of heaven, her interests and her wants are the object of thy prayers. Thou art our sister; be, too, our mother, by interceding for us. Centuries have passed away since that day, whereon thy soul quitted the body thou badst sanctified by purity and suffering; but the great battle between the spirit and the flesh is still waging here on earth, and will do so to the end of time. Assist us in the struggle; keep up within our hearts the holy fire, which the world and our passions are ever seeking to quench.
It is now the season when every Christian should renew his whole being by repentance and compunction. We know the power of thy prayer; let it procure us these gifts : the fear of God, which keeps down the workings of corrupt nature; the spirit of penance, which repairs the injuries caused by our sins ; and a solid love for our dear Lord, which sweetens the yoke, and ensures perseverance. More than once a whole people has witnessed bow a relic of thine, thy veil, has checked the stream of lava which rolled down the sides of Etna ; we are threatened with a torrent of vice, which will drive the world back to pagan corruption, unless divine mercy stay its wild fury ; and prayers such as thine can obtain it for us. Delay not, O Agatha! each day gives strength to the danger. Not a nation but is now infected with the poison of a literature that is infidel and immoral; by thy prayers keep the poisonous cup from them that have not tasted, neutralize its power in them that have drunk its venom of death. Oh! spare us the shame of seeing our Europe the slave of sensuality, and the dupe of hell.