Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Feast of St. Lawrence: You have to be dead to be a martyr


See! I'm done on this side!

August 10th, Feast of St. Lawrence
St. Lawrence is among the most beloved of the saints – indeed, it is noteworthy that, in the current Roman Calendar, St. Lawrence alone, among those who are not mentioned in the Scriptures, is honored with a “Feast” rather than with a simple “Memorial. [we do admit that the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran is also honored as a Feast, but this in no way lessens the unique dignity given the Deacon Martyr of Rome]
While there are certainly many reasons why St. Lawrence is given this special honor – which, in the Liturgy of Church, raises him to a status among the Apostles – we look particularly to his role as a martyr. Not only was St. Lawrence the most popular (post-biblical) martyr of the early Roman Church, but the very circumstances of his death were such as to manifest the essence of martyrdom.
The “martyr” is, of course, the “witness” – but to what is the martyr a witness? Certainly, the martyr is a witness to Christ; but aren’t all Christians called to be witnesses to Christ? What then makes the martyrs unique? The answer is found in the consideration of this simple point: You have to be dead to be a martyr.

Must a man die to be a martyr?
“As stated above (Article 2), a martyr is so called as being a witness to the Christian faith, which teaches us to despise things visible for the sake of things invisible, as stated in Hebrews 11. Accordingly it belongs to martyrdom that a man bear witness to the faith in showing by deed that he despises all things present, in order to obtain invisible goods to come. Now so long as a man retains the life of the body he does not show by deed that he despises all things relating to the body. For men are wont to despise both their kindred and all they possess, and even to suffer bodily pain, rather than lose life. Hence Satan testified against Job (Job 2:4): Skin for skin, and all that a man hath he will give for his soul [Douay: 'life'] i.e. for the life of his body. Therefore the perfect notion of martyrdom requires that a man suffer death for Christ's sake. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II, q.124, a.4)
The martyr gives witness to Christ in this unique way: That he despises all things and prefers Christ even to life itself. Hence, so long as a man possesses his life, he has not yet shown to the world that he prefers death rather than to deny our Savior.
Moreover, the death of the martyr is the consummation of his faith, hope, and love, since he then comes to perfect union with his Creator and Lord – but while a man is still in life, he may yet fall away from the truth. Therefore, as martyrdom contains the perfection of witnessing to Christ, and as the perfect witness must be infallibly reliable, only those who suffer death are rightly called martyrs in the perfect and absolute sense – for, united with Christ in heaven, they are the most reliable of witnesses.
White martyrdom
Some might make the following objection to the claim that a man must die to be a martyr: “It seems that death is not essential to martyrdom. For Jerome says in a sermon on the Assumption (Epist. ad Paul. et Eustoch.): "I should say rightly that the Mother of God was both virgin and martyr, although she ended her days in peace": and Gregory says (Hom. iii in Evang.): "Although persecution has ceased to offer the opportunity, yet the peace we enjoy is not without its martyrdom, since even if we no longer yield the life of the body to the sword, yet do we slay fleshly desires in the soul with the sword of the spirit." Therefore there can be martyrdom without suffering death.” (ST II-II, q.124, a.4, ob 1)
To this, St. Thomas Aquinas responds simply: “The authorities quoted, and the like that one may meet with, speak of martyrdom by way of similitude.” (ad 1)
The witness of St. Lawrence
While St. Lawrence endured the worst of torments (including being cooked upon a gridiron), he remained faithful to Christ our Savior. What is more, in accomplishing his martyrdom, he never lost his spirit of joy – it is well known that he remarked to the executioners who cooked him alive, “Turn me over, I am done on this side!” 

(Inspired by the witness of this holy Deacon, the soldier Romanus converted on the spot and suffered martyrdom as well - his feast is commemorated on the previous day.)
[take from Dom Prosper Gueranger, The Liturgical Year]
“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, St. Laurence said: "I offer myself as a sacrifice to God for an odor 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 Splendor, O Power of the Father, O Maker of Heaven and earth and builder of this city’s walls! Thou hast placed Rome’s scepter 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 Iulus 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 forever."
“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 St. Laurence, going unarmed to the battle, had wounded the enemy with his own sword.

St. Lawrence, Pray for us!

6 comments:

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear Father. Quoting the great Doom Gueranger is always a praise worthy action.

There is not one doubt in my mind that the great man is a Saint and it is only a matter of time before he is raised to the Altars.

Oh, yeah. St. Lawrence? That was the name of me Grandfather and it is my name too. He is one of my heroes!!

Chatto said...

Father, I'd never noticed that St. Lawrence is the only non-biblical person with a Feast! A great day for our local monastery, Ampleforth in Yorkshire, because they have a relic of his.

Is there some rule or canon that prevents non-biblical persons (excepting St. Lawrence), from being honoured with a feast? I suppose this would only apply to the universal calendar.

Andre said...

To Chatto:

St. Anne and Joachim are non-biblical saints. In fact we get there names from the apocrypha!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Andre,
Indeed, there are many non-biblical saints who have feast days, but the only one who is honored with a "Feast" rather than a "Memorial" is St. Lawrence.

In the Traditional Calender, this was not the case -- in fact, St. Anne was honored with a "Second Class Feast" which is more or less equivalent to a "Feast" today. But now it is only a "Memorial" -- hence, St. Lawrence is raised above the parents of the Blessed Virgin.

Therefore, according to the Revised Calendar, St. Lawrence alone (among those non-biblical figures) is honored in this special way -- he is raised even higher than St. Mary Magdalene and St. Martha (both of whom have only "Memorials" and not "Feasts").

Andre said...

Sorry, I was thinking about the Traditional calendar. That is what I use.

St. Lawrence enjoyed(before the unfortunate changes prior to the council) an octave.

Michelangelo said...

Dear Father Ryan,

Thank you, I too hadn't noted the distinction of St. Lawrence as the only non-biblical saint to have a Feast! Living on the banks of the St. Lawrence, we invoke his intercession often. We will visit his statue which stands at the headwaters of the St. Lawrence on a fishing trip after Mass for the Assumption of the BVM this Monday, and we'll pray for his intercession for you and yours. I had never seen his prayer upon the grill, beautiful. God bless, Father.

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