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And kept, like Paul, a virgin course, content
But for the many, laden with the spot
And earthly taint of sin, 'tis written, "Touch me not." Lyra Apostolica, p. 13.
S. Laurence, Beacon and Martyr.
We know nothing of the early life of S. Laurence. It has been said, but without good reason, that he was a native of Spain. An ancient author remarks that he was as poor in the goods of this world, as he was rich in those of heaven. He was ordained deacon by S. Sixtus II. Bishop of Rome, the twentyfifth in descent from the blessed Peter. This holy prelate was elected to the papal chair in 257, and obtained the honour of martyrdom in the following year. He appointed S. Laurence to the office of Archdeacon of the city of Rome.
In 258 the fury of the eighth general persecution, under the emperor Valerian, had reached its height. It fell most severely on the Christian bishops, who stood in the foremost rank of the noble army of Confessors. Orders were issued that none of them should be spared, and the Bishop of Rome was seized, and condemned, and led forth to death. S. Laurence, then in the flower of his youth, followed him weeping; not because he lamented his martyrdom, but because his Bishop had left him behind, and he should not have the honour of sharing his
"Whither art thou going, my father, without thy son?" he cried, as S. Ambrose relates; "Whither, O holy priest, dost thou hasten without thy deacon ? Wast thou ever wont to offer the Sacrifice without thy minister? Dost thou refuse me a share in thy bloody death, when thou hast admitted me to consecrate the Blood of the Lord? Abraham offered his son; Peter sent Stephen before him. O father, let thy strength be shown in thy son; offer him whom thou hast trained up!"
The Bishop comforted him, saying, "I do not leave thee behind, my son; but a nobler struggle is in store for thee. We, as old men, finish our course by a lighter trial; but, in thy youth, a more glorious triumph awaits thee. Thou shalt soon come after me. Cease to weep. After three days thou shalt follow me. It is fitting that between the priest and the deacon this number should intervene. Why dost thou desire a share in my passion? I leave it tỏ thee as an inheritance. Why wish my presence ? Let the disciple go before his master." He then went on to death, and consummated his sacrifice on the 6th of August. He is honoured with a commemoration on that day in the Latin Church.
S. Laurence was comforted by the assurance of his master that he should so soon follow him, and immediately assembled all the poor Christians, and divided among them the treasures of the Church, which had been entrusted to his care as archdeacon. Even in their state of poverty and suffering, the Christians possessed rich chalices and vessels, and golden candlesticks for the service of the altar. These S. Laurence sold, and gave their value to the
poor, lest they should fall into the hands of the pagans. The tyrant, hearing of this largess, imagined that the Christians were possessed of hidden wealth. He summoned the archdeacon to his presence, and examined him regarding the riches of the Church, and commanded him under severe penalties to deliver them up. The saint acknowledged that they were very great, and promised on a given day to bring them forth. He was threatened with death if he should fail to fulfil his promise, and was then dismissed.
Without delay he gathered together all the poor Christians in Rome, in number about fifteen hundred, with the holy virgins and widows; and having assembled them at the doors of the church, he invited the emperor to come and see the treasures which he had boasted of. The tyrant was furious at the disappointment, but S. Laurence cried out, "These are the riches of the Church. For what treasures has Christ more precious than these in whom He says that Himself is? As it is written, I was hungry and ye gave Me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink; and again, Forasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, ye did it unto Me. What greater riches has Jesus than those in whom He loves to be seen? The earthly gold which you desire is the root of all evil and misery; but these are the children of light, which is the true wealth. For no chance can destroy it, nor thief take it away. And lest you should think Christ poor, behold these gems, the consecrated virgins and holy widows. These are the precious ornaments of the Church; arrayed in these,
she is lovely in the eyes of Christ her Spouse. Take them then, and adorn your city."
S. Laurence was instantly seized, and condemned to the torture, unless he would renounce Christ. All the efforts of his tormentors were unavailing, and he was sentenced to die. An iron frame shaped like a gridiron was prepared, and heated red hot by live coals underneath, and upon this the martyr was laid, and bound with chains. Throughout the lingering agony he was wonderfully refreshed by heavenly solaces, and his countenance showed no sign of suffering. It was calm and unruffled to the last. The newly baptized alone beheld him encircled with an unearthly light, and they perceived a most fragrant perfume ascending from his body. His constancy won the hearts of several of the beholders to the true Faith. So tranquil was he that, as Prudentius, who has celebrated his praises, relates, when one side was consumed, he bade the executioners to turn him on the other, and when the fire had done its work upon that too, he said to them, "Now it is ready, you may eat." Thus, as it had been foretold, he departed by a more glorious way than his master, to the embraces of his God.
His martyrdom took place on the 10th of August, without the city. A few devoted Christians carried away his body, and buried it on the road to Tivoli, where a church was afterwards built in his honour. Before the beginning of the fifth century there were two churches in Rome which bore his name. Pope Pelagius, in 580, rebuilt the church where his remains were preserved, and covered his tomb with plates of
silver. It is at this day one of the seven principal stations in Rome.
His tomb soon became renowned for innumerable miracles. "Who that has prayed at the tomb of S. Laurence," says S. Augustin, "has failed to obtain what he asked?" Hence his name became famous throughout Christendom, and his feast has been celebrated with great solemnity ever since the fifth age. Both the Western and Eastern Churches observe it on the 10th of August. He is mentioned in the oldest Roman Kalendar, of date 354, and in all the martyrologies.
In the Sacramentary of S. Gregory, there is a Mass appointed for the vigil of his feast, another, called the First Mass, at night, and a third on his festival or natal day. The first and the last of these have special Prefaces. That in the Mass of his feast is in these words; "It is very worthy and just, right and salutary, that we should always and everywhere give thanks to Thee, O Holy Lord, Almighty Father, Eternal God. And chiefly on the day of this solemnity, on which the blessed Laurence was offered up, a holy, living sacrifice, well pleasing to Thee; who inflamed by the fire of Thy love, endured with constancy the fire of his passion, and through most cruel torments arrived at the society of the citizens above. Through Christ our Lord."
In the present Roman Office, as in the ancient one of Sarum, he is honoured with a vigil, a festival, and an octave. His name has been included in the Canon of the Mass, since the days of S. Gregory. In the early part of the sixth century, Justinian, before his advancement to the imperial throne, sent messengers