ST AGNES OF ROME – Virgin and Martyr
St. Agnes was but thirteen years old when she was led to the altar of Minerva at Rome and commanded to obey the persecuting laws of Diocletian by offering incense. In the midst of the idolatrous rites she raised her hands to Christ, her Spouse, and made the sign of the life-giving cross. She did not shrink when she was bound hand and foot, though the gyves slipped from her young hands, and the heathens who stood around were moved to tears. The bonds were not needed for her, and she hastened gladly to the place of her torture. Next, when the judge saw that pain had no terrors for her, he inflicted an insult worse than death: her clothes were stripped off, and she had to stand in the street before a pagan crowd; yet even this did not daunt her. “Christ,” she said, “will guard His own.” So it was. Christ showed, by a miracle, the value which He sets upon the custody of the eyes. Whilst the crowd turned away their eyes from the spouse of Christ, as she stood exposed to view in the street, there was one young man who dared to gaze at the innocent child with immodest eyes. A flash of light struck him blind, and his companions bore him away half dead with pain and terror.
Lastly, her fidelity to Christ was proved by flattery and offers of marriage. But she answered, “Christ is my Spouse: He chose me first, and His I will be.” At length the sentence of death was passed. For a moment she stood erect in prayer, and then bowed her neck to the sword. At one stroke her head was severed from her body, and the angels bore her pure soul to Paradise.
Reflection: Her innocence endeared St. Agnes to Christ, as it has endeared her to His Church ever since. Even as penitents we may imitate this innocence of hers in our own degree. Let us strictly guard our eyes, and Christ, when He sees that we keep our hearts pure for love of Him, will renew our youth and give us back the years which the canker-worm has wasted.
The Martyrdom of St. Agnes
The earliest source for her life is from the writing of Saint Ambrose of Milan in the late fourth century, who gives few details except for Agnes’ age and the fact that she was executed by the sword. The version provided by Pope Damasus I (reigned 366 to 383) contradicts this, however, saying she suffered martyrdom by fire. Damasus adds that she voluntarily declared herself a believer immediately after the promulgation of Diocletian’s imperial edict against the Christians. He further describes her courage and modesty. Thus, Agnes thought nothing of her own pain or even her death, but was particularly concerned at the moment of her martyrdom to conceal her chaste body, which had been exposed to the gaze of the pagan multitude. She succeeded in covering her nakedness by means of her long, flowing hair.
Patronage – Betrothed couples; chastity; crops; gardeners; Girl Scouts; rape victims; virgins
Of all the virgin martyrs of Rome none was held in such high honor by the primitive church, since the fourth century, as St. Agnes.
St. Agnes – The Liturgical Year
How rich is the constellation of Martyrs, which shines in this portion of the sacred cycle! Yesterday we had St Sebastian; tomorrow we shall be singing the name which means Victory, for it is the Feast of Vincent; and now today, between these two stalwart palm-branches, we find the gentle Agnes decked with the roses and lilies of her virginity. It is to a girl of thirteen that our Emmanuel gave this stern courage of martyrdom which made her meet the enemy with as bold a front as either the valiant captain of the pretorian band or the dauntless deacon of Saragossa. If they are the soldiers of Jesus, she is his tender and devoted Spouse. These are the triumphs of the Son of Mary! Scarcely has he shown himself to the world, and lo! Every noble heart flies towards him, according to that word of his: Wheresoever the body shall be, there ‘shall the eagles also be gathered together. It is the admirable result of the Virginity of his Blessed Mother, who has brought honor to the fecundity of the soul, and set it far above that of the body. It was Mary that first opened the way whereby certain chosen souls mount up even to the Divine Son, and fix their gaze in a cloudless vision on his beauty; for he himself said: Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.
What a glory it is for the Catholic Church, that she alone has the gift of this holy state of virginity, which is the source of every other sacrifice, because nothing but the love of God could inspire a human heart to vow virginity! And what a grand honor for Christian Rome that she should have produced a Saint Agnes, that angel of earth, in comparison with whom the Vestals of paganism are mere pretenses of devotedness, for their Virginity was never punished by fire and sword, nay, rather, was flattered by the recompense of earthly honors and riches! Not that our Saint is without her recompense; only her recompense is not marred with the flaw of all human rewards. The name of this child, who lived but thirteen short years, will be echoed, to the end of time, in the sacred Canon of the universal Sacrifice. The path trod by the innocent maiden, on the way to her trial, is still marked out in the Holy City.
It is the feast of a martyr; let us offer up our Sacrifice. It is the feast of St Agnes; let men admire, and children not despair; let the married wonder, and the unmarried imitate. But what can we speak worthy of this Saint, whose very name is not void of praise? As her devotedness is beyond her years, and her virtue superhuman-so, as it seems to me, her name is not an appellation, but a prophecy, presaging that she was to be a martyr.’ The holy Doctor is here alluding to the word Agnus, from which some have derived the name Agnes and he says that the young Saint had immolation in her very name, for it called her victim. Agnes, from the Greek word Agnes, which means pure and he thus continues his discourse: The maiden’s name is an expression of purity. Martyr then, and Virgin! Is not that praise enough? There is no praise so eloquent as merit that is too great to need seeking.
At such an age as this, a girl trembles if she but see her mother angry, and cries as though it were a grievous thing if but pricked with a needle’s point. And Agnes, who stands amidst blood-stained murderers, is fearless! She is stunned with the rattle of the heavy chains, and yet not a flutter in that heart! She offers her whole body to the sword of the furious soldier, for though she knows not what death is, yet she is quite ready to endure it. Perchance they will take her by force to the altars of their gods! If they do, she will stretch out her hands to Jesus, and amidst those sacrilegious fires she will sign herself with that blessed sign, the trophy of our divine Conqueror; and then, if they will, and they can find shackles small enough to fit such tender limbs, they may fasten her hands and neck in their iron fetters! “How strange a martyrdom. She is too young to be punished, yet she is old enough to win a victory. She cannot fight, yet she easily gains a crown. She has but the age of a scholar, yet has she mastered every virtue. Bride never went to nuptials with so glad a heart, nor so light a step, as this young virgin marches to the place of execution.
‘Her executioner does all he can to frighten her; he speaks fair words to coax her; he tells her of all the suitors who have sought her as their bride; but she replies: ” The Spouse insults her Beloved if she hesitate. I belong to him who first betrothed me: why, executioner, dost thou not strike? Kill this body, which might be loved by eyes I would not wish to please.” , She stood, she prayed, she bowed down her head. The executioner trembles, as though himself were going to be beheaded. His hand shakes, and his cheek grows pale, to strike this girl, who loves the danger and the blow. Here, then, have we a twofold martyrdom in a single victim, one for her chastity, the other for her faith. She was a Virgin before; and now she is a Martyr.
The Liturgical Year – Very Ven. Dom Guéranger
ST AGNES, Virgin and Martyr
Double / Red Vestments
Missa ‘Me exspectaverunt’
INTROIT Ps. 118. 95, 96, 1
Me exspectaverunt peccatores, ut perderent me: testimonia tua, Domine, intellexi: omnis
consummationis vidi finem: latum mandatum tuum nimis.
Ps. Beati immaculati in via: qui ambulant in lege Domini.
The wicked have waited for me to destroy me: but I have understood Thy testimonies, O Lord: I have seen an end of all perfection; Thy command is exceeding broad.
Ps. Blessed are the undefiled in the way: who walk in the law of the Lord.
Glory be to the Father.
O Almighty and everlasting God, who dost choose the weak things of the world to confound the strong: mercifully grant that we who keep the solemn feast of blessed Agnes, Thy Virgin and Martyr, may experience the benefit of her pleading with Thee. Through our Lord.
EPISTLE – Ecclesiasticus 51: 1-8, 12
The Lesson is taken from the Book of Wisdom
I will give glory to Thee, O Lord, O King, and I will praise Thee, O God my Savior. I will give glory to Thy name: for Thou hast been a helper and protector to me, and hast preserved my body from destruction, from the snare of an unjust tongue, and from the lips of them that forge lies: and in the sight of them that stood by Thou hast been my helper. And Thou has delivered me, according to the multitude of the mercy of Thy name, from them that did roar prepared to devour; out of the hands of them that sought my life, and from the gates of afflictions which com- passed me about: from the oppression of the flame which surrounded me, and in the midst of the fire I was not burnt: from the depth of the belly of hell, and from an unclean tongue, and from lying words, from an unjust king, and from a slanderous tongue. My soul shall praise the Lord even to death: because Thou, O Lord our God, deliverest them that wait for Thee, and savest the out of the hands of the nations.
GRADUAL Psalm 44: 3, 5
Grace is poured abroad in thy lips: therefore hath God blessed thee for ever. Because of truth, and meekness, and justice: and thy right hand shall conduct thee wonderfully.
ALLELUIA Matthew 25: 4, 6
Alleluia, alleluia. The five wise virgins took oil in their vessels with the lamps: and at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet Christ our Lord. Alleluia.
GOSPEL Matthew 25: 1-13
The continuation of the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew
At that time, Jesus spoke to His disciples this parable: The kingdom of Heaven shall be like to ten virgins, who taking their lamps went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride. And five of them were foolish, and five wise; but the five foolish having taken their lamps, did not take oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with the lamps. And the bridegroom tarrying, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise: Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out. The wise answered, saying: Lest perhaps there be not enough for us and for you, go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. Now, whilst they went to buy, the bridegroom came: and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut. But at last came also the other virgins, saying: Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answering said: Amen I say to you, I know you not. Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.
OFFERTORY Psalm 44: 15-16
After her shall virgins be brought to the King: her neighbors shall be brought to Thee with gladness and rejoicing: they shall be brought into the temple of the King, the Lord.
O Lord, graciously receive the oblations which we offer up to Thee; and by the intercession of blessed Agnes, Thy Virgin and Martyr, loose the bonds of our sins. Through our Lord.
It is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation that we should at all times and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God: through Christ our Lord, through Whom the Angels praise Thy Majesty, Dominations worship, Powers stand in awe. The Heavens and the Heavenly hosts together with the blessed Seraphim in triumphant chorus unite to celebrate it. Together with them we entreat Thee, that Thou mayest bid our voices also to be admitted, while we say in lowly praise:
SANCTUS, SANCTUS, SANCTUS Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria Tua. Hosanna in excelsis. Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. Hosanna in excelsis.
COMMUNION Matthew 25: 4, 6
The five wise virgins took oil in their vessels with the lamps; but at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet Christ our Lord.
We who have been refreshed with heavenly food and drink, humbly entreat Thee, O our God, that we may be defended by the prayers of her in whose memory we have partaken of these mysteries. Through our Lord…