Sunday, August 10, 2008

St Ambrose on St Lawrence

Unfortunately - so to speak! - this year the Feast of St Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, falls on a Sunday, and so is not celebrated. Originally, there were three Masses for the Feast: a Vigil Mass (on the 9th, which may still be said in the '62 Missal), a Midnight Mass (later transferred to the 17th, the Octave Day, which may again be optionally said), and a Day Mass on the 10th itself. (I think it wise to meditate on these texts - for the two unlinked Mass propers, see below.)

Of course, Lawrence is so great a Martyr - that is, a witness to Christ unto death - and Deacon - that is, a true Minister of Christ, after Him Who came not to be served, but to serve - that he almost ranks with the Apostles, and, as to the prayers of the dying Stephen is attributed the conversion of St Paul and his consequent preaching unto conversion of the nations, so too to the meritorious sufferings of Lawrence, slow-charred upon the infamous griddle sanctified by his immolation thereon to become a sacred gridiron, is attributed the conversion of Rome, from being the temple of devils and seat of Satan's empire, to become the capital of Christendom, and throne of Christ's own Vicar. For where sin abounded, grace did more abound, through Jesus Christ our Lord (cf. Rom. v, 20-21); and by our own sufferings we make up what is wanting in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church (cf. Col. i, 24).

The Church loves to sing of the miracles of St Lawrence: "The Levite Lawrence hath wrought a good work, who by the Sign of the Cross gave sight to the blind" (used as a versicle, as an antiphon, and as the Alleluia verse) - and she adds, whenas she sings her Magnificant, "and the treasures of the Church he gave to the poor". Famously, Lawrence rather gave away the treasures of the Church to the poor, her true treasures, rather than yield them up to the injustice of the pagan persecutor: "He hath dispersed abroad, He hath given to the poor: His justice remaineth forever" (II Cor. ix, 9 - quoting Psalm 111:8). Having been grievously parted from his spiritual father, Pope Sixtus, who preceded him to martyrdom, he faithfully carried out the Pontiff's charge to succour the needy and in so doing prevent the goods of the Church availing any but Christ's poor. Heeding Lawrence's desire of martyrdom, very soon the Lord was pleased to permit him to be made a holocaust, and Lawrence rejoiced rather than agonized in his trial, for by death he found undying life, being found a just man, living by faith, and free of dross, of the stubble of sin, as gold is tested by fire: "Thou hast proved my heart, O Lord, and visited it by night. Thou hast tried me by fire, and iniquity hath not been found in me." (Psalm 16:3) The Matins antiphons and responsories for the feast are also very fine in their expression of all this.

As one of the three great deacons - with SS Stephen and Vincent, he forms the triumvirate of the Laurelled, the Crowned, and the Victorious - he is ranked in the Litanies of the Saints, and at the altars every day for over 1600 years the Church joins with him, commemorates him, venerates him, and asks for the help of his prayers in the Canon of the Mass, in the Communicantes. In the prayers after Mass, the prayers of St Lawrence are proposed as a great remedy against the spirit of uncleanness, by the inclusion of the collect of his feast. As the Leonine Sacramentary taught men of old to pray, Gratias tibi, Domine, quoniam sanctum Laurentinum Martyrem tuum, te inspirante diligimus: "We give thanks to Thee, O Lord, that, by Thy inspiration, we love Thy holy martyr Lawrence."

(The trial of Saint Lawrence, as envisioned by Fra Angelico.)

But let us attend to what St Ambrose tells, in his treatise On the Duties of the Clergy (Book I, Chapter 41, 214-216; Book II, Chapter 28, 140-141):

Book I, Chapter 41

214. And let us not pass by St. Lawrence, who, seeing Xystus his bishop led to martyrdom, began to weep, not at his sufferings but at the fact that he himself was to remain behind. With these words he began to address him: "Whither, father, goest thou without your son? Whither, holy priest, are you hastening without your deacon? Never were you wont to offer sacrifice without an attendant. What are thou displeased at in me, my father? Have you found me unworthy? Prove, then, whether you have chosen a fitting servant. To him to whom you have entrusted the consecration of the Saviour's blood, to whom you have granted fellowship in partaking of the Sacraments, to him do you refuse a part in your death? Beware lest your good judgment be endangered, while your fortitude receives its praise. The rejection of a pupil is the loss of the teacher; or how is it that noble and illustrious men gain the victory in the contests of their scholars rather than in their own? Abraham offered his son, Peter sent Stephen on before him! Do thou, father, show forth your courage in your son. Offer me whom you have trained, that you, confident in your choice of me, may reach the crown in worthy company."

215. Then Xystus said: "I leave you not nor forsake you. Greater struggles yet await you. We as old men have to undergo an easier fight; a more glorious triumph over the tyrant awaits you, a young man. Soon shall you come. Cease weeping; after three days you shall follow me. This interval must come between the priest and his levite. It was not for you to conquer under the eye of your master, as though you needed a helper. Why do you seek to share in my death? I leave to you its full inheritance. Why do you need my presence? Let the weak disciples go before their master, let the brave follow him, that they may conquer without him. For they no longer need his guidance. So Elijah left Elisha. To you I entrust the full succession to my own courage."

216. Such was their contention, and surely a worthy one, wherein priest and attendant strove as to who should be the first to suffer for the name of Christ. When that tragic piece is played, it is said there is great applause in the theatre as Pylades says he is Orestes, while Orestes declares that he is really himself. The former acted as he did, that he might die for Orestes, and Orestes, that he might not allow Pylades to be slain instead of himself. But it was not right that they should live, for each of them was guilty of parricide, the one because he had committed the crime, the other because he had helped in its commission. But here there was nothing to call holy Lawrence to act thus but his love and devotion. However, after three days he was placed upon the gridiron by the tyrant whom he mocked, and was burnt. He said: "The flesh is roasted, turn it and eat." So by the courage of his mind he overcame the power of fire.

Book II, Chapter 28,

140. Such gold the holy martyr Lawrence preserved for the Lord. For when the treasures of the Church were demanded from him, he promised that he would show them. On the following day he brought the poor together. When asked where the treasures were which he had promised, he pointed to the poor, saying: "These are the treasures of the Church." And truly they were treasures, in whom Christ lives, in whom there is faith in Him. So, too, the Apostle says: "We have this treasure in earthen vessels." [2 Corinthians 4:7] What greater treasures has Christ than those in whom He says He Himself lives? For thus it is written: "I was hungry and you gave Me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in." [Matthew 25:35] And again: "What you did to one of these, you did it unto Me." [Matthew 25:40] What better treasures has Jesus than those in which He loves to be seen?

141. These treasures Lawrence pointed out, and prevailed, for the persecutors could not take them away. Jehoiachim, who preserved his gold during the siege and spent it not in providing food, saw his gold carried off, and himself led into captivity. Lawrence, who preferred to spend the gold of the Church on the poor, rather than to keep it in hand for the persecutor, received the sacred crown of martyrdom for the unique and deep-sighted vigour of his meaning. ...

Here (as stated above) are the texts of the old Vigil Mass of St Lawrence, and also his Octave Day Mass, originally said at Midnight on his feast:

IN VIGILIA S. LAURENTII Martyris (9 Augusti)

Introitus Ps. 111, 9

Dispersit, dedit paupéribus: justítia ejus manet in saéculum saéculi: cornu ejus exaltábitur in glória. Ps. ibid., 1 Beátus vir, qui timet Dóminum: in mandátis ejus cupit nimis. V/. Glória Patri.

Non dicitur Glória in excélsis.


Adesto, Dómine, supplicatiónibus nostris: et intercessióne beáti Lauréntii Mártyris tui, cujus praevenímus festivitátem; perpétuam nobis misericórdiam benígnus impénde. Per Dóminum.

Léctio libri Sapiéntiae. Eccli. 51, 1-8 et 12

Confitebor tibi, Dómine rex, et collaudábo te Deum salvatórem meum. Confitébor nómini tuo: quóniam adjútor, et protéctor factus es mihi, et liberásti corpus meum a perditióne, a láqueo linguae iníquae, et a lábiis operántium mendácium, et in conspéctu astántium factus es mihi adjútor. Et liberásti me secúndum multitúdinem misericórdiae nóminis tui a rugiéntibus, praeparátis ad escam, de mánibus quaeréntium ánimam meam, et de portis tribulatiónum, quae circumdedérunt me: a pressúra flammae, quae circúmdedit me, et in médio ignis non sum aestuátus: de altitúdine ventris ínferi, et a lingua coinquináta, et a verbo mendácii, a rege iníquo, et a lingua injústa: laudábit usque ad mortem ánima mea Dóminum: quóniam éruis sustinéntes te, et líberas eos de mánibus géntium, Dómine Deus noster.

Graduale Ps. 111, 9 et 2

Dispérsit, dedit paupéribus: justítia ejus manet in saéculum saéculi. V/. Potens in terra erit semen ejus: generátio rectórum benedicétur.

+ Sequéntia sancti Evangélii secúndum Matthaéum. Matth. 16, 24-27

In illo témpore: Dixit Jesus discípulis suis: Si quis vult post me veníre, ábneget semetípsum, et tollat crucem suam, et sequátur me. Qui enim volúerit ánimam suam salvam fácere, perdet eam: qui autem perdíderit ánimam suam propter me, invéniet eam. Quid enim prodest hómini, si mundum univérsum lucrétur, ánimae vero suae detriméntum patiátur? Aut quam dabit homo commutatiónem pro ánima sua? Fílius enim hóminis ventúrus est in glória Patris sui cum Angelis suis: et tunc reddet unicuíque secúndum ópera ejus.

Offertorium Job 16, 20

Orátio mea munda est: et ídeo peto, ut detur locus voci meae in caelo: qu ia ibi est judex meus, et cónscius meus in excélsis: ascéndat ad Dóminum deprecátio mea.


Hostias, Dómine, quas tibi offérimus, propítius súscipe: et, intercedénte beáto Lauréntio Mártyre tuo, víncula peccatórum nostrórum absólve. Per Dóminum.

Communio Matth. 16, 24

Qui vult veníre post me, ábneget semetípsum, et tollat crucem suam, et sequátur me.


Da, quaésumus, Dómine Deus noster: ut, sicut beáti Lauréntii Mártyris tui commemoratióne, temporáli gratulámur offício; ita perpétuo laetémur aspéctu. Per Dóminum.

Pro die Octava S. LAURENTII Martyris (17 Augusti)

Introitus Ps. 16, 3

Probasti, Dómine, cor meum, et visitásti nocte: igne me examinásti, et non est invénta in me iníquitas. Ps. ibid., 1 Exáudi, Dómine, justítiam meam: inténde deprecatiónem meam. V/. Glória Patri.


Excita, Dómine, in Ecclésia tua Spíritum, cui beátus Lauréntius Levíta servívit: ut, eódem nos repléti, studeámus amáre quod amávit, et ópere exercére quod dócuit. Per Dóminum in unitáte ejúsdem.

Léctio Epístolae beáti Pauli Apóstoli ad Corínthios. [same as for the Feast] 2 Cor. 9, 6-10

Fratres: Qui parce séminat, parce et metet: et qui séminat in benedictiónibus, de benedictiónibus et metet. Unusquísque prout destinávit in corde suo, non ex tristítia, aut ex necessitáte: hílarem enim datórem díligit Deus. Potens est autem Deus omnem grátiam abundáre fácere in vobis, ut in ómnibus semper omnem sufficiéntiam habéntes, abundétis in omne opus bonum, sicut scriptum est: Dispérsit, dedit paupéribus: justítia ejus manet in saéculum saéculi. Qui autem adminístrat semen seminánti: et panem ad manducándum praestábit, et multiplicábit semen vestrum, et augébit increménta frugum justítiae vestrae.

Graduale Ps. 8, 6-7 [from the Common of Martyrs]

Glória et honóre coronásti eum, Dómine. V/. Et constituísti eum super ópera mánuum tuárum.
Allelúja, allelúja. V/. Levíta Lauréntius bonum opus operátus est: qui per signum Crucis caecos illuminávit. Allelúja. [same as for the Feast]

+ Sequéntia sancti Evangélii secúndum Joánnem. [same as for the Feast] Joann. 12, 24-26

In illo témpore: Dixit Jesus discípulis suis: Amen, amen dico vobis, nisi granum fruménti cadens in terram, mórtuum fúerit, ipsum solum manet: si autem mórtuum fúerit, multum fructum affert. Qui amat ánimam suam, perdet eam: et qui odit ánimam suam in hoc mundo, in vitam aetérnam custódit eam. Si quis mihi minístrat, me sequátur: et ubi sum ego, illic et miníster meus erit. Si quis mihi ministráverit, honorificábit eum Pater meus.

Offertorium Ps. 20, 2-3 [from the Common of Confessors]

In virtúte tua, Dómine, laetábitur justus, et super salutáre tuum exsultábit veheménter: desidérium ánimae ejus tribuísti ei.


Sacrificium nostrum tibi, Dómine, quaésumus, beáti Lauréntii precátio sancta concíliet: ut, in cujus honóre solémniter exhibétur, ejus méritis efficiátur accéptum. Per Dóminum.

Communio Matth. 16, 24 [same as for the Vigil]

Qui vult veníre post me, ábneget semetípsum, et tollat crucem suam, et sequátur me.


Supplices te rogámus, omnípotens Deus: ut, quos donis caeléstibus satiásti, intercedénte beáto Lauréntio Mártyre tuo, perpétua protectióne custódias. Per Dóminum.

Blessed Lawrence, Martyr of Christ, intercede for us.

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