A virgin martyr graces this Advent day: St Bibiana, who suffered for her Catholic Faith in Christ during the reign of impious Julian the Apostate. As her Breviary legend relates, she was noble by birth, but nobler by far for her Faith. First her father, then her mother, then her sister, and last of all she herself died confessing Christianity - she, last of all, having triumphed over loss of parents and sibling, sequestration of wealth and property, lack of food, threats and blandishments of persecutors, lewd temptations against her purity, and finally the horror of being scourged with leaden whips unto death: all for love of Him Who deigned to shed His Blood and die for her.
To be whipped to death! To the world, unspeakable terror; to the faithful, the means whereby she won her inestimable reward: Pretiosa in conspectu Domini mors sanctorum ejus.
And as for Julian: that foolish man perished utterly, unsuccoured by all his fruitless pomps, crying "Thou hast conquered, Galilean" - Mors peccatorum pessima.
May we die even as she did, rather than as he did.
Miracle! her body, reduced to one bloody wound - yet in a manner triumphant, empurpled in a wedding garment fit for a chaste Virgin espoused to the King of kings - lay a prey for feral dogs, but from all bestial rending was preserved, and at length given holy burial by a good priest near her sainted mother and sister; all of whose relics were later rediscovered during the reign of Urban VIII in the church built over them and reinterred under its high altar: in the church of to-day's saint, the Church of St Bibiana on the Esquiline, named by Pope St Simplicius in her honour. (Her head is kept in a reliquary at St Mary Major.)
Her collect is poetic, playing upon the word conjugere, to yoke or join together (in marriage: one word for spouse is conjux), and unusual, in that it lacks the usual præsta quæsumus or concede propitius:
Deus, omnium largitor bonorum, qui in famula tua Bibiana cum virginitatis flore martyrii palmam conjunxisti: mentes nostras ejus intercessione tibi caritate conjunge; ut, amotis periculis, præmia consequamur æterna.(God, of all goods the Giver, Who in Thy handmaid Bibiana to the flower of virginity didst yoke together martyrdom's palm: wed our minds at her intercession to Thee in love; that, perils removed, we may obtain rewards eternal. Through...)
Dom Guéranger provides the following élévation to St Bibiana:
Holy Bibiana, most wise virgin! thou hast gone through the long unbroken watch of this life; and when, suddenly, the Spouse came, thy lamp was bright and richly fed with oil. Now thou art dwelling in the abode of the eternal marriage-feast, where the Beloved feeds among the lilies. Remember us who are still living in the expectation of that same divine Spouse, Whose eternal embrace is secured to thee for ever. We are awaiting the birth of the Saviour of the world, which is to be the end of sin and the beginning of justice; we are awaiting the coming of this Saviour into our souls, that He may give them life and union with Himself by love; we are awaiting our Judge, the Judge of the living and the dead. Most wise virgin! intercede for us, by thy fervent prayers, with this our Saviour, our Spouse, and our Judge; pray that each of these three visits may work and perfect in us that divine union, for which we have all been created. Pray also, O faithful virgin, for the Church on earth, which gave thee to the Church in heaven, and which so devoutly watches over thy precious remains. Obtain for her that strict fidelity, which will ever render her worthy of Him, Who is her Spouse as He is thine. Though He has enriched her with the most magnificent gifts, and given her confidence by His promises which cannot fail, yet does He wish her to ask, and us to ask for her, the graces which will lead her to the glorious destiny which awaits her.
Ora pro nobis, beata Bibiana:
Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.