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St Catherine of Siena

The following is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875) -



The Dominican Order, which, yesterday, presented a rose to our Risen Jesus, now offers him a lily of surpassing beauty. Catherine of Sienna follows Peter the Martyr:—-it is a coincidence willed by Providence, to give fresh beauty to this season of grandest Mysteries. Our Divine King deserves everything we can offer him; and our hearts are never so eager to give him every possible tribute of homage, as during these last days of his sojourn among us. See how Nature is all flower and fragrance at this loveliest of her Seasons! The spiritual world harmonises with the visible, and now yields her noblest and richest works in honour of our Lord,—the author of Grace.

How grand is the Saint, whose Feast comes gladdening us to-day! She is one of the most favoured of the holy Spouses of the Incarnate Word. She was his, wholly and unreservedly, almost from her very childhood. Though thus consecrated to him by the vow of holy Virginity, she had a mission given to her by divine Providence which required her living in the world. But God would have her to be one of the glories of the Religious State; he therefore inspired her to join the Third Order of St. Dominic. Accordingly, she wore the Habit, and fervently practised, during her whole life, the holy exercises of a Tertiary.

From the very commencement, there was a something heavenly about this admirable servant of God, which we fancy existing in an angel who had been sent from heaven to live in a human body. Her longing after God gave one an idea of the vehemence wherewith the Blessed embrace the Sovereign Good on their first entrance into heaven. In vain did the body threaten to impede the soaring of this earthly Seraph; she subdued it by penance, and made it obedient to the spirit. Her body seemed to be transformed, so as to have no life of its own, but only, that of the soul. The Blessed Sacrament was frequently the only food she took for weeks together. So complete was her union with Christ, that she received the impress of the sacred Stigmata, and, with them, the most excruciating pain.

And yet, in the midst of all these supernatural favours, Catherine felt the keenest interest in the necessities of others. Her zeal for their spiritual advantage was intense, whilst her compassion for them, in their corporal sufferings, was that of a most loving mother. God had given her the gift of Miracles, and she was lavish in using it for the benefit of her fellow-creatures. Sickness and death itself, were obedient to her command; and the prodigies witnessed at the beginning of the Church were again wrought by the humble Saint of Sienna.

Her communings with God began when she was quite a child, and her ecstasies were almost without interruption. She frequently saw our Risen Jesus, who never left her without having honoured her, either with a great consolation, or with a heavy cross. A profound knowledge of the mysteries of our holy faith, was another of the extraordinary graces bestowed upon her. So eminent, indeed, was the heavenly wisdom granted her by God, that she, who had received no education, used to dictate the most sublime writings, wherein she treats of spiritual things with a clearness and eloquence which human genius could never attain to, and with a certain in describable unction which no reader can resist.

But God would not permit such a treasure as this to lie buried in a little town of Italy. The Saints are the supports of the Church; and though their influence be generally hidden, yet, at times, it is open and visible, and men then learn what the instruments are, which God uses for imparting blessings to a world, that would seem to deserve little else besides chastisement. The great question, at the close of the 14th Century, was the restoring to the Holy City the privilege of its having within its walls the Vicar of Christ, who, for sixty years, had been absent from his See. One saintly soul, by merits and prayers, known to heaven alone, might have brought about this happy event, after which the whole Church was longing; but God would have it done by a visible agency, and in the most public manner. In the name of the widowed Rome,-—in the name of her own and the Church’s Spouse,—Catherine crossed the Alps, and sought an interview with the Pontiff, who had not so much as seen Rome. The Prophetess respectfully reminded him of his duty; and in proof of hermission being from God, she tells him of a secret which was known to himself alone. Gregory the Eleventh could no longer resist; and the Eternal City welcomed its Pastor and Father. But at the SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENNA Pontiff’s death, a. frightful schism, the forerunner of greater evils to follow, broke out in the Church. Catherine, even to her last hour, was untiring in her endeavoursto quell the storm. Having live the same number of years as our Saviour had done, she breathed forth her most pure soul into the hands of her God, and went to continue, in heaven, her ministry of intercession for the Church she had loved so much on earth, and for souls redeemed in the precious Blood of her Divine Spouse.

Our Risen Jesus who took her to her eternal reward during the Season of Easter, granted her whilst she was living on earth, a favour, which we mention here, as being appropriate to the mystery we are now celebrating. He, one day, appeared to her, having with him his Blessed Mother. Mary Magdalene,—she that announced the Resurrection to the Apostles,—accompanied the Son and the Mother. Catherine’s heart was overpowered with emotion at this visit. After looking, for some time, upon Jesus and his holy Mother, her eyes rested on Magdalene, whose happiness she both saw and envied. Jesus spoke these words to her: “My beloved! I give her to thee, to be thy mother. Address thyself to her, henceforth, with all confidence. I give her special charge of thee.” From that day forward, Catherine had the most filial love for Magdalene, and called her by no other name than that of Mother.




Let us now read the beautiful, but too brief, account of our Saint’s Life, as given in the Liturgy.


Catherine, a Virgin of Sienna, was born of pious parents. She asked for and obtained the Dominican habit, such as it is worn by the Sisters of Penance. Her abstinence was extraordinary, and her manner of livingmost mortified. She was once known to have fasted, without receiving anything but the Blessed Sacrament, from Ash Wednesday to Ascension Day. She had very frequent contests with the wicked spirits, who attacked her in divers ways. She suffered much from fever, and other bodily ailments. Her reputation for sanctity was so great, that there were brought to her, from all parts, persons who were sick or tormented by the devil. She, in the name of Christ, healed such as were afflicted with malady or fever, and drove the devils from the bodies of them that were possessed.

Being once at Pisa, on a Sunday, and having received the Bread of heaven, she was rapt in an ecstacy. She saw our crucified Lord approaching to her. He was encircled, with a great light, and from his five Wounds there came rays, which fell upon the five corresponding parts of Catherine’s body. Being aware of the favour bestowed upon her, she besought our Lord, that the stigmata might not be visible. The rays immediately changed from the colour of blood into one of gold, and passed, under the form of a bright light, to the hands, feet, and heart of the Saint. So violent was the pain left by the wounds, that it seemed to her as though she must soon have died, had not God diminished it. Thus ourmost loving Lord added favour to favour, by permitting her to feel the smart of the wounds, and yet removing their appearance. The servant of God related what had happened to her to Raymund, her Confessor. Hence, when the devotion of the Faithful gave a representation of this miracle, they painted, on the pictures of St. Catherine, bright rays coming from the five stigmata she received.

Her learning was not acquired, but infused. Theologians proposed to her the most difficult questions of divinity, and received satisfactory answers. No one ever approached her, who did not go away a better man. She reconciled many that were at deadly enmity with one another. She visited Pope Gregory the Eleventh, (who wasthen at Avignon,) in order to bring about the reconciliation of the Florentines, who were under an interdict on account of their having formed a league against the Holy See. She told the Pontiffthat there had been revealed to her the vow which he, Gregory, had made of going to Rome,—a vow which was known to God alone. It was through her entreaty, that the Pope began to plan measures fortaking possession of his See of Rome, which he did soon after. Such was the esteem in which she was held by Gregory, and by Urban the Sixth, his SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENNA successor,that she was sent by them on several embassies. At length, after a life spent in the exercise of the sublimest virtues, and after gaining great reputation on account of her prophecies and many miracles,she passed hence to her divine Spouse, when she was aboutthe age of three and thirty. She was canonised by Pius The Second.

Pope Pius the Second, one of the glories of Sienna, composed the two following Hymns, in honour of his saintly and illustrious fellow-citizen. They form part of the Office of St. Catherine of Sienna, in the Dominican Breviary.


HYMN


Carry up to heaven, 0 holy virgin Catherine! these canticles of praise, which we, gladdened as we are by thy east, sing thus in thine honour. If they are unworthy of thine acceptance, pardon us, we beseech thee. Nay, we own, 0 glorious Saint! that we are not equal to the task we have undertaken. But who is he that could worthily praise such a Saint as this? Is there, in the wide world, a poet that could write an ode immortal enough for this heroine, whom no enemy could vanquish. O Catherine! illustrious example of all that is noble! thou wast rich in virtue and wisdom; and with the riches of thy temperance, fortitude, piety, justice and prudence, thou ascendedst into heaven. Who has not heard of thy glorious virtues and deeds, which were never surpassed in this world? Thy compassions for the sufferings of Christ stamped thee with the impress of his wounds. Bravely despising the vain grandeurs of this short, mournful, and miserable life, which abounds with every evil, thy ambition was for heaven alone. Let us all give infinite thanks to the Son ever blessed of the Eternal Father! let us give glory to the Holy Ghost! to the Three, one equal praise! Amen.


HYMN


Well indeed may we sing thy raise, O Catherine! for! by thy wondrous virtues, thou receivedst a triumphant welcome from heaven itself. Yes, it is in heaven alone, where thou art enriched with all good things, that thou receivedst the reward of thy holy life, and the recompense of thy grand virtue. Great was thy veneration for the Patriarch of Preachers, that perfect model of every virtue; thou enteredst his Order, and art one of its brightest glories. Joys of earth, vanity of dress, beauty of body, none had charms for thee. Sin, the injustice offered to God by his creature, oh! this thou couldst not brook. To reduce thy body to subjection, and to atone for the sins of men, oft didst thou severely scourge thyself till thine innocent blood would flow in streams on the ground. Thou hadst compassion on all that were suffering, no matter where they might be, or what their misfortune. Thy sympathy was ever ready for them, too, that were a prey to care. But our hymn would never end, were we to tell all thy praises, O Catherine! whose sanctity far surpassed that of other mortals. The savage soldiers and leaders, who were threatening the people of Sienna with death, withdrew at thy word. SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENNA Oft was thy mind applied, with all its power, to the study of sacred things: and thy letters, teeming with wisdom and elegance, are still treasured in some of our richest Cities.

Thou excellest in the power of reclaiming sinners, and persuading all to follow what was right. Thus didst thou speak to them: “Virtue alone can make man happy” Far from fearing, thou hadst a brave contempt for the dread claims of death, which thou wast wont to call the recompense of life. When, therefore, the time came for thee to leave thy sacred body to the tomb, and ascend into heaven, thou gavest lessons of consolation to them that stood weeping around thee. And having adored the Body of Christ, and received, amidst abundant tears of devotion the saving Host, thy last words were instructions to all how to lead a holy life. Let us all give infinite thanks to the Son ever blessed of the Eternal Father! let us give glory to the Holy Ghost! to the Three, one equal praise! Amen.



Holy Church, filled as she now is with the joy of her Jesus’ Resurrection, addresses herself to thee, O Catherine, who followest the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. Living in this exile, where it is only at intervals that she enjoys his presence, she says to thee: Hast thou seen Him, whom my soul loveth? Thou art his Spouse; so is she: but there are no veils, no separation, for thee; whereas, for her, the enjoyment is at rare and brief periods, and, even so, there are clouds that dim the lovely Light. What a life was thine, O Catherine! uniting in itself the keenest compassion for the Sufferings of Jesus, and an intense happiness by the share he gave thee of his glorified life. We might take thee as our guide both to the mournful mysteries of Calvary, and to the glad splendors of the Resurrection. It is these second that we are now respectfully celebrating: oh! speak to us of our Risen Jesus. Is it not He that gave thee the nuptial ring, with its matchless diamond set amidst four precious gems? The bright rays, which gleam from thy stigmata, tell us, that when he espoused thee to himself, thou sawest him all resplendent with the beauty of his glorious Wounds. Daughter of Magdalene! like her, thou art a messenger of the Resurrection; and when thy last Pasch comes,—the Pasch of thy thirty-third year,—thou goest to heaven, to keep it for eternity. O zealous lover of souls! love them more than ever, now that thou art in the palace of the King, our God. We, too, are in the Pasch, in the New Life; intercede for us, that the life of Jesus may never die within us, but may go on, strengthening its power and growth, by our loving him with an ardor like thine own.


Get us, great Saint, something of the filial devoted ness thou hadst for holy Mother Church, and which prompted thee to do such glorious things! Her sorrows and her joys were thine; for there can be no love for Jesus, where there is none for his Spouse: and is it not through her that he gives us all his gifts? Oh, yes! we, too, wish to love this Mother of ours; we will never be ashamed to own ourselves as her children! we will defend her against her enemies; we will do everything that lies in her power to win others to acknowledge, love, and be devoted to her.

Our God used thee as his instrument, 0 humble Virgin, for bringing back the Roman Pontiff to his See. Thou wast stronger than the powers of this earth, which would fain have prolonged an absence disastrous to the Church. The relics of Peter in the Vatican, of Paul on the Ostian Way, of Lawrence and Sebastian, of Caecilia and Agnes, exulted in their glorious Tombs, when Gregory entered with triumph into the Holy City. It was through thee, O Catherine, that a ruinous captivity of seventy years duration was brought, on that day, to a close, and that Rome recovered her glory and her life. In these our days, hell has changed its plan of destruction! men are striving to deprive of its Pontiff King the City, which was chosen by Peter as the See where the Vicar of Christ should reign to the end of the world. Is this design of God, this design which was so dear to thee, O Catherine!—is it now to be frustrated? Oh! beseech him to forbid a sacrilege, which would scandalize the weak, and make the impious blaspheme in their success. Come speedily to our aid!—and if thy Divine Spouse, in his just anger, permit us to suffer these humiliations, pray that, at least they may be shortened.


Pray, too, for unhappy Italy, which was so dear to thee, and which is so justly proud of its Saint of SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENNA Sienna. Impiety and heresy are now permitted to run wild through the land; the name of thy Spouse is blasphemed; the people are taught to love error, and to hate what they had hitherto venerated; the Church is insulted and robbed; Faith has long since been weakened, but now its very existence is imperiled. Intercede for thy unfortunate country dear Saint!—oh! surely, it is time to come to her assistance, and rescue her from the hands of her enemies. The whole Church hopes in thy effecting the deliverance of this her illustrious province: delay not, but calm the storm which seems to threaten a universal wreck!





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