The Martrydom of St. Lawrence

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Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., describes the scene of St. Lawrence’s Martrydom, that great saint that joyfully joked about his torture and joyfully went to his death rather than deny Christ.

The August sun has set behind the Vatican, and the life and animation which his burning heat, and had stilled for a time, began once more upon the seven hills. Lawrence was taken down from the rack about midday. In his prison, however, he had taken no rest, but wounded and bleeding as he was, he baptized the converts won to Christ by the sight of his courageous suffering. He confirmed their faith, and fired their souls with a martyr’s intrepidity. When the evening hour summoned Rome to its pleasures, the prefect recalled the executioners to their work, for a few hours’ rest ha sufficiently restored their energy to enable them to satisfy his cruelty.

Surrounded by this ill-favoured company, the prefect thus addressed the valiant deacon: ‘Sacrifice to the gods, or else the whole night long shall be witness of your torments.’ ‘My night has no darkness,’ answered Laurence. ‘and all things are full of light to me.’ They struck him on the mouth with stones, but he smiled and said: “I give Thee thanks, O Christ.’

The iron bed or gridiron with three bars was brought in and the saint was stripped of his garments and extended upon it while burning coals were placed beneath it. As they were holding him down with iron forks, Laurence said: ‘I offer myself as a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness.’ The executioners continually stirred up the fire and brought fresh coals, while they still held him down with their forks. Then the saint said: ‘Learn, unhappy man, how great is the power of my God; for your burning coals give me refreshment, but they will be your eternal punishment. I call Thee, O Lord, to witness: when I was accused, I did not deny Thee; when I was questioned, I confessed Thee, O Christ; on the red-hot coals I gave thanks.’ And with his countenance radiant with heavenly beauty, he continued: ‘Yea. I give Thee thanks, O Lord Jesus Christ, for that Thou has deigned to strengthen me.’ He then raised his eyes to his judge, and said: ‘See, this side is well-roasted; turn me on the other and eat.’ Then continuing his canticle of praise to God: ‘I give Thee thanks, O Lord, that I have merited to enter into Thy dwelling place.’ As he was on the point of death, he remembered the Church. The thought of the eternal Rome gave him fresh strength and he breathed forth this ecstatic prayer: ‘O Christ, only God, O Splendour, O Power of the Father, O Maker of heaven and earth, and builder of the city’s walls! Thou hast placed Rome’s sceptre high over all. Thou hast willed to subject the world to it, in order to unite under one law the nations which differ in manner, customs, language, genius, and sacrifice. Behold the whole human race has submitted to its empire, and all discord and dissensions disappear in its unity. Remember thy purpose: Thou didst will to bind the immense universe together under the Christian Kingdom. O Christ, for the sake of Thy Romans, make this city Christian; for to it Thou gavest the charge of leading all the rest to sacred unity. All its members in every place are united—a very type of Thy Kingdom; the conquered universe has bowed before it. Oh! may its royal head be bowed in turn! Send Thy Gabriel and bid him heal the blindness of the sons of Iulus that they may know the true God. I see a prince who is to come—an Emperor who is a servant of God. He will not suffer Rome to remain a slave; he will close the temples and fasten them with bolts for ever.’

Thus he prayed, and with these words he breathed forth his soul. Some noble Romans who had been conquered to Christ by the martyr’s admirable boldness, removed his body; the love of the most high God had suddenly filled their hearts and dispelled their former errors. From that day the worship of the infamous gods grew cold; few people went now to the temples, but hastened to the altars of Christ. Thus Laurence, going unarmed to the battle, had wounded the enemy with his own sword.’ (Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year, Volume 13, Time after Penteocost, Book IV, pp. 307-308.)

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