SAINT AGATHA OF SICILY
Virgin and Martyr
(231 AD – 251 AD)
Agatha was born at Catania or Palermo, Sicily, and she was martyred in approximately 251. She is one of seven women, who, along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, are commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass.
Born – c. 231
Died – c. 251, Catania, Sicily
Attributes – shears, tongs, breasts on a plate
Canonized – Pre-congregation by tradition confirmed by Gregory the Great
Patronage – Sicily; bellfounders; breast cancer; bakers; Catania, Sicily; against fire; earthquakes; eruptions of Mount Etna; fire; jewelers; martyrs; natural disasters; nurses; Palermo, Sicily; rape victims; San Marino; single laywomen; sterility; torture victims; volcanic eruptions; nurses; wet nurses; Zamarramala, Spain
Agatha is buried at the Badia di Sant’Agata, Catania. She is listed in the late 6th-century Martyrologium Hieronymianum associated with Jerome, and the Synaxarion, the calendar of the church of Carthage, ca. 530. Agatha also appears in one of the carmina of Venantius Fortunatus.
Two early churches were dedicated to her in Rome, notably the Church of Sant’Agata dei Goti in Via Mazzarino, a titular church with apse mosaics of ca. 460 and traces of a fresco cycle, overpainted by Gismondo Cerrini in 1630. In the 6th century AD, the church was adapted to Arianism, hence its name “Saint Agatha of Goths”, and later reconsecrated by Gregory the Great, who confirmed her traditional sainthood.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Ven. Abbot Dom Guéranger
Since the commencement of the ecclesiastical year, we have kept the feasts of two out of the four illustrious virgins whose names are daily honoured in the holy Sacriﬁce of the Lamb: the third comes today, lighting up the heaven of the Church with her bright soft rays. Lucy ﬁrst, then Agnes, and new the gracious visit of Agatha. The fourth, Cecily, the immortal Cecily, is to be one of that magniﬁcent constellation which gives such splendour to the closing of the year. Today, then, let us keep a feast in honour of Agatha, the virgin daughter of that same fair Sicily which can boast of her Lucy. We must not allow the holy sadness of our present season to take aught from the devotion we owe to our saint. The joy wherewith we celebrate her merits will lead us to study her virtues. She will repay us by her prayers; she will encourage us to persevere in the path which is to bring us to the God she so nobly loved and served, and with whom she is now for ever united.
Let us begin by reading what the Church tells us of the virtues and combats of this glorious bride of Christ.
The holy virgin Agatha was born in Sicily, of noble parents. The cities of Palermo and Catania both claim the honour of having been the place of her birth. She received the crown of a glorious martyrdom at Catania, under the persecution of the Emperor Decius.
Her beauty, which was as great as her chaste and innocent life was praiseworthy, attracted the notice of Quintianus, the governor of Sicily. He spared no means whereby to compass his lustful designs upon the innocent virgin; but seeing that she scorned his offers, he had her apprehended as being guilty of the Christian superstition, and gave her in charge of a woman, named Aphrodisia, who was noted for her power of alluring to evil. But ﬁnding that her words and company had no effect on the holy maiden, and that she was immovable in her resolution to maintain both her faith and her virginity, Aphrodisia told Quintianus that she was but losing her time with Agatha. Whereupon, he ordered the virgin to be brought before him, and he said to her: ‘Art not thou, that art so noble by birth, ashamed to lead the life of a base and slavish Christian? ‘She replied: ‘Better by far is the baseness and slavery of a Christian than the wealth and pride of kings.’Angered by her words, the governor bids her choose one of these two: adoration of the gods, or sharp tortures. On her refusal to deny her faith, he ordered her to be buffeted, and cast into prison. On the following day, she was again led to trial. Finding that she was still ﬁrm in her purpose,they hoisted her on the rack, and laid hot iron plates on her ﬂesh, and cut off her breast. While suffering this last torture, she thus spoke to Quintianus: Cruel tyrant, art thou not ashamed to cut a woman’s breast, who wast thyself fed at the breast of thy mother?
She was then sent back to prison, where, during the night, a venerable old man, who told her that he was the apostle of Christ, healed her. A third time she was summoned by the governor, and being still ﬁrm in confessing Christ, she was rolled upon sharp potsherds, and burning coals.
Suddenly, the whole city was shaken by a violent earthquake, and two of the governor’s intimate friends were killed by the falling of two walls. The people were in such a state of excitement that the governor began to fear a sedition, and therefore ordered the almost lifeless Agatha to be secretly conveyed back to her prison. She thus prayed to our Lord:
‘O God! who hast watched over me from my infancy, who hast separated me from the love of this world, and hast given me strength to bear the tortures of my executioners, receive my soul!’
Her prayer being ended, her soul took its ﬂight to heaven, on the Nones of February (February 5), and the Christians buried her body.
ST. AGATHA, VIRGIN AND MARTYR
Missa ‘Gaudeamus omnes’
INTROIT – Psalm 44: 3
Gaudeamus omnes in Domino, diem festum celebrantes sub honore beatæ Agathæ Virginis et Martyris: de cujus passione gaudent Angeli, et collaudant Filium Dei. Ps.Eructavit cor meum verbum bonum: dico ego opera mea Regi. Gloria Patri.
Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a festival in honour of blessed Agatha, Virgin and Martyr; at whose passion the Angels rejoice, and give praise to the Son of God. Ps. My heart hath uttered a good word; I speak my words to the King. Glory be to the Father.
O God, who among other miracles of Thy power, hast granted even to the weaker sex the victory of martyrdom, grant, we beseech Thee, that we who celebrate the festival of blessed Agatha, Thy Virgin and Martyr, may draw nearer to Thee by her example. Through our Lord.
EPISTLE – I Corinthians 1: 26-31
Brethren: See your vocation, that there are not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble: but the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that He may confound the wise, and the weak things of the world hath God chosen that He may confound the strong; and the base things of the world, and the things that are contemptible hath God chosen, and things that are not, that He might bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in His sight. But of Him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption; that as it is written: He that glorieth may glory in the Lord.
GRADUAL – Psalm 45: 6, 5
God will help her with His countenance; God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved. The stream of the river makes the city of God joyful; the most High hath sanctified His own tabernacle.
TRACT – Psalm 125: 5-6
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. Going they went, and wept, casting their seeds. But coming, they shall come with joyfulness, carrying their sheaves.
GOSPEL – Matthew 19: 3-12
At that time, the Pharisees came to Jesus tempting Him, and saying: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? Who answering, said to them: Have ye not read, that He Who made man from the beginning, made them male and female? And He said: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. They say to Him: Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce, and to put away? He saith to them: Because Moses, by reason of the hardness of your heart, permitted you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery. His disciples say unto Him: If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry. Who said to them: All men take not this word, but they to whom it is given; for there are eunuchs, who were born so from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made so by man; and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. He that can take it, let him take it.
OFFERTORY Psalm 44: 15
After her shall virgins be brought to the King; her neighbours shall be brought to Thee.
Receive, O Lord, the offerings we bring Thee on the solemn festival of Thy blessed Virgin and Martyr, Agatha; by whose intercession we hope for deliverance. 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:
I invoke Him the living God, who vouchsafed to cure me of every wound, and to restore my breast to my body.
May we be helped, O Lord, by the mysteries we have received; and blessed Agatha, Thy Virgin and Martyr, interceding for us, may they strengthen us with everlasting protection. Through the Lord.