November 24, 2017

St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr

Saint Catherine Of Alexandria

November 25th is the optional memorial of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, the brilliant 4th century apologist and virgin, whose arguments and courageous witness for the Faith won many souls for Christ. Popular piety memorializes her heroic virtue and holy death. She is the patron of apologists and philosophers.

The account of her martyrdom is legendary and defies every attempt to cull out the historical kernel. Old Oriental sources make no mention of her. In the West her cult does not appear before the 11th century, when the crusaders made it popular. She became the patroness of philosophical faculties; she is one of the "Fourteen Holy Helpers" [invoked against disease]. The Breviary offers this:

Catherine, virgin of Alexandria, devoted herself to the pursuit of knowledge; at the age of 18, she surpassed all her contemporaries in science. Upon seeing how the Christians were being tortured, she went before Emperor Maximin, upbraided him for his cruelty, and with convincing reasons demonstrated the necessity of Christian faith in order to be saved. Astounded by her great wisdom, the Emperor ordered her to be kept confined, and having summoned the most learned and astute philosophers, promised them magnificent rewards if they could confound the virgin and turn her from belief in Christ. Far from being successful in that pursuit, a considerable number of the philosophers were inflamed by the sound reasons and persuasiveness of Catherine's speech with such a love for Jesus Christ that they declared themselves willing to offer their lives for the Gospel.

Then the Emperor attempted to win her by flattery and by promises, but his efforts proved equally fruitless. He ordered her whipped with rods, scourged with leaden nodules, and then left to languish eleven days without food in prison. The Emperor's wife and Porphyrius, general of the army, visited Catherine in prison; her words brought both to Christ and later they too proved their love in blood. Catherine's next torture consisted of being placed upon a wheel with pointed knives; from her lacerated body prayers ascended to heaven and the infernal machine fell to pieces. Many who witnessed this miracle embraced the faith. Finally, on November 25 Christ's servant was beheaded. By the hands of angels her body was carried to Mt. Sinai and interred in the convent bearing her name.

The Miraculous Translation of St. Catherine's Remains

After her martyrdom by the imperial Romans in Alexandria, St. Catherine's body was reputedly carried by angels to a mountaintop in Sinai, near where Moses had received the tablets bearing the Ten Commandments. Almost four hundred years later, monks supposedly discovered her uncorrupted body. The nearby monastery named after her, where her earthly remains were preserved, became a pilgrimage destination in the region second only to the holy places of Palestine. Almighty and ever-living God, who gave St. Catherine of Alexandria to your people as a Virgin and an invincible Martyr, grant that by her intercession we may be strengthened in faith and spend ourselves without reserve for the unity of the Church. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son. who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Adapted excerpt from The Church's Year of Grace, Father Pius Parsch.

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