Monday, February 05, 2024

The Feast of St Agatha 2024

Truly it is fitting and just, meet and profitable to salvation, that we sing of Thee especially on this day with praise worthy of this celebration, on which a triumphal victim was offered to Thy majesty; one to whom Thou gavest so great a victory, that her very torments, though fierce and bitter, trembled before their conqueror. With such bright flashes of light did her lamp shine, that she might enter the gates of heaven thrown open. O happy and reknowned virgin! who merited to glorify her martyrdom with blood, for the praise of her faithful Lord. O honorable and glorious woman, and rendered doubly glorious! who in the midst of bitter torments, shown forth by every sort of miracle, and mighty with hidden support, merited to be healed by the vistation of Thy Apostle, and sing of Thee, true and supreme God, in sacred hymn. Thus wedded to Christ, the heavens received her, while; thus did she shine forth in a glorious service as her body was laid to rest, when a choir of Angels proclaimed the holiness of her mind and the liberation of her country. Through Christ our Lord, through whom the Angels praise Thy majesty etc. (The Preface of St Agatha in the traditional Ambrosian Missal.)

The Martyrdom of St Agatha, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, ca 1756.
Vere dignum et iustum est, aequum et salutare, nos te in hoc praecipue die digna laude praeconii canere: in quo triumphalis hostia tuae maiestati oblata est. Cui tantam contulisti victoriam, ut ipsa saeva et aspera victricem tremerent tormenta. Cuius lampas coruscis emicat fulgoribus, ut reseratas poli ingredi valeat ianuas. O felix et inclyta Virgo! Quae meruit, Domini pro laude fidelis, martyrium sanguine clarificare suum. O illustris et gloriosa, gemino illustrata decore! Quae inter tormenta aspera, cunctis praelata miraculis, et mystico pollens suffragio, Apostoli tui meruit visitatione curari, et te, verum summumque Deum, sacro carmine concinere. Sic nuptam Christo susceperunt aethera, sic humandi artus glorioso fulgent obsequio, ubi Angelorum chorus sanctitatem mentis et patriae indicant liberationem. Per Christum, Dominum nostrum.

I undertook the hazard of translating this highly rhetorical piece of Latin because it refers at the end to one of my favorite hagiographic legends. The story is that when the Christians of St Agatha’s city, Catania in Sicilia, had brought her body to her burial place, “there came a young man dressed in silken garments, followed by more than one hundred children in white garments; and he entered the place where the holy virgin’s body was being laid, and set there a small marble plaque on which it was written, ‘A holy mind, willing, honor to God, and the liberation of the fatherland.’ And he stood there until the sepulcher was diligently closed, and then departing was seen no more in all the province of Sicily; whence there is no doubt that he was and Angel of God.” (From an edition of the Roman Breviary printed in 1529.)

In the Ambrosian Mass, the Fraction is done immediately after the Canon, before the Lord’s Prayer, and accompanied by an antiphon called the Confractorium, which on the feast of St Agatha reads as follows:

An Angel of the Lord came and laid down a small plaque of marble, on which was written: A holy mind, willing, honor to God, and the liberation of the fatherland. - Veniens Angelus Domini. posuit tabulam brevem ex marmore, in qua scriptum erat: Mentem sanctam, spontaneam, honorem Deo, et patriae liberationem.

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