Virgin and Martyr
Saint Agatha was born in Sicily of rich and noble parents, a child of benediction from the first, for she was promised to her parents before her birth, and consecrated from her earliest infancy to God. In the midst of dangers and temptations she served Christ in purity of body and soul, and she died for love of chastity. Quintanus, who governed Sicily under the Emperor Decius, had heard the rumor of her beauty and wealth, and he made the laws against the Christians a pretext for summoning her from Palermo to Catania, where he was at the time. O Jesus Christ! she cried, as she set out on this dreaded journey, all that I am is Thine; preserve me against the tyrant.
And Our Lord did indeed preserve one who had given herself so utterly to Him. He kept her pure and undefiled while she was imprisoned for a whole month under charge of an evil woman. He gave her strength to reply to the offer of her life and safety, if she would but consent to sacrifice to the gods, Christ alone is my salvation! When Quintanus turned from passion to cruelty, and cut off her breasts, Our Lord sent the Prince of the Apostles to heal her. She told the elderly gentleman who appeared to her that she was Christian and desired no treatment, for her Lord could cure her by a single word. He smiled, identified himself as Saint Peter, and said: It is in His name that you will be healed. And when he disappeared, she saw that her wounds were healed and her flesh made whole. But when she was rolled naked upon potsherds, she asked that her torments might be ended. Her Lord heard her prayer and took her to Himself.
Saint Agatha gave herself without reserve to Jesus Christ; she followed Him in virginal purity, and then depended upon Him for protection. And to this day Christ has shown His tender regard for the very body of Saint Agatha. Again and again, during the eruptions of Mount Etna, the people of Catania have exposed her veil for public veneration, and found safety by this means. In modern times, on opening the tomb in which her body lies waiting for the resurrection, they beheld the skin still entire, and experienced the sweet fragrance which issued from this temple of the Holy Ghost.
Reflection. Purity is a gift of God: we can gain it and preserve it only by care and diligence in avoiding all that may prove an incentive to sin.
Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 2; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).
Novena Prayer in Honor of St. Agatha
O Sweetest Lord Jesus Christ, source of all virtues, lover of virgins, most powerful conqueror of demons, most severe extirpator of vice! deign to cast Thine eyes upon my weakness, and through the intercession of Mary most blessed, Mother and Virgin, and of Thy beloved spouse St. Agatha, glorious virgin and martyr, grant me the aid of Thy heavenly grace, in order that I may learn to despise all earthly things, and to love what is heavenly; to oppose vice and to be proof against temptation; to walk firmly in the path of virtue, not to seek honors, to shun pleasures, to bewail my past offenses, to keep far from the occasions of evil, to keep free from bad habits, to seek the company of the good, and persevere in righteousness, so that, by the assistance of Thy grace, I may deserve the crown of eternal life, together with St. Agatha and all the saints, forever and ever, in Thy kingdom. Amen.
(Indulgence 100 days, Pius IX, 1854)
Prayer to St. Agatha
Dear St. Agatha, glorious virgin and martyr, you suffered yourself to be reviled and buffeted, to be tortured by rack, fire, and sword in a most ignominious and painful manner; and by this fortitude and heroism you merited to be consoled and gladdened in the midst of your dreadful torments by the sight of your guardian angel and the prince of the apostles: obtain for me, I pray, by your merits and by your intercession with Jesus Christ, your divine Spouse, that I may suffer joyfully every temporal loss, rather than prove unfaithful to my Lord and my God, to Whom I have promised everlasting fealty, both at Baptism and at my first holy communion. Ask for me the grace of perseverance, that I may with thee enjoy the beatific vision and praise God forevermore. Amen.