by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger

One of the most celebrated Christian heroines who, on account of their faith, have suffered with most invincible fortitude, is the saintly virgin Agatha. She was born at Palermo, or, according to others, at Catania, in Sicily. She was of illustrious parentage, and was piously educated in the Christian faith. When Quintianus, Governor under the Emperor Decius, was commanded to uproot Christianity in Sicily, he repaired to Catania. Soon after his arrival he was informed that a noble lady, of the name of Agatha, resided there, who, for wealth and beauty, had no superior, and who was also the most fervent of all the Christians. The Governor caused her to be brought before him, and, on first seeing her, he fell so deeply in love with her that he hesitated not to try to induce her to listen to his shameful designs. Agatha, who united with beauty the most angelic chastity, was terrified at his wickedness, and would have preferred death rather than allow the least liberty with her person. Quintianus, who would not use force, deprived her of her liberty, under the pretext that she was a Christian, and gave her into the charge of Aphrodisia, an infamous old prostitute, who had led her own daughters into the path of shame and wickedness, and lived by means of their vices. He supposed that Agatha, living with a person so vile, would, by her persuasions, lose her love of chastity, and, at the same time, abjure her faith. But he soon found that he was mistaken. The chaste virgin, armed by the thought of God's presence, by prayers and by fasting, bore a mighty shield against all flatteries, persuasions, and promises. For thirty days she had to remain upon this dangerous field of battle; but God gave her strength, and she conquered. Aphrodisia herself had at last to confess this to Quintianus, and would have nothing further to do with the maiden.

The Governor, much displeased, ordered her into his presence, and asked her from whom she was descended; and when she had answered his questions, he said: "Are you not ashamed to live the despicable and servile life of a Christian, coming from so illustrious a family?" Agatha unhesitatingly replied: "The humility and servility of a Christian is more excellent than the riches, pride, and presumption of kings." These words provoked Quintianus to such a degree that he ordered her daring obstinacy to be punished by blows in the face, which were forthwith given with such violence that the blood streamed from her mouth and nostrils. After this, she was cast into prison, with the threat that if she did not abjure the Christian faith she should be proceeded against with the utmost rigor. This menace was, on the following day, put into execution. Quintianus ordered her to be stretched on the rack, her whole body tortured with red hot irons, and at last her breast to be torn off with hot tongs. All was done as the tyrant commanded. At the last torture the saintly virgin said to him: "Cruel tyrant, who sucked the breast of your mother, are you not ashamed to tear it so pitilessly from the body of a virgin?" But Quintianus possessed neither shame nor pity. After this horrible torture, he remanded her to prison, giving orders that she should receive no food, neither should anything be done to alleviate her sufferings.

On the following night there appeared to her St. Peter, who said that he was an apostle sent by Christ to heal her wounds. He praised her fortitude, and encouraged her to show equal strength in the trials she had yet to endure. During his exhortation, St. Agatha perceived that her torn breast was restored, and that all her wounds were miraculously healed. She felt, at the same time, in her inmost heart, so great a consolation, that she began to praise and give thanks to God with a loud voice, offering herself to Him for further torments. After four days she was again taken before the Governor, and as he was astounded to see her thus entirely restored, she said to him: " Behold and acknowledge the omnipotence of the God whom I worship! He has healed my wounds; He has restored my breast! How, then, can you ask me to forsake Him? No! the most cruel torture, the most horrible death has no power to separate me from Him!"

Quintianus, more enraged than before, ordered that the ground should be strewn with live coals and sharp potsherds, and that Agatha should be rolled naked over them, that her whole body might be torn and burned, The suffering of this unheard-of and dreadful torture, Agatha endured, as she had all the others, with unmoved fortitude. The people who were present manifested great compassion toward the virgin, and God delayed not to punish so wicked a crime. He sent an earthquake, so terrible, that the whole town was shaken. Silvinius and Falconius, the two most intimate friends of the Governor, were crushed under the falling ruins, and all inhabitants were plunged into the wildest fear. They crowded together, saying that this was visibly a judgment of God, which the cruelty of Quintianus had brought down upon them. The Governor, fearing a general insurrection, ordered that Agatha; should once more be taken back to prison.

Arriving there she sank upon her knees, raised her hands and eyes towards heaven, and thus prayed: "O Lord, Thou who hast been my protection since my childhood, who hast taken from me the love of the world and given me grace to endure the sufferings of my tormentors, hear the supplication of Thy faithful handmaid and accept my soul." God heard her prayers, and received the triumphant spirit of his handmaid in the year 252. The inhabitants of Catania honor this holy martyr as patroness, on account of the visible protection which she has rendered them at times when Mount Aetna, throwing up fierce frames, threatened destruction, not only to the town, but to all the surrounding villages. More than once in the present century has it happened that a torrent of lava, issuing from this mountain during a great eruption, and destroying everything in its course, has come nearer and nearer to the town. But on holding towards it a veil with which the holy body of Agatha was covered, and which was carried in solemn procession, the fiery stream not only approached no nearer, but drew back before the eyes of the people. Thus is it that His faithful handmaid is honored by God, even long after her departure from this life.

Practical Considerations:

During thirty days St. Agatha suffers from a wicked person's assaults against her virtue, but remains firm. Why are you so easily misled to wicked deeds? Why do you not fight as bravely as this saintly virgin fought? Why do not you make use of the same weapons that she used, viz., prayers, fasting and the thought of the omnipresence of God? Surely the thought alone--God sees me--He is present--will strengthen you for the combat and make you invincible against temptation. "Not one of those who really believe that God is always and everywhere present, that He sees, hears, and knows all things, will ever commit a sin, or even think of committing one,"'says St. Blaise. As soon, however, as man forgets the presence of the Almighty, there is no vice so gross that he will not commit without shame. Those two old wicked elders said: "Nobody sees us." They thought not of God and therefore endeavored to seduce the chaste Susanna. But she, knowing the Almighty's presence, was determined rather to die than to sin before His eyes. "But it is better for me to fall into your hands without doing it, than to sin in the sight of the Lord " (Daniel, chap. xiii.).

From the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
by Rev. Nikolaus Gihr, 1902

The tomb of St. Agatha, made glorious by God with many miracles, became the refuge of the Christians and even of the heathens. There also was kept the wonderful veil that was not burned, but only somewhat crimsoned, when the saint was thrown into the blazing fire. One year after her death, the neighboring volcano of Etna burst forth in torrents of fire, which moved toward the city of Catana, and threatened its destruction; then the inhabitants ran in terror to her tomb, took the veil and held it in the direction of the stream of lava. At that very instant it took another course toward the ocean and the city was saved. This event took place on the anniversary of the holy death of the virgin martyr, February the fifth, which is still observed as her feast-day in the Church of God. Consequently, St. Agatha is the much implored patroness against dangers of fire: as such she is particularly honored in the Black Forest of Germany. There her feast is made resplendent with the brightness of innumerable lights.

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.


Jesu Corona Virginum

Jesu, the Virgins' crown, do thou Accept us as in prayer we bow; Born of that Virgin, whom alone The Mother and the Maid we own.

Amongst the lilies thou dost feed, By Virgin choirs accompanied; With glory decked, the spotless brides Whose bridal gifts thy love provides.

They, wheresoe'er thy footsteps bend, With hymns and praises still attend: In blessed troops they follow thee, With dance, and song, and melody.

We pray Thee therefore to bestow Upon our senses here below Thy grace, that so we may endure From taint of all corruption pure.

To God the Father, God the Son, And God the Spirit, Three in One, Laud, honor, might, and glory be From age to age eternally. Amen

Hymn to St. Agatha and St. Lucy

One virgin sought another--
The Bright * one sought the Good, **
She pleaded for her mother,
And won the grace she sued.

But why shouldst thou, blest Lucy,
To Agatha resort?
No grace will God refuse thee.
Who owneth all thy heart.

As Catana draws thousands
To Agatha's fair shrine,
So shall the Syracusans
With Lucy's glory shine.

So Lucy to the needy
Divided all she had,
And blithely made her ready
To meet the headsman's blade.

No cruel torment shook her,
Beneath no threat she quailed;
Her courage ne'er forsook her,
By Jesus' self upheld.

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 for Youth to be the Divine Direction
in the Choice of a State of Life

O Almighty God! Whose wise and amiable providence watches over every human event, deign to be my light and my counsel in all my undertakings, particularly in the choice of a state of life. I know that on this important step my sanctification and salvation may in a great measure depend. I know that I am incapable of discerning what may be best for me; therefore I cast myself into Thy arms, beseeching Thee, my God, Who hast sent me into this world only to love and serve Thee, to direct by Thy grace every moment and action of my life to the glorious end of my creation. I renounce most sincerely every other wish, than to fulfil Thy designs on my soul, whatever they may be; and I beseech Thee to give me the grace, by imbibing the true spirit of a Christian, to qualify myself for any state of life to which Thy adorable providence may call me.

O my God! whenever it may become my duty to make a choice, do Thou be my light and my counsel, and mercifully deign to make the way known to me wherein I should walk, for I have lifted up my soul to Thee. Preserve me from listening to the suggestions of my own self-love, or worldly prudence, in prejudice to Thy holy inspirations. Let Thy good Spirit lead me into the right way, and Thy adorable providence place me, not where I may be happiest, according to the world, but in that state in which I shall love and serve Thee most perfectly, and meet with most abundant means for working out my salvation. This is all that I ask and all that I desire; for what would it avail me to gain the whole world, if, in the end, I were to lose my soul? and to be so unfortunate as to prefer temporal advantages and worldly honors to the enjoyment of Thy divine presence in a happy eternity?

Most holy Virgin Mary, take me under thy protection.
My good angel guardian and patron saints, pray for me. Amen.