The legend of St. Catherine of Alexandria is unsupported by solid historical authority. Devotion to her began in the West about the Eleventh Century and was widely spread by the Crusaders. We have still much to learn about the personality of St. Catherine, but although the particulars of her life are uncertain, God has been pleased to glorify his saint on Mount Sinai, where her tomb is still venerated by pilgrims. St. Gertrude, who from childhood had had a great devotion to St. Catherine, once asked of Our Lord to be allowed to see the heavenly glory of her patron. Her prayer was heard, and she beheld the virgin of Alexandria on a golden throne surrounded by the sages whom she had led to a knowledge of the faith, and who formed her brightest crown in Heaven.
A virgin and martyr whose feast is celebrated in the Latin Church and in the various Oriental churches on November 25, and who for almost six centuries was the object of a very popular devotion. Of noble birth and learned in the sciences, when only eighteen years old, Catherine presented herself to the Emperor Maximinus who was violently persecuting the Christians, upbraided him for his cruelty and endeavoured to prove how iniquitous was the worship of false gods. Astounded at the young girl’s audacity, but incompetent to vie with her in point of learning the tyrant detained her in his palace and summoned numerous scholars whom he commanded to use all their skill in specious reasoning that thereby Catherine might be led to apostatize. But she emerged from the debate victorious. Several of her adversaries, conquered by her eloquence, declared themselves Christians and were at once put to death. Furious at being baffled, Maximinus had Catherine scourged and then imprisoned.
Meanwhile the empress, eager to see so extraordinary a young woman, went with Porphyry, the head of the troops, to visit her in her dungeon, when they in turn yielded to Catherine’s exhortations, believed, were baptized, and immediately won the martyr’s crown. Soon afterwards the saint, who far from forsaking her Faith, effected so many conversions, was condemned to die on the wheel, but, at her touch, this instrument of torture was miraculously destroyed. The emperor, enraged beyond control, then had her beheaded and angels carried her body to Mount Sinai where later a church and monastery were built in her honor.
So far the Acts of St. Catherine. Unfortunately we have not these acts in their original form, but transformed and distorted by fantastic and diffuse descriptions which are entirely due to the imagination of the narrators who cared less to state authentic facts than to charm their readers by recitals of the marvellous. The importance attached throughout the Middle Ages to the legend of this martyr accounts for the eagerness and care with which in modern times the ancient Greek, Latin and Arabic texts containing it have been perused and studied, and concerning which critics have long since expressed their opinion, one which, in all likelihood, they will never have to retract. Several centuries ago when devotion to the saints was stimulated by the reading of extraordinary hagiographical narrations, the historical value of which no one was qualified to question, St. Catherine was invested by Catholic peoples with a halo of charming poetry and miraculous power.
Ranked with St. Margaret and St. Barbara as one of the fourteen most helpful saints in Heaven, she was unceasingly praised by preachers and sung by poets. It is a well-known fact that Bossuet dedicated to her one of his most beautiful panegyrics and that Adam of Saint-Victor wrote a magnificent poem in her honor: “Vox Sonora nostri chori”, etc. In many places her feast was celebrated with the utmost solemnity, servile work being suppressed and the devotions being attended by great numbers of people. In several dioceses of France it was observed as a Holy Day of obligation up to the beginning of the seventeenth century, the splendour of its ceremonial eclipsing that of the feasts of some of the Apostles. Numberless chapels were placed under her patronage and her statue was found in nearly all churches, representing her according to medieval iconography with a wheel, her instrument of torture.
Whilst, owing to several circumstances in his life, St. Nicholas of Myra, was considered the patron of young bachelors and students, St. Catherine became the patroness of young maidens and female students. Looked upon as the holiest and most illustrious of the virgins of Christ, it was but natural that she, of all others, should be worthy to watch over the virgins of the cloister and the young women of the world.
The spiked wheel having become emblematic of the saint, wheelwrights and mechanics placed themselves under her patronage. Finally, as according to tradition, she not only remained a virgin by governing her passions and conquered her executioners by wearying their patience, but triumphed in science by closing the mouths of sophists, her intercession was implored by theologians, apologists, pulpit orators, and philosophers. Before studying, writing, or preaching, they besought her to illumine their minds, guide their pens, and impart eloquence to their words. This devotion to St. Catherine which assumed such vast proportions in Europe after the Crusades, received additional eclat in France in the beginning of the fifteenth century, when it was rumoured that she had appeared to St. Joan of Arc and, together with St. Margaret, had been divinely appointed Joan’s adviser.
Although contemporary hagiographers look upon the authenticity of the various texts containing the legend of St. Catherine as more than doubtful, it is not therefore meant to cast even the shadow of a doubt around the existence of the saint. But the conclusion reached when these texts have been carefully studied is that, if the principal facts forming the outline are to be accepted as true, the multitude of details by which these facts are almost obscured, most of the wonderful narratives with which they are embellished, and the long discourses that are put into the mouth of St. Catherine, are to be rejected as inventions, pure and simple.
An example will illustrate. Although all these texts mention the miraculous translations of the saint’s body to Mount Sinai, the itineraries of the ancient pilgrims who visited Sinai do not contain the slightest allusion to it. Even in the eighteenth century Dom Deforis, the Benedictine who prepared an edition of Bossuet’s works, declared the tradition followed by this orator in his panegyric on the saint, to be in a great measure false, and it was just at this time that the feast of St. Catherine disappeared from the Breviary of Paris. Since then devotion to the virgin of Alexandria has lost all its former popularity.
INTROIT Psalm 118. 95, 96
I spoke of Thy testimonies before kings, and I was not ashamed : I meditated also on Thy commandments, which I loved. (Ps. 118: 1) Blessed are the undefiled in the way: who walk in the law of the Lord. V.: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
O God, Who didst give the law to Moses on the summit of Mt. Sinai and by means of Thy holy angels didst miraculously place there the body of blessed Catherine, Thy virgin and martyr, grant we beseech Thee, that, by her merits and intercession, we may be able to come unto the mountain which is Christ.Who with Thee livest and reignest, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, Forever and ever. R.Amen.
Commemoratio Dominica XXIV et ultima Post Pentecosten V. Novembris
O Lord, we beseech You, arouse the wills of Your faithful people that, by a more earnest search for the fruit of Your divine work, they may receive more abundantly of the healing effects of Your goodness. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.
EPISTLE Wisdom 51: 1-12
Lesson from the Book of Wisdom. I will give glory to Thee, O Lord my king, and I will praise Thee, O God my Saviour. I will give glory to Thy name: for Thou hast been a helper and protector to me, and hast preserved my body from destruction, from the snare of an unjust tongue, and from the lips of them that forge lies; and in the sight of them that stood by, Thou hast been my helper; and Thou hast delivered me, according to the multitude of the mercy of Thy name, from them that did roar, prepared to devour. Out of the hands of them that sought my life, and from the gates of afflictions which compassed me about from the oppression of the flame which surrounded me, and in the midst of the fire I was not burnt; from the depth of the belly of hell, and from an unclean tongue, and from lying words, from an unjust king, and from a slanderous tongue; My soul shall praise the Lord even to death: because Thou, O Lord, our God, deliverest them that wait for Thee, and savest them out of the hands of the nations.
GRADUAL/ALLELUIA Psalm 44: 8
Thou hast loved justice, and hated iniquity. V. Therefore, God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness. Alleluia, alleluia. V. (Ps. 44: 15, 16) After her shall virgins be brought to the King, her neighbors shall be brought to thee with gladness. Alleluia.
GOSPEL Matthew 25: 1-13
At that time, Jesus spoke to His disciples this parable: ‘The kingdom of Heaven shall be like to ten virgins, who taking their lamps went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride. And five of them were foolish, and five wise; but the five foolish having taken their lamps, did not take oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with the lamps. And the bridegroom tarrying, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made; Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise: Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out. The wise answered, saying: Lest perhaps there be not enough for us and for you, go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. Now, whilst they went to buy, the bridegroom came: and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut. But at last came also the other virgins, saying: Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answering said: Amen I say to you, I know you not. Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.’
OFFERTORY ANTIPHON Ps. 44: 15, 16
After her shall virgins be brought to the King: her neighbors shall be brought to Thee with gladness and rejoicing: they shall be brought into the temple of the King, the Lord.
Graciously receive, O Lord, the gifts which we offer on the solemnity of Thy virgin and martyr, Catharine by whose patronage we trust to be delivered from all evil. Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God Forever and ever. R.Amen.
Commemoratio Dominica XXIV et ultima Post Pentecosten V. Novembris
Be merciful, O Lord, to our humble requests and accept the offerings and prayers of Your people: turn the hearts of all of us to You, that, freed from earthly cravings, we may pass over to heavenly yearnings. Through our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God Forever and ever.
PREFACE of the Common
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, everlasting God, through Christ our Lord. Through whom the Angels praise Thy Majesty, the Dominations worship it, the 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:
COMMUNION ANTIPHON Psalm 118: 78, 80
Let the proud be ashamed, because they have done unjustly towards me: but I will be employed in Thy commandments and in Thy justifications, that I may not be confounded.
May the mysteries we have received, help us, O Lord, and, by the intercession of blessed Catharine, Thy virgin and martyr, may they cause us to rejoice in everlasting protection. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God
For ever and ever. R. Amen.
Commemoratio Dominica XXIV et ultima Post Pentecosten V. Novembris
Grant us, we beseech You, O Lord, that all the evil in our hearts may be cured by the healing power of the sacrament we have received. Through the Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God For ever and ever. R. Amen
PROPER LAST GOSPEL Matt. 24:15-35
At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: When you see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place – let him who reads understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything from his house; and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. But woe to those who are with child, or have infants at the breast in those days! But pray that your flight may not be in the winter, or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, nor will be. And unless those days had been shortened, no living creature would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. Then if anyone say to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise, and will show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told it to you beforehand. If therefore they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the desert,’ do not go forth; ‘Behold, He is in the inner chambers,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes forth from the east and shines even to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together. But immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give her light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then will all tribes of the earth mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming upon the clouds of heaven with great power and majesty. And He will send forth His angels with a trumpet and a great sound, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. Now from the fig tree learn this parable. When its branch is now tender, and the leaves break forth, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, know that it is near, even at the door. Amen I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things have been accomplished. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
The Last Sunday Post Pentecost
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the “abomination of desolation… standing in the holy place.” Those who read and understand know that this very thing has manifested itself in this period of apostasy which gives us an indication of the very times we are living in, knowing that all these things must come to pass including false prophets and false Christs and many deceivers that would deceive even the elect, which they have. But we have our Lord’s words that He will gather up the just and He will return and that, though “Heaven and earth shall pass away, My words shall not pass away.”
The Liturgical cycle ends with this last week of the ecclesiastical year, and with it the history of the world which it has recalled to our minds throughout its course from Advent to this Last Sunday after Pentecost.
For this reason, the breviary lessons for today are taken from the prophet Micheas, a contemporary of Osee and Isaias, together with St. Basil’s commentary in which he treats of the last Judgment, while at Mass the Gospel deals with the coming of the divine Judge. “For behold,” says Micheas, “the Lord will come forth out of His place; and the mountains shall be melted under Him: and the valleys shall be cleft as wax before the fire and as water that run down a steep place. For the wickedness of Jacob is all this and for the sins of the house of Israel” (Fifth Sunday in November, first nocturn). From these threats the prophet turns to promises of salvation. “I will assemble and gather together all of thee, O Jacob: I will bring together the remnant of Israel. I will put them together as a flock in the field.”
The Assyrians have destroyed Samaria, and the Chaldeans have laid waste Jerusalem; but all this desolation will be repaired by the Messias, when He comes. And Micheas goes on to foretell that Christ will be born at Bethlehem, and that His Kingdom, that of the heavenly Jerusalem, will have no end. The prophets Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggeus, Zacharias and Malachias, whose books are read in the divine office in the course of this same week, add their testimony to that of Micheas. In our Lord’s first words in today’s Gospel he quotes Daniel’s prophecy of the total and final ruin of the Temple at Jerusalem and of the Jewish nation at the hands of the Roman army, this “abomination of desolation” being the punishment incurred by the people of Israel for having crowned their long career of infidelity by the rejection of Christ.
As a matter of fact this prediction was fulfilled some years after our Lord’s death, amidst such circumstances of distress, that if it had lasted long, not a single Jew would have escaped alive. It was God’s will, however, that the siege of Jerusalem should be shortened for the sake of those who were converted as a result of so severe a lesson. It will be the same at the end of the world of which the destruction of this city is a type. For “then”, at our Lord’s coming, there will be tribulation of a still more agonizing kind.
Many imposters, among them Antichrist, will work wonders by Satan’s power, or order to be taken for Christ Himself, and then another type of “abomination of desolation” will reign in the Temple, identified by St. Jerome with “the man of sin, who opposeth and is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the Temple of God, showing himself as if he were God.” He will come through the instrumentality of the devil, to destroy, and drive into banishment from God those whom he shall have gathered to his standard” (Third nocturn)
“But in this case also,” St. Jerome continues: “God will shorten those days; lest even the elect, if that were possible, be deceived” (Ibid.). For the rest, our Lord warns us to make no mistake as to the coming of the Son of Man in glory, without limitation of space or time and with the rapidity of lightning, in contrast to His first coming, veiled in sacred mystery and in one little corner of the world.
Then all the elect will go to meet Him as eagles flock to their prey. His coming will be heralded by all kinds of catastrophes on earth and in the sky while all the tribes of the earth shall mourn; “and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of Heaven with much power and majesty” (Gospel).
“When”, says St. Basil, “the inclination to sin comes upon you, I wish you would think of this dread and awful tribunal of Christ, where He will sit and judge on His throne on high. There every creature will appear, and stand trembling in His presence, and there shall we be led, one by one, to give an account of the actions of our life. And immediately afterwards those who in life have wrought much evil will be surrounded by fearful and hideous angels, who will throw them headlong into a bottomless pit where in impenetrable darkness burns a fire which gives no light; where worms whose bite is intolerable anguish, ceaselessly gnaw the flesh; and where, sharpest of all punishments, shame and confusion reign without end. Fear these things and pierced by this dread, use it as a bridle to help your soul from being drawn away by concupiscence into sin” (Third nocturn).
Further, in the Epistle, the Church exhorts us, in the apostle’s words to “walk worthy of God” and to be fruitful in every good work”, so that strengthened with all might according to the power of His Glory “we may endure all things in patience and joy”, giving thanks to God the Father, who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light, both now in spirit and at the last day both in body and soul through the redeeming blood of “the Son of His love”.
Amid all the tribulation at the end of the world and of the last Judgment and in the agony of our own death, our souls will cry from the depth to our Lord that we “may receive more abundant helps from His mercy” (Collect). And God, who has told us through His servant Jeremias, that He thinks thoughts of peace and not of affliction (Introit) and who has promised to hear the prayer of faith (Communion) will hear us by delivering us from earthly desires (Secret) by “turning away our captivity” (Introit), and by opening to us that eternal heaven where the glorious consummation of Christ’s triumph will be reached.
Wholly victorious over His enemies, who will rise from the dead to receive their punishment, and undoubted king of all the elect, who have believed in His coming and will rise to eternal glory of both body and soul, Christ will restore to His Father that kingdom which He has conquered at the cost of His Own blood, as an act of perfect homage from Head and members alike. This will be the true pasch, the full passing into the real land of promise, and the taking eternal possession by Christ and His people of the heavenly Jerusalem where, in the temple not made with hands, God reigns as acknowledged sovereign “in whom we will glory all the day; and in whose name we will give praise forever” (Gradual).
And through our High Priest Jesus, we shall render eternal homage to the most blessed Trinity, saying: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.”