Antiphon on Benedictus:
Lo what I desired I now do see; what I did hope for I now possess ; * now am I unite in heaven to him whom I loved with my whole heart upon earth.
From the Treatise on Virgins by St. Ambrose the Bishop
+This is the virgin’s birthday. Let us therefore resolve to follow the example of her chastity. It is a martyr’s birthday. Let us therefore resolve to offer sacrifice. It is the feast of holy Agnes. Let men therefore be filled with wonder, and children with hope, and married women with awe, and the unmarried with a desire to emulate her. What can we say worthy of her whose very name hath become a praise? To me it seemeth as if this little maiden, holy beyond her years, and courageous beyond human nature, received the name of Agnes, not as an earthly designation, but as a revelation from God as to what she was to be. For the word Agnes is from the Greek, and signifieth pure. Thus this holy maiden is named Chastity, and when I have added thereto the word Martyr, I have said enough. She needeth not the praise which we could utter, but do not. None is more praiseworthy than she, whose praise all mouths do speak. For everyone that uttered he name doth praise her, and she is exalted whenever she is given the noble title of Martyr.
Tradition saith that she suffered martyrdom at the age of thirteen. Let us pass by the profane cruelty which did not spare her tender years, to contemplate the great power of her faith, whereby she overcame the weakness of childhood, and witnessed a good confession. She was hardly big enough for their sword-thrusts. But if her little body could scarce sheathe their swords, it was mighty enough to endure each blade that smote her. For she feared not the bloody hands of the executioners. When they dragged her with clanking chains, she was unmoved. Hardly entered on life, she stood ready to die, and quailed not when the weapons of enraged swordsmen were pointed at her breast. If they forced her against her will to approach the altars of devilish gods, she could even then stretch forth her hands to Christ amid the very flames which consumed the idolatrous offerings, and make the victorious Sign of the Cross of the Lord over the heathen shrine. She was ready to submit her neck and hands to the iron shackles, but they were too big to clasp her slender limbs. Behold a strange Martyr! She was not grown of stature sufficient to fight the battle, and yet was she ripe for the triumph! Too weak was she to run in the race, and yet she was clearly entitled to the prize! Unable from her age to be aught but a learner, she nonetheless is found to be a teacher.
She went to the place of execution a virgin, more willing and joyful than others go to the nuptial chamber as a bride. Bystanders wept, but she was tearless. Many wondered that she held so cheap that life whose sweets she had scarcely tasted, and was so ready to cast away, as a cup drained to the dregs. All men were amazed when they saw her, not yet old enough to be a legal witness in her own affairs, yet made by God a witness unto himself. Consider how many threats her executioner used to excite her fears, how many arguments to shake her resolution, how many promises to bribe her to accept his offers of marriage. But she answered him : It is an insult to my Betrothed to expect that I could favour another ; he that first chose me, his alone will I be ; headsman, why waitest thou? Kill the body which draweth the admiration of eyes form which I shrink! She stood, prayed, and then bent her neck for the stroke. Then mightest thou have seen the executioner trembling as though he himself were the criminal. Thou mightest have seen his hands shaking, and the bystanders become pale with fear, whilst she alone stood fearless. Here, then, we recognize one victim, but a double offering to God, that of her purity, and that of her faith. She preserved virginity by achieving martyrdom.
Almighty and everlasting God, who dost choose the weak things of this world to confound those things that are strong, mercifully grant that we who keep the feast of blessed Agnes thy Virgin and Martyr, may feel the succour of her intercession in thy sight, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.