February 5th, Saint Agatha, Virgin and Martyr
Agatha was early recognized by the Church as one of the most illustrious of virgin Martyrs. Therefore, along with Lucy, Agnes, and Cecilia, her name is mentioned in the Gregorian Canon. She was martyred in about 251, in Sicily and soon filled Christendom with her praises. According to her Acts, (which were compiled long after her death), the Praetor of Sicily, Quintianus, conceived a passion for Agatha, who was of noble birth and of great beauty. And when he could not make her consent to his wicked desires, he had her arrested as a Christian, and turned her over to an evil woman, named Aphrodisia, to be corrupted. Of such methods for breaking down Christian hardihood, Tertullian wrote to the pagans : Ye, by condemning the Christian maid to the lewd youth, rather than to the brute lion, do acknowledge that we more dread a stain to purity than any torment or death ; but your cruel cunning availed only to gain men over to our holy religion.
But the companionship of Aphrodisia in the brothel made Agatha only the more determined to live faithful to Christ. Whereat the Praetor ordered her brought before him, that he might try to turn her from Christian living, which he declared to be fit only for slaves. Then the Praetor gave her the choice of sacrificing to the gods or undergoing torture. And when beatings, the rack, and branding with white-hot metal failed to shake her constancy to Christ, he ordered her breasts cut off. Whereat Agatha cried, and said that he who had suckled at a mother’s breasts should feel shame to order such cruel indignity done to a woman. But that night, after she had been returned in irons and pain to prison, the Apostle Peter appeared to her, and healed her wounds.
The following day she was subjected to new tortures. But an earthquake, from Mount Aetna, shook the town and terrified the people. Whereupon the Praetor, fearing a riot, ordered Agatha to be returned quietly to prison. And there, in the town of Catania, she died at peace, in prayer, on February 5th, and her body was taken and buried by the Christians. She is invoked against earthquake and fire and molten lava, and is accounted patroness of bell-founders.
O God, who among the manifold works of thine almighty power hast bestowed even upon the weakness of women the strength to win the victory of martyrdom : grant, we beseech thee ; that we, who on this day recall the heavenly birth of Saint Agatha thy Virgin and Martyr, may so follow in her footsteps, that we may likewise attain unto thee, through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.