Holy Week Saints: Mary Magdalene

Le Brun,Charles (1619-1690)
Sainte Madeleine repentante renonce a toutes les vanites de la vie – Saint mary Magdalen renounces all pleasures of life.Painted after 1650 for the church of the monastery of the Carmelite nuns in Paris. Canvas.252 x 171 cm Inv.2890

Saint Mary Magdalene
Apostle to the Apostles

Feast Day: July 22
Patron of: Provence, contemplatives, converts, gardeners,
glove makers, hairdressers, penitents, perfumers, pharmacists,
prisoners, reformed prostitutes Invoked against: sexual temptation
Symbols: alabaster jar, long hair, skull

“Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father; but go to
my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God.” — Christ to Mary Magdalene according to John 20:179

Though the subject of Mary Magdalene’s true identity may be fodder for a heated debate, there is one aspect of her life that all ecclesiastical writers agree upon: She never left Christ during His crucifixion, and she was the first person to see Him after His resurrection. Because Jesus chose her as His first witness and because He told her to go and tell the others what she saw, she is known as the “Apostle to the Apostles.” This title aside, it is the example she sets as a penitent and reformed sinner that she is most well known and honored.

According to ancient Jewish texts, the seaside town of Magdala was known as a place of loose morals. This town was Mary’s home, and she took its name as her own, signifying her unmarried state. It was said that Mary had wealth and took great pride in her appearance, enjoying luxuries and lapsing into promiscuity. Many shunned her because of her reputation for lewdness, and it is as this sinner that we are first introduced to her.

After Jesus had raised the son of a widow from the dead, a man named Simon invited him to be guest of honor at a dinner. While they were seated, a certain notorious woman walked into the room carrying an alabaster box. Weeping, she threw herself down and wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair and then anointed them with the oil. Simon was outraged that Jesus would accept such tribute from someone so disgraceful. But instead of judging the woman, Jesus rebuked Simon, “Does thou see this woman? I entered into thy house–thou gave me no water for my feet. But she with tears has washed my feet, and with her hair has wiped them. Thou gave me no kiss. But she, since she came in, has not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou did not anoint but she with ointment has anointed my feet. Wherefore I say to thee: Many sins are forgiven her, because she has loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loves less.” He then told the penitent woman to go in peace, all her sins were forgiven.

In the next chapter of Luke 8:2 he mentions the travels of Christ and his followers in Galilee, among them is “Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils.” Luke also tells us that the day before Christ’s entry into Jerusalem he dined with Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. When Judas objects to the use of such expensive oil, he is rebuked by Christ, like Simon, for being so self-righteous. “. . . For the poor you have always with you . . . but me you have not always. . .” Because in this story, Mary too wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair and anoints them with oil in the same manner as the penitent woman, Catholics believe both women to be Mary Magdalene, whom after being exorcized by Christ became one of his greatest and most loyal followers.

Indeed, her loyalty to Jesus was unsurpassed even at His death. Unlike His other disciples, Mary never renounced Jesus or ran from Him. She stood with His mother until He was dead, helped take Him down from the cross and wept outside of His tomb. On Easter morning it was Mary Magdalene who returned at dawn to keep a vigil. When she found the great stone covering the tomb rolled away, she ran back to tell Peter and the others that someone had taken Jesus’ body. They ran ahead of her, saw the open tomb, and left.

But it was Mary Magdalene who stayed behind, searching the tomb and weeping. Two angels dressed in white appeared to her and asked why she was weeping. “They have taken my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him,” she responded. A gardener asked her the same question and she begged the man to tell her where Christ’s body might be found. “Mary,” said the man, and she suddenly knew this man was not a gardener. She was talking to the risen Christ. When she went to embrace him, he told her, “Touch me not!” (The phrase Noli me tangere in the Latin bible). Mary spread the good news to the disciples–the last action the gospels recorded of Mary Magdalene.

The rest of her life story was written in the early Middle Ages. It is said that after the resurrection of Christ, political leaders in Israel tried to quash the cult that was rapidly growing around Him. These leaders placed Mary Magdalene, her sister, Martha, their brother, Lazarus, and other followers in a rudderless boat, in hopes that they would perish at sea. Divine Providence brought them to the coast of Marseilles, France. There they had much success converting the local people to Christianity. Mary took her apostolic mission to Provence and was greeted with equal enthusiasm. After converting the king and helping to install a bishop, she retired to a cave to live out the last thirty years of her life as a penitent. Her hair grew long enough to cover her naked body, and she repented for her previous deeds as a sinner. Once a day, angels would carry her to heaven, where she received her “daily sustenance,” which took the place of earthly food. Eventually her death drew near, and she sent for Maximinus, the bishop she had installed years earlier. She received the eucharist and died in tears.

Early French ecclesiastical writers claimed Mary Magdalene and her family as their evangelists. Since they were favorites of Christ, this divine favoritism then extended to France and the French people. Miraculous discoveries of her relics abounded from Provence to Burgundy. The Cathedral at Vézelay was dedicated to her in the twelfth century and became the center of her cult and an important stop on the pilgrimage to Campostela. Her feast, falling in the heart of summer, was happily celebrated throughout France.

To the people of the Middle Ages, Mary Magdalene was a wildly glamorous figure, a beautiful woman with long, red hair. She presented an alternative to the image of an ever pious saint. Here was a woman who had enjoyed luxuries, made mistakes, and tried to redeem herself. As towns grew into cities, they began to face an onslaught of urban problems such as prostitution. Though there is no mention in the Bible of Mary Magdalene ever being a prostitute, preachers invented lurid tales of her youthful sexual indiscretions. That God could extend forgiveness to such a willful, wayward creature gave hope to everyone for their own forgiveness. Homes for reformed prostitutes took her as their patron, and the word magdalene became a description for a fallen woman. It was not until the twentieth century that Mary Magdalene’s role as a penitent and devoted follower of Christ was stressed.

Always a popular subject for artists, Mary Magdalene is always depicted as a beautiful, sorrowful woman with long hair. In some images she carries the alabaster unguent jar and in others a skull is present, the symbol of the penitent to remind us of how we are all going to end up. The English word maudlin is a derivative of Magdalene. Oxford University has a famous college named for her. Because she loved luxury before her conversion, and bought expensive unguents after it, she is the patron of such trades as glove makers, hairdressers, and perfumers. Since devils were cast out of her, she is the patron of prisoners who cast off their chains. Because Christ appeared to her as a gardener she is the patron of the profession. Her knowledge and use of unguents also makes her the patron of pharmacists.

Prayer to Saint Mary Magdalene

Saint Mary Magdalene, woman of many sins, Who by conversion became the beloved of Jesus, Thank you for your witness that Jesus forgives through the miracle of love. You, who already possess eternal happiness in His glorious presence, please intercede for me, so that someday I may share in the same everlasting joy.


Feast of Saint Patrick, March 17


Wednesday, Fourth week of Lent

IMG_0992Scripture Reading: Dan 4:24b     
With almsgiving, with mercy to the poor, for your faults and wrong-doing make amends.

V/ My sacrifice is a contrite spirit.
R/ A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn, O God.

Glory Be  

Lord God, you crown the merits of the saints and pardon sinners when they repent.

Forgive us our sins, now that we come before you, humbly.

(We make our prayer) through our Lord.

Our Father

St. John of God 1495 – 1550

St. John of God“I give myself to God. What I have is yours.”
Patron of: alcoholism, heart attack

A Portuguese mercenary who fought in several wars, sold slaves, and lived hard, John was known to “think with his heart” by acting impulsively. At the age of 40, retired from the army and a book dealer in Granada, he heard a sermon that changed his life. He became as extreme in his dedication to his religious life as he had once been to his life as a soldier. He tested the physical limits of his own heart by serving the sick and poor with an intense fervor. He is invoked by those plagued with heart conditions for protection against heart attacks.

Brought up by pious and simple people, John had left home for a life of adventure when he was still a young boy. He worked as a shepherd and as soon as he was able, he enlisted in an army regiment. By the time his regiment disbanded, John was weary of the immoral life he led as a soldier. When he went to find his parents, he was told by an uncle that they had both died grief stricken over his disappearance. John vowed to live a better life and began selling pious pictures from town to town. On the road to Granada he met a barefoot child on the road who he offered to carry. To his surprise the child became heavier and heavier. When John put the child down at a fountain, the child gave him the title he would always be known as, saying, “John of God, Granada shall be your cross,” before disappearing. It was in Granada that he opened his book store and heard the sermon of John of Avila which shattered his existence.

The thought of all the wrongs he committed in his life drove him to madness. Incarcerated in a filthy hospital, he suffered the mistreatment of the insane first hand.

As he recovered his sanity, he began helping the nursing staff. Upon his release, he devoted the rest of his life to the sick and destitute, never forgetting how terribly they were treated in the local institutions. He founded the Order of the Brother Hospitallers and opened a hospital, funding it by begging in the streets. When his hospital was burning down, he ran in and carried each patient out one by one. He is frequently depicted carrying a hospital patient. Because of this he is also considered a patron of firefighters. While recovering from an illness, John of God leapt into a river in an unsuccessful attempt at rescuing a drowning boy. He died on his 55th birthday from an over-exhausted heart.

The symbol of Granada is the pomegranate, it is also a fruit with many seeds, which John’s Order took as a symbol of their founder’s spiritual influence.

Novena Prayer to St. John of God for a Cure:

Saint John of God, heavenly Patron of the Sick, I come to you in prayer to seek your help in my present sickness. Through the love which Jesus had for you in choosing you for the sublime vocation of serving the sick, and through the tender affection with which the Blessed Virgin Mary placed upon your head a crown of thorns as a symbol of the sufferings you would undergo in the service of the sick to attain to your crown of glory, I beg you to intercede for me to Jesus and Mary that They may grant me a cure, if this should be according to the Will of God. How patiently you bore the sufferings of your own disease! Teach me to carry with cheerful resignation the cross that God has given me. Let me never complain or lose courage. Help me to understand that suffering is a very important means of sanctifying my soul, of atoning for my many sins, and of reaping a plentiful harvest of merit for Heaven. I trust in your great love for the sick and in the power of your intercession to help them. Help me, good St. John, and beg the God whose name you bear to touch me as He touched the sick while on earth, that through His almighty power health may return to my body. And as you derived strength in your own sufferings from the crucifix, so may I be able to say what you did to Jesus Crucified: “Lord, Thy thorns are my roses and Thy sufferings my paradise.”

Good Saint John, lover of those who suffer and special Patron of the Sick, I confidently place before you my earnest petition. (Mention your request.) I beg you to recommend my request to Mary, the Mother of Sorrows and Health of the Sick, that both Mary and you may present it to Jesus, the Divine Physician. Saint John of God, patron of the Sick and beloved of Jesus and Mary, pray to Them for me and obtain my request. (Three times.)
In honor of Saint John of God: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.
Saint John of God, Patron of the Sick, pray for us.

Thoughts for Thursday, first week of Lent

IMG_1203Let us pray to Christ the Lord, who gave us the new commandment to love one another. R/ Lord may your people grow in love.

In your bounty, Lord, give us the Spirit

who alone can teach us to think and do what is right,

so that we who without you cannot exist,

may live in loving obedience to your will.

(We make our prayer) through our Lord.

Lord,be the beginning and end of all that we do and say.

Prompt our actions with your grace, and complete them with your all-powerful help.

(We make our prayer) through our Lord.


Saint Peter Damian, 1007

peter damiano ravenna
Andrea Barbiani 1708 -1779
St Peter Damian
Oil on canvas
Biblioteca Classense, Ravenna

“As a monk, a bishop, and a saint, Peter Damian lived one of the Benedictine Rules completely: “Do not prefer anything to the love of Christ.” He died in 1072 and is considered to be a Doctor of the Church. St. Peter Damian helps us to remember that if we put Jesus first in our lives, the Lord will always guide us in living as his faithful disciples.”

“Pope Stephen X recognized Peter’s gifts and asked him to represent the Church in settling disputes and helping to stop practices that were preventing the Church from doing Christ’s work in the world. Peter was so skilled as a peacemaker and reformer that he advised seven popes and traveled to many places representing the Holy Father. He worked with priests, bishops, kings, and emperors—all to serve Jesus.” —RCL Benziger

Especially devoted to Our Blessed Mother, Saint Peter Damian wrote about the Blessed Virgin, as well as composed many prayers to her grace.

And thus Saint Peter Damian, reflecting on the great power of Mary, and begging her to take compassion on us, addresses her, saying:
“O, let thy nature move thee, let thy power move thee; for the more thou art powerful, the greater should thy mercy be.”
O Mary, our own beloved advocate, since thou hast so compassionate a heart, that thou canst not even see the wretehed without being moved to pity; and since, at the same time, thou hast so great power with God that thou canst save all whom thou dost protect; disdain not to undertake the cause of us poor miserable creatures who place all our hope
in thee.
If our prayers cannot move thee, at least let thine own benign heart do so; or, at least,
let thy power do so, since God has enriched thee with such great power, in order that the richer thou art in power to help us, the more merciful thou mayest be in the will to
assist us.

Prayer of Saint Peter Damian to the Blessed Virgin Mary 

O holy Virgin, 
Mother of God, 
help those who implore your assistance.
Turn toward us.
Have you perhaps forgotten us
because you have been elevated
to a position close to God?
No, certainly not. 

You know well in what danger you left us.
You know the miserable condition of your servants.
No, it would not benefit such great mercy
as yours to forget such great misery as ours.

Turn toward us, then,
with your power,
for He who is powerful
has made you omnipotent in heaven and on earth.
For you, nothing is impossible.
You can raise even those who are in despair
to a hope of salvation.
There more powerful you are,
the greater should be your mercy. 

Turn also to us in your love.
I know.
O Mary, that you are all kindness
and that you love us with a love
that no other love can surpass.
How often you appease the wrath of our Divine Judge,
when He is on the point of punishing us! 

All the treasures of the mercy of God
are in your hands.
You will never cease to benefit us, I know,
for you are only seeking an opportunity
to save all sinners
and to shower your mercies upon them.
Your glory is increased when,
through you,
penitents are forgiven and reach heaven. 

Turn, then, toward us,
so that we may also be able to go
and see you in heaven.
For the greatest glory that we can have,
after seeing God,
will be to see you,
to love you,
and to be under your protection.
So be pleased to grant our prayer;
for your beloved Son wishes to honour you

by refusing nothing that you ask. 

Our Lady of Lourdes

de lourdesOur Lady of Lourdes is the patroness of France.
The feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes is February 11.

Bernadette Soubirous was an unlikely visionary. Her family had lost their business and were all but homeless. They were reduced to living in a dank former dungeon that had been evacuated by the authorities because it was considered too inhumane to house prisoners. At the age of fourteen Bernadette had not yet received her First Communion as she was considered slow witted and behind in her catechism studies. On February 11, 1858, the impoverished girl’s mother sent her, a sister, and a friend out to look for firewood. So that they would not be accused of stealing, the girls went to the outskirts of town, to an area near the Gave River known as Massabielle. Respectable citizens of the town of Lourdes avoided this place, considering it disgusting because pigs grazed there. According to local legend, it had been a place of pagan worship where ancient evils still lurked; many crossed themselves if they had to pass by it. Bernadette was congenitally ill with asthma, so the two younger girls waded across a mill stream to collect wood on the other side while she stayed behind. Not finding any wood on her side, she began to take off her stockings to join the others. She heard the sound of a storm starting to blow up; as she stood up straight she was puzzled why the trees remained totally still.

Bewildered, Bernadette looked around, and in her own words, “I looked across the mill stream to a niche above a cave in the rock of Massabielle. A rosebush on the edge of the niche was swaying in the wind. It was all that moved. All else was still. A golden cloud came out of the cave and flooded the niche with radiance. Then a lady, young and beautiful, exceedingly beautiful, the like of whom I had never seen, stood on the edge of the niche. She smiled and smiled at me, beckoning me to come closer as though she were my mother, and she gave me to understand in my soul that I was not mistaken. The lady was dressed in white, with a white veil on her head, and a blue sash at her waist. A rosary of white beads on a gold chain was on her right arm. On that cold winter’s day, her feet were bare, but on each foot was a golden rose radiant with the warmth of summer.”

Instinctively, Bernadette reached for her rosary for spiritual protection. But she found she could not lift her arm for the sign of the cross until the lady herself started to cross herself. After they made the sign of the cross together, Bernadette began to pray the rosary. The lady passed the beads through her fingers and silently followed her. When Bernadette had finished, the smiling lady bowed to her and disappeared.

That Sunday, Bernadette returned to the site with a group of friends after mass. The lady appeared, and Bernadette was the only one who could see or communicate with her. She sprinkled the lady with holy water, saying, “If you come from God, stay. If you don’t, go away.” The lady laughed and inclined her head to receive more water. Her friends were shocked at the physical transformation of Bernadette. She had fallen into a beautiful rapture without a trace of her asthma. When they threw a stone at her, she did not flinch. Frightened, that she might be in danger of losing her mind, they ran to get help. Those who came to their aid were amazed at the incredible change in Bernadette’s demeanor. They hardly recognized the rapturously happy, graceful young girl in front of them. A neighbor carried her to her mother’s house. Bernadette later said that the lady kept in front of her, slightly above her, only disappearing when Bernadette went inside the house. Her parents were angry with Bernadette for causing such a commotion, but those in the crowd who had witnessed her at the grotto advised them to believe her.
She made her third visit to the grotto on February 18, accompanied by two important women from town who insisted she try and write down everything the lady said. Bernadette began the rosary and the lady appeared, surrounded by light. Bernadette entered the grotto and the lady came down from the niche and stood beside her. When Bernadette asked her to please write down her name and what she wanted, the lady laughed.

For the first time she spoke to Bernadette, “Boulet aoue ra gracia de bie aci penden quinze dias?” She asked in the patois dialect of that region. (“Would you have the grace to come here for fifteen days?”) When Bernadette replied that she would have to ask her parents’ permission, the lady said, “I do not promise you happiness in this life, but in the next.” Then she added, “Go and tell the priests that a chapel must be built here.” Smiling, she disappeared.

As news spread through Lourdes about the apparitions, Bernadette’s visits to the grotto were accompanied by larger and larger crowds. The civil authorities felt compelled to take action and Bernadette was detained at the local police station for questioning. When she refused to admit that it was all a hoax or a ploy for attention, they began to threaten her family. The Church was also embarrassed and skeptical of the claims of what they considered to be a superstitious girl. They had no intention of giving these apparitions any credence. Bernadette never speculated on the lady’s identity, she always referred to her as Aquero, the patois word for indescribable being.

It was on February 25, during the ninth apparition, that Bernadette was told to go drink at the spring and wash in it. Thinking that the lady meant the river, Bernadette went toward the Gave but the lady called her back. She pointed at a spot beneath the rock. Bernadette later wrote, “I found some moisture there but it was mud. Three times I threw it away even though the lady said to drink it. Then I washed in it only to have my face besmeared with mud.” The large crowd that had gathered started jeering at the girl. Bernadette’s aunt, who was among them, was utterly humiliated. She smacked Bernadette in the face saying, “Stop your nonsense!” and sent her home. By the afternoon the muddy area was flowing with pure water. No one in Lourdes had ever seen a spring there before. Many who had been scoffing at Bernadette in the morning were drinking at the spring in the afternoon.

In subsequent apparitions, the lady gave Bernadette a secret prayer to say, which she never revealed to anyone. She asked for penitence and the conversion of sinners. As the crowds grew, the authorities again took Bernadette in for questioning, but she never wavered from her story, always referring to the lady as Aquero. In one apparition the lady was alighted on a rosebush, Bernadette feared that the sheer crush of the ever-growing crowd would harm Aquero. “I was afraid she might fall, but she kept on smiling at the people. She loved them, and she always seemed sorry to leave them.” At the thirteenth visit she repeated her request that Bernadette ask the priest for a procession to the grotto and for a chapel to be built.

Reluctantly, Bernadette returned to Father Peyramale the village priest. Frustrated and skeptical, he told her that if the lady in white wanted a chapel she should say who she was and she should make the wild rosebush in the niche blossom. It was after this visit that claims of miraculous healing were made by those who drank or washed in the spring. One was a dying two- year-old child who was immersed for fifteen minutes in the water. His family had his coffin prepared on one day and the next he was running around as if he had never been sick. On market day the crowd reached to over eight thousand people. It was Thursday, March 4, the date of the last of the promised fifteen day visits. All expected something extraordinary to happen. Her visit with the lady lasted forty-five minutes. When it was over, Bernadette merely extinguished her candle and went home. Nothing dramatic occurred: the rosebush did not bloom, the lady did not announce any message. Bernadette was content, unconcerned about the anticipation and unfulfilled emotions she had aroused in the crowd. For the next three weeks, she later wrote, “The people pestered me, the police watched me, and the public prosecutor almost crushed me.” Her family was continually harassed by the town authorities, and Bernadette was threatened with jail if she ever returned to the grotto. (“They forgot I was living in an unused police lockup with the entire family in one room.”)

On the night of March 24, she awoke with the familiar urge to return. At five in the morning of March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, Bernadette returned to the grotto where the lady in white was waiting for her. Bernadette asked her identity several times. The lady only smiled. Finally, the fourth time she asked, “Aquero extended her hands toward the ground, swept them upwards to join them on her heart, raised her eyes, but not her head to heaven, leaned tenderly towards me and said, ‘Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou.’ (I am the Immaculate Conception.) She smiled at me. She disappeared. I was alone.”

According to Bernadette, she had no idea what the lady meant when she said those words. She had to repeat them to herself over and over in order to remember them for the priest. Father Peyramale was astounded at this announcement. The Catholic tradition that Mary had been conceived without original sin so that she might be worthy to be the Mother of God had only been defined as church doctrine in 1854. It was scarcely an expression common to the average person of Lourdes, much less a girl of Bernadette’s social stature. Father Peyramale became Bernadette’s greatest defender as she had to face the onslaught of examinations by government officials, medical personnel, and church hierarchy. Regardless of threats, ridicule, and coersion, she never once altered her account of her story to any of them. “I do not ask you to believe, I only told you what I had seen.” Three eminent Parisian doctors declared that she was mentally and emotionally sound but that she suffered from asthma. (“My mother could have told them that and saved them the trouble.”)

The authorities closed down the grotto and threatened anyone visiting it with arrest. Attempts were made to have Bernadette committed to an insane asylum. Father Peyramale put an end to them by saying, “I know my duty as pastor of my parish and protector of my flock. Your own doctors find no abnormality in Bernadette. You will have to fell me to the ground, pass over my dead body and trample it underfoot, before you touch a hair of the child’s head.”

On July 16, Bernadette saw the lady in white for the last time. Since the grotto was off limits, she knelt in the meadow on the far side of the river. “I began my rosary and my lady stood in the grotto smiling at me. It was the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. She looked more beautiful than I had ever seen her. This would be the last time I would see her on this earth. . . . She left heaven in my heart and it has been there ever since.”

A church commission was set up to investigate the claims of miraculous healing by the spring water. Public opinion forced the reopening of the grotto, and it was approved as a shrine in 1862. Instead of a little chapel, a major basilica , Our Lady of Lourdes, was built on the site. Millions of pilgrims come every year, and it is the world’s most visited site dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Bernadette eventually joined the Sisters of Nevers to avoid the attention her presence created. Her Mother Superior disliked her and forbade her from ever mentioning the apparitions. Although her health steadily declined, she never took any interest in the healing powers of the water at the grotto. Bernadette’s written account of the apparitions, show Mary in a very light and loving manner. Like many visionaries, Bernadette enjoyed no special favors in this world. She remained sick all her life and died in 1879 at the age of thirty-five. When her body was exhumed in 1908, it was found to be uncorrupted. She was recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church in 1933.

Our Lady of Lourdes is depicted in white with a blue sash, holding a rosary. Bernadette always felt that Church-sanctioned artistic images of Mary in this apparition were totally wrong, insisting that the lady she saw was a young one, between the ages of twelve and fourteen.

There are four traditional gifts imparted by a pilgrimage to Lourdes: (1) The gift of the miraculous water, (2) the gift of healing, (3) the gift of reconciliation, and (4) the gift of friendship.

Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes


Saint Valentine 269 a.d.

st.v2Feast Day: February 14

Patron of: beekeepers, engaged couples, greeting card manufacturers, happy marriages, love, lovers, young people Invoked against: epilepsy, fainting, plague

Symbols: birds, martyr’s palms, rose, sun, sword

His feast day is embedded in Western civilization. His name has become synonymous with a certain type of romantic card, yet few realize that Valentine actually existed. As a saint, his first great work was to unite young couples in marriage.

In the year a.d. 269, when the Roman Empire was under constant attack from barbarian tribes, Emperor Marcus Aurelius Claudius issued an edict outlawing marriage for young men. He speculated that more soldiers would join the legions to defend it if they were unfettered by wives and children. Valentine was a respected healer and priest in the outlawed Christian faith. He had great sympathy for those young couples whose plans for a life together were shattered by the state and he encouraged anyone who wished to wed to come to him to be married in secret. He was arrested and imprisoned in Rome for defying the emperor. But his reputation as a learned man remained untarnished and many of his followers would visit him in prison for counseling; others came for health cures. Personally afflicted with epilepsy, Valentine was particularly drawn to treating those also suffering from the disease.

The jailer, having witnessed many successful healings at Valentine’s cell door, asked the saint to treat his daughter, who had been blind since birth. During her subsequent visits to the prison, Valentine read to the girl, taught her mathematics, and beautifully described the natural world. Valentine’s wisdom and kindness so impressed the jailer and his family that they converted to Christianity despite the fact that the young girl remained blind. This conversion established Valentine’s status as a true threat to the state, a charge punishable by death. His execution came on February 14, the eve of the Roman festival of Lupercalia. Valentine was beaten with clubs and then beheaded. Before his sentence was carried out however, he sent a yellow crocus to the jailer’s daughter enclosed with a note that read, “With love, from your Valentine.” The bright color of this flower was the first thing she ever saw, her eyesight having been miraculously restored. She is said to have planted an almond tree on Valentine’s grave, and to this day the almond tree is
considered a symbol of friendship and devotion.

Valentine was buried on the Flaminian Way in a catacomb that still bears his name. A church was dedicated to him there in a.d. 496. The wall of the city, the original Flaminian Gate, was a pilgrim’s first stop upon entering Rome and was known as Porta S. Valentino until the seventeenth century, when it was renamed Porta del Popolo. In the ninth century, relics of the early martyrs were removed from the catacombs and transferred to local Roman churches. Valentine, too, was reinterred in the church. His body was moved to the church of Saint Praxedes, very near his original burial place. Many cities besides Rome claim his relics, among them Terni, Italy; Madrid, Spain; Dublin, Ireland; Glasgow, Scotland; and Rocamador, France.

It is no coincidence that the liturgical feast day of the patron saint of love falls on the eve of Lupercalia, an erotic Roman fertility festival. It was common practice for church holidays to coopt pagan celebrations. The Romans considered this the official beginning of Spring, a time of reawakening fertility and warming weather. One of the activities held in honor of the goddess Februata Juno consisted of the city’s bachelors drawing the names of unmarried women out of an urn. They would then become a couple for the rest of the year, with many of these matches resulting in marriage. In twelfth century southern France, this practice was reawakened as part of the Langue d’Oc poetry movement. This was a time when art and literature took on a heightened importance to the ruling classes. Noble youths known as gallants wrote missives of love they called galantines.

The local pronunciation confused this with the word valentine and Valentines clubs sprang up. On February 14, after a Mass in honor of Love, a silver casket containing the names of unmarried local men was presented to the single women in town. The men whose names each woman drew was required to be the guardian of that lady, providing her with flowers, poems, and gifts throughout the year. He was to guard her honor chivalrously. Marriage between these Valentines was strictly forbidden. Because of the wide dispersal of his remains, the cult of Saint Valentine became extremely popular in Northern Italy, southern France, and England. His head, which was reputed to be in England, was said to bestow incredible miracles and healings on those who kissed it. Since the middle of February was considered the time of year when birds began to pair, the English, like the Romans a thousand years before them, looked upon this as the beginning of mating season. Celebrating the Feast of Saint Valentine by citing the fidelity of doves seems to be an English tradition.

The oldest valentine note in existence today was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife in 1415, while he was imprisoned in the tower of London. By the middle, nineteenth century sending and receiving anonymous Valentine’s cards and poems declaring one’s love became common in both America and England. By then, the story of the saint who had inspired this industry might have faded away, but his name and feast day is celebrated universally.

Prayer to Saint Valentine

O glorious advocate and protector, Saint Valentine, look with pity upon our wants, hear our requests, attend to our prayers, relieve by your intercession the miseries under which we labor, and obtain for us the divine blessing, that we may be found worthy to join you in praising the Almighty for all eternity; through the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

St. Blaise D. 316


 “Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God free you from illness of the throat and from any other sort of ill. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.” Traditional Blessing of the Throat
Patron of: Throat Ailments

Every Catholic Church throughout the world honors the tradition of the Blessing of the Throats on February 3 by invoking Saint Blaise who was martyred seventeen centuries ago. A priest crosses two white candles in a ‘y’ formation over ones throat and recites the above invocation to Saint Blaise in order to stave off throat ailments which often lead to more serious illnesses, throughout the year. A bishop from Segeste in Armenia (now Turkey), Blaise was renown for his medical knowledge and abilities to heal. He moved to a cave to avoid persecution for his Christian beliefs. Whenever he came upon a sick animal, he healed it with the sign of the cross. Gradually, animals flocked to him. When a group of hunters came across the array of bear, tigers and lions around the cave, they dragged Blaise off to the Roman magistrate. Imprisoned for his Christian views, Blaise continued to heal the sick with the sign of the cross.

When a poor woman came to him because the only piglet she owned had been carried off by a wolf, Blaise told her not to worry. The wolf immediately brought the piglet back to her. The woman later tried to repay Blaise by bringing him candles in prison. Blaise advised her to take the candles back and bring one to church as an offering each year and she would always enjoy strong health and good fortune.

While being taken out to face torture for refusing to give up his faith, a frantic mother presented him with a child choking on a fishbone. Upon Blaise’s command, the boy immediately choked up the fishbone and was healed. Blaise then promised to heal all who called on him of any throat ailments. Because he refused to renounce his faith, Blaise was tortured by having his skin torn from his body with carder’s combs, the combs used to separate wool. He was then decapitated. The cult of Saint Blaise became immensely popular during the Middle Ages and spread throughout the Christian world during the time of the Black Death. Blaise became one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers for his willingness to cure throat ailments. The wool industry claims him as a patron because one of his symbols is a carder’s comb. Because his feast is one day after Candelmas, special breads and rolls are baked in his honor.

Novena to St. Blaise to Cure Disorders of the Throat

O God, deliver us through the intercession of Thy holy bishop and martyr Blaise, from all evil of soul and body, especially from all ills of the throat; and grant us the grace to make a good confession in the confident hope of obtaining Thy pardon, and ever to praise with worthy lips Thy most holy name. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. St. Blaise, gracious benefactor of mankind and faithful servant of God, who for the love of our Saviour didst suffer so many tortures with patience and resignation; I invoke thy powerful intercession.

(Your intention here.)

Preserve me from all evils of soul and body. Because of thy great merits God endowed thee with the special grace to help those that suffer from ills of the throat; relieve and preserve me from them, so that I may always be able to fulfil my duties, and with the aid of God’s grace perform good works. I invoke thy help as special physician of souls, that I may confess my sins sincerely in the holy sacrament of Penance and obtain their forgiveness. I recommend to thy merciful intercession also those who unfortunately concealed a sin in confession. Obtain for them the grace to accuse themselves sincerely and contritely of the sin they concealed, of the sacrilegious confessions and communions they made, and of all the sins they committed since then, so that they may receive pardon, the grace of God, and the remission of the eternal punishment. Amen.

My Lord and my God! I offer up to Thee my petition in union with the bitter passion and death of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, together with the merits of His immaculate and blessed Mother, Mary ever virgin, and of all the saints, particularly with those of the holy Helper in whose honor I make this novena.

Look down upon me, merciful Lord! Grant me Thy grace and Thy love, and graciously hear my prayer. Amen