St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

Today is the feast day for one of my favorite Saints, Lawrence – a deacon (Big surprise he’s a favorite) of the early church.  Why not celebrate with a barbecue?

When Sixtus became Bishop of Rome in 257, Lawrence was ordained a deacon and was placed in charge of the administration of Church goods and care for the poor. For this duty, he is regarded as one of the first archivists and treasurers of the Church and was made the patron of librarians.  Among the treasure of the Roman church entrusted to Lawrence for safe-keeping was the Holy Chalice, the cup from which Jesus and the Apostles drank at the Last Supper. Lawrence was able to spirit this away to Huesca with a letter and a supposed inventory, where it lay hidden and unregarded for centuries. When Augustine connects Lawrence with a chalice, it is the chalice of the Mass:

“For in that Church, you see, as you have regularly been told, he performed the office of deacon; it was there that he administered the sacred chalice of Christ’s blood”.”

According to tradition, th eRelic of the Holy Grailt was sent by St. Lawrence to his parents in Spain. He entrusted this sacred chalice to a friend whom he knew would travel back to Spain, his home country. While the Holy Chalice’s exact journey through the centuries is disputed, it is generally accepted by Catholics that the Chalice was sent by his family to a monastery for preservation and veneration. Historical records indicate that this chalice has been venerated and preserved by a number of monks and monasteries through the ages. Today the Holy Grail is venerated in a special chapel in the Catholic Cathedral of Valencia, Spain, in the region of St Lawrence’s birth and early life.

In the persecutions under Valerian in 258 A.D., numerous priests and deacons were put to death, while Christians belonging to the nobility or the Roman Senate were deprived of their goods and exiled. Pope St Sixtus II was one of the first victims of this persecution, being beheaded on August 6. A legend cited by St Ambrose of Milan says that Lawrence met the Pope on his way to his execution, where he is reported to have said, “Where are you going, my dear father, without your son? Where are you hurrying off to, holy priest, without your deacon? Before you never mounted the altar of sacrifice without your servant, and now you wish to do it without me?” The Pope is reported to have prophesied that “after three days you will follow me”.

After the death of Sixtus, the prefect of Rome demanded that Lawrence turn over the riches of the Church. Ambrose is the earliest source for the tale that Lawrence asked for three days to gather together the wealth.Lawrence worked swiftly to distribute as much Church property to the poor as possible, so as to prevent its being seized by the prefect. On the third day, at the head of a small delegation, he presented himself to the prefect, and when ordered to give up the treasures of the Church, he presented the poor, the crippled, the blind and the suffering, and said that these were the true treasures of the Church. One account records him declaring to the prefect, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.” This act of defiance led directly to his martyrdom.Lawrence is said to have been martyred on a gridiron. During his torture Lawrence cried out “This side’s done, turn me over and have a bite.” “Assum est, inquit, versa et manduca.”. This is the legend often quoted explaining why Lawrence is the Patron Saint of Comedians.

Cyprian, the contemporary bishop of Carthage mentions the directive of Valerian that Christian bishops, priests, and deacons should forthwith be punished, and records the martyrdom of Xystus bishop of Rome, in accordance with it on August 6.


You call deacons to be servants of your word and your table: inspire in them a deep love for prayer, for preaching, and for the poor — Hear the cry of our appeal!

You took your place among those caught by sorrow and distress; fill all deacons with compassion for the sick and the suffering — Hear the cry of our appeal!

You are the courage of martyrs; protect those whose ministry takes them into dark and dangerous places — Hear the cry of our appeal!

O Lord, the fire of your love filled the martyr Saint Lawrence with the courage to defy the fear of death for the sake of the Gospel.  Grant all your people the grace to love as he loved, to live as he lived, and to die in the faith for which he died, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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