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About this commemoration
Laurence the Deacon, one of the most popular saints of the Roman Church, was martyred during the persecution initiated in 257 by the Emperor Valerian. That persecution was aimed primarily at the clergy and the laity of the upper classes. All properties used by the Church were confiscated, and assemblies for Christian worship were forbidden. On August 4, 258, Pope Sixtus II and his seven deacons were apprehended in the Roman catacombs. They were summarily executed, except for the archdeacon, Laurence, who was martyred on the tenth. Though no authentic “Acts” of Laurence’s ordeal have been preserved, the tradition is that the prefect demanded information from him about the Church’s treasures. Laurence, in reply, assembled the sick and poor to whom, as archdeacon, he had distributed the Church’s relief funds, and presented them to the prefect, saying, “These are the treasures of the Church.” Laurence is believed to have been roasted alive on a gridiron.
The Emperor Constantine erected a shrine and basilica over Laurence’s tomb, which is in a catacomb on the Via Tiburtina. The present Church of St. Laurence Outside the Walls, a beautiful double basilica (damaged in World War II), includes a choir and sanctuary erected by Pope Pelagius II (579–590) and a nave by Pope Honorius III (1216– 1227).
Laurence is the subject of a small round glass medallion, probably dating from the fourth century, now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It bears the simple inscription, “Live with Christ and Laurence.”
The Greek word from which we get our English word “martyr” simply means “witness;” but, in the age of the persecutions, before Constantine recognized the Church early in the fourth century, a “martyr” was generally one who had witnessed even to death. For Laurence, as for all the martyrs, to die for Christ was to live with Christ.
Collect of the Day
Almighty God, you called your deacon Laurence to serve you with deeds of love, and gave him the crown of martyrdom: Grant that we, following his example, may fulfill your commandments by defending and supporting the poor, and by loving you with all our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2 Corinthians 9:6–10
Preface of a Saint (3)
We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?
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From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.