Today, in the 1962 Dominican Rite Calendar, we celebrate the feast of the illustrious St. Catherine of Siena, Virgin, Doctor of the Church, Patroness of the Third Order of St. Dominic. At the time the 1962 Dominican Breviary was published, her feast was II Class, though it could be celebrated as I Class by Tertiaries and Churches which bore her name. By the time of the publication of the English translations of the Breviarium S.O.P., the Order raised her feast to I Class. Accordingly, the festive office is prayed according to the rubrics.
At Rome, St. Catherine of Siena, virgin, of the Order of our Father St. Dominic. While hardly more than an infant, she consecrated her virginity to Christ and preserved it unsullied until death. She was famed for her innumerable halos of virtue, and excelled in a remarkable innocence of life. Strengthened by Christ her Spouse in frequent sweet conversations, she merited to become a sharer in His sufferings and wounds. Lastly, she was distinguished by the gift of prophecy, by miracles, and by doctrine. Having frequently conquered and triumphed over Satan, she ascended to heaven to the happy embraces of her Spouse on April 29. She was buried in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and Pius II inscribed her in the number of the holy virgins.
From “Short Lives of the Dominican Saints” (London, Kegan Paul, Trench, and Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1901):
Saint Catherine was born at Siena in Tuscany, April 30 A.D. 1347. Her father, James Benincasa, was a dyer of that city and she was the youngest of his numerous family. Whilst still a little child she attempted to retire into solitude, in imitation of the Fathers of the Desert, and at the age of seven she consecrated herself to God by a vow of virginity. When she grew older her parents endeavored to persuade her to marry and the Saint had to undergo much domestic persecution on this account, all which she bore with invincible patience and constancy. At length her father became convinced that her resolution was from God, and gave orders that she should no longer be opposed in her pious designs. She spent some years in a life of strict retirement and at the age of about seventeen took the habit of the Third Order of Saint Dominic, being, it is said, the first unmarried woman who had ever been received into that Sisterhood. She continued, however, as before, to live in her father's house, devoting herself to exercises of prayer and the practice of severe austerities. It was the Divine will that she should be tried by grievous temptations, over which her humility and unshaken confidence in God enabled her to be always victorious. She was miraculously taught to read and write and Our Lord deigned often to recite the Office with her in her little chamber.
On the last day of the Carnival, A.D. 1367, she was visibly espoused to our Divine Lord, and some years later He vouchsafed to her the mysterious favor of the exchange of hearts and the impression of the sacred Stigmata. After her espousals she began to come forth from her retirement and to take part in the household duties. Our Lord had taught her to seek and find Him in His two chosen dwelling-places the Sacrament of His love and the person of His poor.
She was accustomed to approach the Holy Table very often, at a time when frequent Communion was by no means common; her influence and example are said to have largely contributed to the revival of this salutary practice. In accordance with her own maxim, that "the love we conceive towards God we must bring forth in acts of charity towards our neighbor," she began to practise the most heroic services of charity. Her self-devotion was on more than one occasion repaid only by the blackest calumny and ingratitude; but her sweetness and patience triumphed, and her persevering prayer won back her persecutors for God. Marvellous conversions were granted in answer to her fervent supplications and she had an extraordinary power over the evil spirits, whom she often drove from the bodies of the possessed.
The sphere of her influence gradually widened as her sanctity made itself more and more apparent. She was called upon to heal the terrible feuds which were the bane of Italy in the Middle Ages, to urge on the undertaking of a fresh Crusade against the infidels, and to become the counsellor of Popes, Cardinals, and Princes. The Florentines had revolted against the Holy See, and, fearing the consequences of their rebellion, they entreated the holy maiden of Siena to plead their cause with the Sovereign Pontiff. For this end she visited Avignon, where the Papal Court then resided, and whilst there succeeded in persuading Gregory XI to return to Rome. The Saint went back to Florence as ambassador from the Pope, and April 30 after much trouble and persecution succeeded in effecting a reconciliation between that city and the Apostolic See. She dictated some sublime treatises whilst in a state of ecstasy, and they were afterwards published under the title of the "Dialogue." A great number of her letters to persons of all classes and conditions have also been preserved; they are full of the most beautiful and practical instructions in the spiritual life.
Saint Catherine greatly exerted herself to maintain the authority of the Holy See during the unhappy schism which followed on the death of Gregory XL His successor, Urban VI, summoned her to Rome towards the close of the year 1378 that he might be assisted by her wise counsels. The remaining seventeen months of her earthly pilgrimage were spent in the Eternal City. There she prayed, and suffered, and finally offered her life as a victim for the Church and its visible Head, "the Christ on earth," as she loved to call him. The sacrifice was accepted; and after many weeks of agonising suffering, both of body and soul heroically endured, she departed to her Spouse on Sunday, April 29, A.D. 1380. She was canonized in the year 1461 by Pius II., himself a native of Siena, who wrote her Office with his own hand.
We cannot better conclude this brief notice than by quoting two of Saint Catherine's favourite maxims which were taught her by our Lord in these words: "Thou must not love Me, or thy neighbour, or thyself, for thyself; but thou must love all for Me alone; " and again, " Make in thy soul as it were a little spiritual cell, closed in with the material of My Will . . .which must so encompass every faculty of thy body and soul that thou shalt never speak of anything but what thou deemest pleasing to Me, nor think nor do anything but what thou believest to be agreeable to Me."
O God, you enabled the blessed Catherine, graced with a special privilege of virginity and patience, to overcome the attacks of evil spirits and to remain unshaken in your love; grant, we beseech you, that following her example by treading underfoot the wickedness of the world, and overcoming the wiles of our enemies, we may pass tin safety to your glory. Through our Lord…