Vincent triumphed over the torture of fire, because the flame of divine love which burned within his soul was keener than that which scorched his body. He was comforted in the most miraculous manner during his great sufferings; but God worked these prodigies not to deprive Vincent of his crown, but to show his own power. The holy deacon had but one thought in the midst of all his pains; he was ambitious to make a return, by the gift of his own life, for that sacrifice whereby his divine Master had died for him and for all men. And now, is it not right and just that so generous a lover of God should be found beside the Crib? How he urges us, every Christmas, to love this Divine Infant! He that hesitated not, when called on to give himself to his Lord, even though it was to cost him such cruel pains—what cowards would he not call us, who can come so many Christmases to Bethlehem, and have nothing to give but cold and divided hearts! His sacrifice was to be burnt alive and torn and cut, and he smiled as he offered it: what are we to say of ourselves, who take years to think before we will give up those childish things which prevent us from ever seriously beginning a new life with our new-born Jesus! Would that the sight of all these Martyrs, in whose company the Church has made us live during these few last days, would touch our hearts, and make them resolute and simple!
There is an ancient Christian tradition, which makes St. Vincent the patron of vineyards and labourers in vineyards. This was, no doubt, suggested by the Saint’s having held the office of deacon; for the deacon has to pour wine into the chalice during the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and that wine is to be changed into the Blood of Christ. A few days ago, we assisted at the mystery of the Feast of Cana; Jesus then offered us the sacred cup, the wine of his love: today, again, he offers it to us by the hand of his Martyr Vincent. To make himself worthy of his high office, the holy deacon mingled his own blood, as a generous wine, in the cup that holds the price of the world’s salvation. It is thus that we are to understand that expression of St. Paul, which says that the Saints fill up in the flesh, by the merit of their sufferings, those things that are wanting, not in their efficacy, but in their fullness, of the sufferings of Christ, whose members the Saints are.
We will not give the abridged account of the martyrdom of St. Vincent, as it is related in the Lessons of his Feast.
Vincent was born at Huesca in Granada in Spain. He was early turned to study, and learned sacred letters from Valerius, Bishop of Saragossa. He was accustomed to deliver discourses for this Prelate, who, owing to an impediment in his speech, was not able to preach himself. This coming to the ears of Dacian, Prefect of the province under Diocletian and Maximian, he caused Vincent to be arrested at Saragossa, and brought before him at Valencia in bonds. The saint was scourged, and afterwards tormented on the rack, in presence of numerous spectators, but neither torture, threats, nor fair words could bend his resolution. He was then laid on a grating over hot coals, his flesh mangled with iron hooks, and white-hot plates of metal applied to the wounds. The still breathing remains were taken back to a prison, and laid on broken potsherds, that the agony of his naked body might prevent his sleeping from exhaustion.
As he lay in his dark cell, a glorious light suddenly filled the prison, to the astonishment of all who saw it. The gaoler informed Dacian, who caused the martyr to be brought out and cared for in a soft bed, hoping that though he had failed to move him by cruelty, he might seduce him by pretended kindness. But the indomitable soul of Vincent, armed with faith and hope in Christ Jesus, remained unconquered even to the end, and triumphing over the fire, the steel, and the cruelty of the tormentors, passed away to receive the victorious crown of martyrdom in heaven, on the 22nd day of January, (in the year of our Lord 304.) His body was thrown out unburied. A raven perched upon it and kept off with his beak, claws, and wings both the other birds and a wolf, which came to prey on it. Dacian then had it thrown into the sea, but by the will of God it was washed up again, and the Christians took and buried it.
Hail, Victorious Deacon! How beautiful art thou, with the Chalice of salvation in thy brave hands! It was thine office to offer it at the Altar, in order that the wine it contained might be changed by the sacred words into the Blood of Christ; and, when the Mystery was accomplished, thou hadst to take this same Chalice, and present it to the Faithful, to the end that they who thirsted after their God might drink at the source of eternal life. But on this day thou offerest it thyself to Jesus, and it is full to the brim with thine own blood. Oh, how faithful a Deacon, giving even thy very life in testimony to the Mysteries of which thou was the dispenser! Three centuries had elapsed since Stephen’s sacrifice; sixty years had gone by since the sweet incense of Laurence’s martyrdom had ascended to the throne of God; and now it is the last persecution; peace is dawning on the Church; and a third Deacon comes to prove that time had not impaired the Order—it was the Deacon of Saragossa—thyself, dear Saint!
Bright is thy name in the list of Martyrs, O Vincent! And the Church is proud of thy triumph. It was for the Church, after Jesus, that thou didst combat: have pity on us therefore, and signalize this day of thy Feast by showing us the effects of thy protection. Thou art face to face with the King of Ages, whose battle thou didst fight on earth, and thou gazest, with loving yet dazzled eye, on his eternal beauty. We also, we who are in this valley of tears, possess him and see him, for he calls himself our Emmanuel, God with us. But it is under the form of a weak Babe that he shows himself, for he fears to overpower us with the splendour of his majesty. Pray for us, O holy Martyr Vincent! For at times we tremble at the thought that this sweet Jesus is one day to be our Judge. When we reflect on what thou didst suffer for him, we have scarcely courage to think upon ourselves, for what good works can we show, or who can say of us that we were ever warm in defending the cause of our Divine Master? Oh, that thy Feast might shame us into the earnest, uncalculating simplicity which this sweet Babe of Bethlehem is come to teach us—the simplicity which springs from humility and confidence in God, and which made thee go through all thy martyrdom with such a brave and calm spirit! Pray for us, that we may at length obey God who teaches us by his own example, and accomplish his will, whatever that may ask of us, with the calm cheerfulness of devoted service.
Pray, Vincent, for all Christians, for all are called to fight against the world and their own passions. Jesus will admit none but conquerors to the banquet of eternal glory, where he has promised to drink with us the new wine, in the Kingdom of his Father. The wedding garment, which all must have on who enter there, must be washed in the blood of the Lamb: we must all be Martyrs, at least in heart, for we have all to triumph over self, and self is the harshest of tyrants.
Fly to the assistance of the Martyrs who, in distant countries, are dying for the true Faith; obtain for them such courage, that they may be the Vincents of our age. Protect Spain, thy country. Beseech our Emmanuel to send her heroes of thy stamp; that so, the Catholic Kingdom, which has ever been so jealous of purity of Faith, may speedily triumph over the trials which are heavy upon her. Shall the illustrious church of Saragossa—founded by St. James the Apostle, visited by the Blessed Mother of God, and sanctified by the ministry of thy deaconship—shall such a country as this ever grow indifferent about Faith, or suffer the bond of unity to be broken? And since the devotion of the Christian people looks upon thee as the protector of the vine, bless this fruit of the earth, which God has destined for man’s use, and which he has deigned to make both the instrument of the deepest of his Mysteries, and the symbol of his love of mankind.
On this same 22nd of January, the Church honours the memory of the holy Persian monk Anastasius, who suffered Martyrdom in the year 628. Chosroes, having made himself master of Jerusalem, had carried with him into Persia the wood of the True Cross, which was afterwards recovered by Heraclius. The sight of this Holy Wood excited in the heart of Anastasius, who was then a Pagan, the desire to know the religion of which it is the trophy. He renounced the Persian superstitions in order to become a Christian, and a monk. This, together with the neophyte’s zeal, excited the Pagans against him; and after enduring frightful tortures, the soldier of Christ was beheaded. His body was taken to Constantinople, and thence to Rome, where it is still honoured. Two celebrated Churches of Rome, one in the City itself, and the other outside the walls, are dedicated in common to St. Vincent and St. Anastasius, because these two great Martyrs suffered on the same day of the year, though in different centuries. This is the motive of the Church in uniting their two feasts into one. Let us pray to this new champion of the Faith, that he intercede for us to the Saviour, whose Cross was so dear to him.
We add the short lesson of St. Anastasius. It occurs immediately after those of St. Vincent.
Anastasius was a Persian monk who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Places at Jerusalem in the reign of the Emperor Heraclius, during which journey he endured bonds and stripes on account of his confession of Christ at Banias, then called Cassarea, in Palestine. Soon after his return, he was arrested by the Persians for the same cause, and, after enduring divers torments, he and seventy other Christians were beheaded by order of King Chosroes. He testified upon the 22nd day of January in the year of our Lord 628. His reliques were first carried to Jerusalem, to the monastery in which he had made his monastic profession, and afterwards to Rome, where they were laid in the monastery of Saints Vincent and Anastasius.