Essays/Articles and Scriptural Studies


For this week's meditation on the Collects of the Roman Missal, we consider the Collect for the Feast of St. Agnes (MR ‘70). Her feast is celebrated on the same date in both forms of the Mass, and the Collects of the day in each Missal are largely the same. (This year, her feast is displaced by the Sunday Propers.) Below is the official ICEL translation of this Collect in the third typical edition of the Roman Missal (2010):

"Almighty ever-living God, who choose what is weak in the world to confound the strong, mercifully grant, that we, who celebrate the heavenly birthday of your Martyr Saint Agnes, may follow her constancy in the faith. Through our Lord, etc. Amen.”

St. Agnes was beheaded in 304 A.D. for refusing to renounce her Christian faith and yield her virginity. The Collect quotes St. Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 1:27 to indicate the power of grace at work in the martyrs: “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (RSV). This applies well to our martyr, who was merely twelve or thirteen when she died. The world does not usually regard teenagers as great heroes. Nevertheless, St. Agnes’ constancy in virginity and martyrdom made her great, indeed, far greater than her Roman culture’s standards of worth.

Hear the words of St. Ambrose in his treatise On Virgins found in the Divine Office for today’s feast:

“A new kind of martyrdom! Too young to be punished, yet old enough for a martyr’s crown...she shows herself a master in valor despite the handicap of youth.....All are amazed that one not yet of legal age can give her testimony to God. So she succeeds in convincing others of her testimony about God, though her testimony in human affairs could not yet be accepted. What is beyond the power of nature, they argue, must come from its Creator.”  

This last point is especially important, for martyrdom is never to be sought or accomplished by one’s own strength. It is a grace for which God supplies the strength.  

The world often overvalues those who can accomplish many things or accumulate power, beauty, health, and wealth. Temporal endowments, gifts, and other good accomplishments are not bad in themselves, but much too often become pernicious idols. We Christians often fall prey to evaluating ourselves by worldly standards (and often become despondent as a result). Worldly gifts and accomplishments, however, can hardly compare to the saints’ love for Jesus.

Thus, the Church upholds a mere teenager as worthy of greatest praise, simply because of her excelling love for Christ. The martyrs, and especially those virgin martyrs celebrated in the Canon, continually challenge our values and standards of worth. They call us to recalibrate ourselves, and to focus on what is most important: getting into heaven full of merit gained by our cooperation with God’s grace.

The martyrs also encourage us to be strong in our own “martyrdoms,” that is, all of the various kinds of suffering, great and small, which constitute our daily crosses, whereby we may offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice (cf. Rom. 12:1). We hear again St. Ambrose in the work quoted above: “It is the birthday of a martyr; let us offer ourselves in sacrifice.” This lesson which affirms our baptismal priesthood is found elsewhere in the Fathers, and it is the central “takeaway” from any martyr’s feast day. The martyrs help us to be conscious of how we might further perfect the offering of ourselves to God.  

(David Allen)

Mr. David Allen, M.T.S., is the lay Pastoral Associate for our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.


About Our Parish

Mary Immaculate of Lourdes is Newton and Needham Massachusetts's oldest Roman Catholic Parish. Founded as Saint Mary's Parish in 1870 it was renamed "Mary Immaculate of Lourdes" when the new Church was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, 1910. In addition to being a regular territorial parish of the Archdiocese of Boston it is also a "Mission Parish" since 2007 with a special apostolate for the Traditional Latin Mass (1962 Missal).

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