Fish Eaters: The Whys and Hows of Traditional Catholicism

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Feast of St. Catherine of Siena

Background:  Proving that the apple sometimes falls very far from the tree is the life of the grandson of the great King St. Louis IX of France: King Philip IV, a man thought to be so handsome that he was known as "Philippe Le Bel" (Philip the Fair). And proving that, in reality, "handsome is as handsome does," he did some very ugly things, like debasing the currency, provoking war with England, claiming half of priests' incomes as taxes, seizing Church property, and trying to assert political control over the Church in France. Pope Boniface VIII responded with the Bull Ausculta fili, which began:

Listen, my son, to the precepts of a father and to the instructions of a master, who holds the place of him who is the sole Master and Lord; open your heart to the admonitions of a most loving  other, the Church; dispose yourself to return to God from whom either by weakness, or by the bad advice of others you have strayed away. Let not the king flatter himself that he has no superior on earth but God, and that he is not subject to the power of the Pope. He who thinks thus is an infidel.

The Pope was ignored, so he issued the Bull Unam Sanctam, which first restated the fact that the Church is the sole ark of salvation, and then went on to clarify the Church's relationship with temporal powers:

We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal. For when the Apostles say: ‘Behold, here are two swords,‘ that is to say, in the Church, since the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not reply that there were too many, but sufficient. Certainly the one who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter has not listened well to the word of the Lord commanding: ‘Put up thy sword into thy scabbard‘. Therefore, both are in the power of the Church, namely, the spiritual sword and the material. But indeed, the latter is to be exercised on behalf of the Church; and truly, the former is to be exercised by the Church. The former is of the priest; the latter is by the hand of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.

Philip IV responded to this by having the Pope kidnapped and imprisoned in the town of Anagni, about 35 miles southeast of Rome. The people of the town reacted with outrage, and freed the Pope, who returned to Rome, but died shortly thereafter.

Pope Boniface VIII was followed by Blessed Pope Benedict XI, but his reign was all too brief, and what followed -- after an eleven month-long conclave -- was catastrophic: Pope Clement V, a Frenchman who was weak and who allowed himself to be played like Philip IV's puppet. Because he owed them money, the King asked the Pope to suppress the Knights Templar, and the Pope did. The King asked the Pope to put his predecessor on trial as a heretic, and though he protested that Bonface VIII was innocent, and though the trial was never completed, he did. Then the King asked the Pope to move the seat of the papacy to Avignon, France, and the Pope did.

Thus, in 1309, began "the Avignon papacy" or the "Babylonian captivity of the papacy," as some call it. Pope after Pope would remain in Avignon, and would for decades.

The Popes had been in Avignon for 38 years when Catherine was born in Siena -- about 150 miles northwest of Rome, in Tuscany -- on March 25, 1347, the Feast of the Annunciation. She had a twin sister, and was one of the twenty-five children born to her parents, Jacomo (a wool-dyer) and Lapa Benencasa. Catherine's twin died very early on, but Catherine was able to grow up, and she did so in a way that inspired everyone around her. She was a very sweet and very pious child, one with little religious habits, such as often praying an Ave at each step of the stairs going upstairs or down in her home. More than that, though, she was given to intense meditation and prayer while still very, very young. This devotion was rewarded by God granting her visions from a very early age. In the biography he wrote about her, her confessor, Raymond of Capua, tells us of her first vision and of some extraordinary graces:

Catharine was six years of age, when her mother sent her, with her little brother Stephen, to the house of their sister Boneatura, either to carry something, or obtain information: their commission being executed, the children were returning by the valley known as the Vaile Piatta, when Catharine, raising her eyes to heaven, saw opposite to her, on the gable end of the Church of the I'riar Preachers, a splendid throne occupied by our Lord Jesus Christ clothed in pontifical ornaments, and his sacred brow adorned with a tiara. At his side were St. Peter, St. Paul and St. John the Evangelist. Catharine stood still ravished with admiration and contemplated with love Him who thus manifested himself to her in order to captivate more fully her devoted heart; the Saviour gave her a look of serene majesty, smiled upon her with benign tenderness, and then extending his hand gave her his blessing in the form of a cross, as is customary with Bishops...

...Her mother informed me, and Catharine was obliged to acknowledge it to me, that when purposing to mount the stair-case she was borne up to the top without touching the steps with her feet, and such was the rapidity of her ascent that the mother trembled lest she should fall.

Inspired by the lives of the Desert Fathers,

[o]ne morning, she set forth in search of the desert; after having prudently provided herself with a loaf of bread she directed her course towards the residence of her married sister, who lived near one of the gates of Sienna. She left the ety ‘or the first time in her life, and as soon as she perceived the valley, and the habitations a little more distant from one another she thought she was certainly approaching ‘‘the desert." Having found a kind of grotto underneath a shelving rock, she joyfully entered it, convinced that she was now in her much desired solitude. She knelt, and adored Him who had condescended to appear to her and bless her, and God who accepted the pious desires of his spouse, but who had other designs over her, would testify to her how agreeable her fervor was to him. She had scarcely begun her meditation, than she was elevated little by little to the very vault of the grotto, and remained thus to the hour of None. Catharine, presuming that this was a snare of Satan to distract her, and turn her from her holy purpose, increased the ardor of her prayers.

At length about the hour in which the Saviour completed his sufferings on the cross, she descended to the earth, and God revealed to her that the moment of sacrifice had not yet come, and that she was not to quit the house of her father. On leaving the grotto she became anxious on finding herself so far from the town, and dreaded the trouble that would arise in the hearts of her family who would imagine her to be lost; she recommended herself to God, and suddenly the holy child was transported, in the twinkling of an eye, to the gates of Sienna, whence she speedily returned home, and never disclosed this circumstance to any but her confessors, of whom I am the last and the most unworthy.

She was a true mystical prodigy.

At the age of seven, she pledged her virginity to Christ, and when she was a teenager, she came to know she wanted nothing more than to serve God. Her parents wanted her to marry and enlisted a Dominican friar to help them talk her into doing so. After talking to Catherine, though, he became convinced of the reality of her vocation, and advised her to cut off her hair to show her sincerity to her family. She did, and covered herself with a veil. When her family saw what she'd done, they became angry, and to punish her, made her do all the household menial work, even letting go their kitchen maid so there'd be more of it. But Catherine did all of it with great grace and joy. And soon thereafter, her father saw something which he took as a sign:

One day, while the servant of Jesus Christ was praying fervently in her brother's room, the door being open, because her parents had forbidden her to shut it, her father entered to take something that he needed in the absence of his son. While looking about, hesaw his daughter who was kneeling in one corner of the chamber, and having a snow-white dove reposing on her head; at his approach it fled, and seemed to disappear through the window. He enquired of his daughter what dove that was that just flew away; she replied that she had not seen a dove or any other bird in her room. This occurrence filled him with astonishment, and awakened serious reflections in his mind.

Her family relented, and Catherine continued with her penances and developed a great devotion to St. Dominic. A dream she had of him caused her to know which Order she should pursue: in the dream, the founders of all the religious orders were all together, and they each encouraged her to find a religious order to join. But St. Dominic said to her, "Daughter, be of good heart, fear no obstacle, excite your courage for the happy day will come when you shall be clothed in the pious habit you desire."

So, when she was 16, she became a Dominican tertiary (note that she never became a nun; she was always a Third Order Dominican). She never, ever allowed herself to be alone with a man, and she undertook severe mortifications, sleeping only fifteen minutes a day -- on planks -- and eating just barely enough to keep herself alive. The food her family alloted her, she gave to the poor.

Her room in her father's house became her cell, and for three years, she never left it except for when she went to church.

Her confessor and biographer, Raymond of Capua, came to know her at this time, and sought evidence that the gifts he'd been hearing about were from God and not the Evil One. So he came up with the idea that if, through her prayers, he could experience a true and deep contrition for his sins, it would be evidence that her gifts were from God. He didn't let Catherine know that she was being tested, but simply asked her to obtain from God remission for his sins. She said she would, tomorrow. The next day, the two were talking. He writes,

Whilst she spoke, I had a sudden vision of my sins, of surprising accuracy and distinctness: I saw myself, divested of all things, in the presence of my Judge, and I felt that I merited death, as do malefactors when stricken by the justice of men; I saw also the bounty of my Judge, who by his grace took me into his service and replaced death by life, fear by hope, sorrow by joy, and shame by glory. These mental visions so triumphed over my hardness and obduracy of heart, that I began to shed torrents of tears over my sins: and my grief became so profound that I thought I should die of it

He had another, rather spooky experience with her that convinced him of the truly supernatural goings-on that marked her life:

She was detained by sufferings in her bed, and she sent me notice that she desired to speak with me concerning some revelations. I went and approached her couch; she began then, notwithstanding the fever which burned in her veins, to discourse to me of God, and’ to explain to we all that had been revealed to her during the day; the things were so extraordinary, that I forgot what had just happened to me, and I asked myself, ‘‘must I believe what she says?"

Whilst I hesitated and looked at her, her countenance suddenly changed into that of a stern man who was regarding me fixedly, and who filled me with terror: her oval face indicated the plentitude of life; her scanty beard was the color of wheat, and her whole countenance bore the impress of that majesty which revealed the holy presence of God. It was impossible for me to perceive any other countenance than hers. I was thoroughly terrified, and exclaimed, with lifted hands: ‘‘Oh! who looks at me thus?’" Catharine answered, "He that is.’’ The vision disappeared, and I again saw the face of Catharine, which I could not distinguish before.

She was granted many revelations, including being told details of Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. When she was twenty-one, she entered into a "Mystical Marriage" with Christ. From her biography:

The soul of Catharine became daily more enriched with the grace of the Saviour. She flew rather than walked in the paths of virtue, and she conceived the holy desire of arriving at so perfect a degree of faith, that nothing would henceforth be capable of separating her from her divine Spouse, whom her heart aspired alone to please. She therefore beseught God to augment her faith, and render it sufficiently strong to resist any and every enemy.

Our Blessed Lord answered her, ‘‘I will espouse thee in faith." And each time Catharine renewed her prayer, Jesus Christ repeated the same answer.

One day, at the appreach of the holy season of Lent, when Christians celebrate the Carnival, or a foolish adieu to the viands which the Church is on the eve of prohibiting, Catharine withdrew inte her cell there to enjoy her Spouse more intimately by fasting and prayer: she reiterated her petition with more fervor than ever, and our Lord answered her: ‘ Because thou hast shunned the vanities of the world and forbidden pleasure, and hast fixed on me alone all the desires of thy heart, I intend, whilst thy family are rejoicing in profane feasts and festivals, to celebrate the wedding which is to unite me to thy soul. I am going, according te my promise to espouse thee in Faith.’’

Jesus Christ then spoke once more, when the Blessed Virgin appeared; and with his glorious Mother, St. John the Evangelist, the apostle St. Paul, St. Dominic, founder of her Order, and with them the prophet David who drew from his harp tones of heavenly sweetness. The Mother of God took in her holy hand, the right hand of Catharine, in order to present it to her Son, asking Him to deign to espouse her in Faith. The Saviour consented to it with love, and offered her a golden ring, set with four precious stones, in the centre of whieh blazed a magnificent diamond. He placed it himself on Catharine’s finger, saying to her: "I thy Creator and Redeemer, espouse thee in Faith and thou shalt preserve it pure, until we celebrate together in Heaven the eternal nuptials of the Lamb. Daughter, now act courageously; accomplish without fear the works that my Providence will confide to thee; thou art armed with Faith, thou shalt triumph over all thy enemies.”

The vision disappeared, and the ring remained on the finger of Catharine. She saw it, but it was invisible to others!

Click to enlarge

It was at this time that she was told by Christ to leave her cell and enter into the world, and so she did. Between 1367 and 1374, she would go at night to the Santa Maria della Scala hospital (St. Mary of the Stairs Hospital) and tend to the sick. Later, she made excursions to Italian towns -- Pisa, Lucca (later, the hometown of St. Gemma Galgani), and Florence -- as a sort of ambassador of the Pope in order to help quell to rebellion against the papal states. In Pisa, she received the stigmata -- but they were visible only to her, a grace she asked Christ for. And most famously, in 1377, she went to Avignon and convinced the Pope of the time -- Pope Gregory XI -- to move the papacy back to Rome where it belongs. She had helped end the Avignon Papacy!1

The next year, the Pope called her to Rome, and she lived there for the two remaining years of her life, spending her time serving the poor and working for reform.

Though she learned to write very late in life, perhaps in a miraculous manner, she wrote a lot and is famous for her letters, especially those written admonishingly to the Popes of her day. She also wrote about her visions and ecstasies in a book called "Dialogue." You can find all of these works in this site's Catholic Library.

St. Catherine suddenly took ill and died three months later, on April 29, 1380, in a house across the street from the Church of Santa Chiara in Rome. The room in which she died is now a little chapel -- il Transito de Santa Caterina da Siena -- contained in a theater at Piazza Santa Chiara 14.  Her body was taken to the Basilica of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, where it can be venerated today. Her head, though, was taken to the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena, where it can still be seen.

In Siena, her father's house still stands, and is now a shrine to which have been added rooms and a great portico. The Santa Maria della Scala hospital where she worked at night -- one of the oldest hospitals in Europe -- also still stands. When she was there, a lay confraternity called the Company of San Michele Arcangelo, which dedicated itself to caring for the sick and the dead, set up their headquarters there, and St. Catherine would often visit to pray with them. In her honor, they came to call their confraternity Santa Caterina della Notte (St. Catherine of the Night), and their oratory, which can be visited today inside the hospital, is called the Oratory of the Company of St. Catherine of the Night.

St. Catherine of Siena was canonized in 1461 and is the co-patron saint of Rome (with SS. Peter and Paul), of Italy (with St. Francis of Assisi), and of Europe (with St. Benedict, SS. Cyril and Methodius, St. Bridget of Sweden, and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross -- a.k.a. Edith Stein), and she is the patron saint of nurses. She was also made one of the Doctors of the Church in 1970 and is known as "The Mystic of the Incarnate Word."

In art, she can be recognized by her white and black Dominican habit, and the presence of a lily, the crown of thorns the stigmata, and/or a book. She's often depicted at the moment of her mystical marriage.

Note that her feast is traditionally held on April 30, but in the Novus Ordo, it is kept on April 29. Note, too, that the traditional date of the feast of St. Catherine of Siena is also Walpugisnacht -- the eve of the Feast of St. Walburga.



Some Catholics may prepare for this feast by praying the Novena to St. Catherine of Siena starting on April 21 and ending on April 29, the feast's eve. For the feast itself, there is the Litany of St. Catherine of Siena, and this prayer:

O St Catherine, thou lily of virginity and rose of charity who didst adorn the garden of St Dominic, heroine of Christian zeal who wast chosen like Saint Francis to be the special Patron of Italy, to thee we have recourse with confidence, invoking thy mighty protection upon ourselves and upon the whole Church of Christ, thy Beloved, in whose Heart thou didst drink of the inexhaustible fountain of all grace and all peace for thee and for the world. From that Divine Heart thou didst draw the living water of virtue and concord in families, of upright conduct in young people, of union among the discordant nations, of renewal of public morality and of brotherly love, which is compassionate and benevolent towards the unfortunate and suffering, and didst teach us by thy example how to unite the love of Christ with the love of country.

If thou lovest the land of Italy and its people entrusted to thee, if pity for us moves thee, if that tomb is dear to thee in which Rome venerates and honors thy virginal remains, oh! graciously turn thine eyes and thy favor upon our pain and upon our prayer, and fulfill our desires.

Defend, assist, and comfort thy fatherland and the world. Under thy protection and thy guidance be the sons and daughters of Italy, our hearts and our minds, our labours and our hopes, our faith and our love; that faith and that love which formed thy very life and made thee the living image of Christ crucified in thy intrepid zeal for His Spouse, Holy Church.

O heroic and holy messenger of union and peace for the Church of Christ, thou who didst restore the successor of Peter to the Apostolic Roman See in the splendor of its authority and teaching office, protect and console him in his paternal and universal solicitude, in his anxious cares and in his counsels for the salvation and the tranquillity of the peoples of the earth; revive, preserve, and increase in us and in all faithful Christians, O heavenly Patroness, the affection and the filial submission which thou didst cherish for him and for the fold of Christ in a world at peace. Amen.

There's not a lot of special music for the day that I am aware of, but there is a musical work written by Marco Enrico Bossi for our Saint. His Santa Caterina da Siena, "Poemetto" for violin, string quartet, harp, celesta and organ is written in 7 parts: Introduction (Introduzione); First Fervors (I Primi Fervori); The Stigmata (Le Stimmate); Tribulations (Le Tribolazione); The Mystical Ecstasy (L'estasi Mystica); Death (La Morte); and Assumption (L'Assunzione):

As to food customs, the people of Siena eat a cookie called Ricciarelli on this day. A recipe for you to try:


4 egg whites
1 tsp lemon juice
4 1/2 cups almond flour
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 tsp pinch salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp orange zest
1 1/2 TBSP almond extract
2 tsp vanilla extract
powdered sugar for rolling

Whip together the egg whites and lemon juice until stiff peaks form.

Sift together the almond flour, powdered sugar, salt, and baking powder and fold into the egg whites a third at a time. Add the orange zest, vanilla extract, and almond extract and fold in until mixed.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Grab clumps of the dough and roll into walnut-sized balls. Roll the balls in the powdered sugar, then shape into slight ovals and place on the baking sheet.

Let them sit at room temperature for about an hour, until the tops have dried out. Once the tops are dry, gently squeeze the cookies so little cracks form on the tops. Bake at 300F for about 20 minutes. (This recipe makes about 40 cookies)

Serve your ricciarelli with coffee, tea, or the spiced liqueur now named for our Saint -- L’Elisire di Santa Caterina da Siena (the Elixir of St. Catherine of Siena). It's made from a recipe brought back by friars from the Holy Land and given to the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena. Legend relates that St. Catherine gave some of it to one of the sick people she tended to, thereby effecting a cure.

I have no ideas regarding children's activities or crafts for the day -- except for one: has your child ever written a letter -- a real, handwritten letter on real paper that one puts in a real envelope and stamps and puts in the mail? It was always such fun to find different kinds of stationery as a kid, write something, send it, and get a letter back. Letter writing is becoming a lost art in the world of emails and texting. Maybe having your child write a letter, perhaps to a grandparent or aunt or uncle, would be a good thing to do today. Or consider finding her a pen pal! Remember those? To help you out, here are seven types of stationery your child might like, in pdf format. You'd just have to print out the single page she likes.

Learn more about St. Catherine of Siena by reading her biography and works in this site's Catholic Library.


The Liturgical Year
By Dom Prosper Geuranger

The Dominican Order, which, yesterday, presented a rose to our Risen Jesus, now offers Him a lily of surpassing beauty. Catherine of Sienna follows Peter the Martyr: it is a coincidence willed by Providence, to give fresh beauty to this season of grandest Mysteries. Our Divine King deserves everything we can offer Him; and our hearts are never so eager to give Him every possible tribute of homage, as during these last days of His sojourn among us. See how nature is all flower and fragrance at this loveliest of her seasons! The spiritual world harmonizes with the visible, and now yields her noblest and richest works in honour of her Lord, the Author of Grace.

How grand is the Saint, whose Feast comes gladdening us today! She is one of the most favoured of the holy spouses of the Incarnate Word. She was His, wholly and unreservedly, almost from her very childhood. Though thus consecrated to Him by the vow of holy Virginity, she had a mission given to her by divine Providence which required her living in the world. But God would have her to be one of the glories of the Religious State; He therefore inspired her to join the Third Order of St. Dominic. Accordingly, she wore the Habit and fervently practised, during her whole life, the holy exercises of a Tertiary.

From the very commencement, there was a something heavenly about this admirable servant of God, which we fancy existing in an angel who had been sent from heaven to live in a human body. Her longing after God gave one an idea of the vehemence wherewith the Blessed embrace the Sovereign Good on their first entrance into heaven. In vain did the body threaten to impede the soaring of this earthly Seraph; she subdued it by penance, and made it obedient to the spirit. Her body seemed to be transformed, so as to have no life of its own, but only that of the soul. The Blessed Sacrament was frequently the only food she took for weeks together. So complete was her union with Christ, that she received the impress of the sacred Stigmata, and, with them, the most excruciating pain.

And yet, in the midst of all these supernatural favours, Catherine felt the keenest interest in the necessities of others. Her zeal for their spiritual advantage was intense, whilst her compassion for them, in their corporal sufferings, was that of a most loving mother. God had given her the gift of Miracles, and she was lavish in using it for the benefit of her fellow creatures. Sickness, and death itself, were obedient to her command; and the prodigies witnessed at the beginning of the Church were again wrought by the humble Saint of Sienna.

Her communings with God began when she was quite a child, and her ecstasies were almost without interruption. She frequently saw our Risen Jesus, Who never left her without having honoured her, either with a great consolation, or with a heavy cross. A profound knowledge of the mysteries of our holy faith, was another of the extraordinary graces bestowed upon her. So eminent, indeed, was the heavenly wisdom granted her by God, that she, who had received no education, used to dictate the most sublime writings, wherein she treats of spiritual things with a clearness and eloquence which human genius could never attain to, and with a certain indescribable unction which no reader can resist.

But God would not permit such a treasure as this to lie buried in a little town of Italy. The Saints are the supports of the Church; and though their influence be generally hidden, yet, at times, it is open and visible, and men then learn what the instruments are, which God uses for imparting blessings to a world, that would seem to deserve little else besides chastisement. The great question, at the close of the 14th Century, was the restoring to the Holy City the privilege of its having within its walls the Vicar of Christ, who, for sixty years, had been absent from his See. One saintly soul, by merits and prayers, known to heaven alone, might have brought about this happy event, after which the whole Church was longing; but God would have it done by a visible agency, and in the most public manner. In the name of the widowed Rome, in the name of her own and the Church's Spouse, Catherine crossed the Alps, and sought an interview with the Pontiff, who had not so much as seen Rome. The Prophetess respectfully reminded him of his duty; and in proof of her mission being from God, she tells him of a secret which was known to himself alone. Gregory the Eleventh could no longer resist; and the Eternal City welcomed its Pastor and Father. But at the Pontiff's death, a frightful schism, the forerunner of greater evils to follow, broke out in the Church. Catherine, even to her last hour, was untiring in her endeavours to quell the storm. Having lived the same number of years as our Saviour had done, she breathed forth her most pure soul into the hands of her God, and went to continue, in heaven, her ministry of intercession for the Church she had loved so much on earth, and for souls redeemed in the precious Blood of her Divine Spouse.

Our Risen Jesus, Who took her to her eternal reward during the Season of Easter, granted her whilst she was living on earth, a favour, which we mention here, as being appropriate to the mystery we are now celebrating. He, one day, appeared to her, having with Him His Blessed Mother. Mary Magdalene, she that announced the Resurrection to the Apostles, accompanied the Son and the Mother. Catherine's heart was overpowered with emotion at this visit. After looking, for some time, upon Jesus and His holy Mother, her eyes rested on Magdalene, whose happiness she both saw and envied. Jesus spoke these words to her: "My beloved! I give her to thee, to be thy mother." Address thyself to her, henceforth, with all confidence. I give her special charge of thee." From that day forward, Catherine had the most filial love for Magdalene, and called her by no other name than that of Mother.

Let us now read the beautiful, but too brief, account of our Saint's Life, as given in the Liturgy.

Catharine, a virgin of Sienna, was born of pious parents. She asked for and obtained the Dominican habit, such as it is worn by the Sisters of Penance. Her abstinence was extraordinary, and her manner of living most mortified. She was once known to have fasted, without receiving anything but the Blessed Sacrament, from Ash Wednesday to Ascension Day. She had very frequent contests with the wicked spirits, who attacked her in divers ways. She suffered much from fever, and other bodily ailments.

Her reputation for sanctity was so great, that there were brought to her, from all parts, persons who were sick or tormented by the devil. She, in the name of Christ, healed such as were afflicted with malady or fever, and drove the devils from the bodies of them that were possessed.

Being once at Pisa, on a Sunday, and having received the Bread of heaven, she was rapt in an ecstacy. She saw our crucified Lord approaching to her. He was encircled with a great light, and from His five Wounds there came rays, which fell upon the five corresponding parts of Catherine's body. Being aware of the favour bestowed upon her, she besought our Lord, that the stigmata might not be visible. The rays immediately changed from the colour of blood into one of gold, and passed, under the form of a bright light, to the hands, feet, and heart of the Saint. So violent was the pain left by the wounds, that it seemed to her as though she must soon have died, had not God diminished it. Thus our most loving Lord added favour to favour, by permitting her to feel the smart of the wounds, and yet removing their appearance. The servant of God related what had happened to her to Raymund, her Confessor. Hence, when the devotion of the Faithful gave a representation of this miracle, they painted, on the pictures of St. Catherine, bright rays coming from the five stigmata she received.

Her learning was not acquired, but infused. Theologians proposed to her the most difficult questions of divinity, and received satisfactory answers. No one ever approached her, who did not go away a better man. She reconciled many that were at deadly enmity with one another. She visited Pope Gregory the Eleventh, (who was then at Avignon,) in order to bring about the reconciliation of the Florentines, who were under an interdict on account of their having formed a league against the Holy See. She told the Pontiff that there had been revealed to her the vow which he, Gregory, had made of going to Rome. a vow which was known to God alone. It was through her entreaty, that the Pope began to plan measures for taking possession of his See of Rome, which he did soon after. Such was the esteem in which she was held by Gregory, and by Urban the Sixth, his successor, that she was sent by them on several embassies. At length, after a life spent in the exercise of the sublimest virtues, and after gaining great reputation on account of her prophecies and many miracles, she passed hence to her divine Spouse, when she was about the age of three and thirty. She was canonized by Pius the Second.

Pope Pius the Second, one of the glories of Sienna, composed the two following Hymns, in honour of his saintly and illustrious fellow citizen. They form part of the Office of St. Catherine of Siena, in the Dominican Breviary.


Carry up to heaven, O holy virgin Catherine! these canticles of praise, which we, gladdened as we are by thy feast, sing thus in thine honour.

If they are unworthy of thine acceptance, pardon us, we beseech thee. Nay, we own, O glorious Saint! that we are not equal to the task we have undertaken.

But who is he, that could worthily praise such a Saint as this? Is there, in the wide world, a poet that could write an ode immortal enough for this heroine, whom no enemy could vanquish?

O Catherine! illustrious example of all that is noble! thou wast rich in virtue and wisdom; and with the riches of thy temperance, fortitude, piety, justice and prudence, thou ascendedst into heaven.

Who has not heard of thy glorious virtues and deeds, which were never surpassed in this world! Thy compassions for the sufferings of Christ stamped thee with the impress of his wounds.

Bravely despising the vain grandeurs of this short, mournful, and miserable life,--thy ambition was for heaven alone.

Let us all give infinite thanks to the Son ever blessed of the Eternal Father! let us give glory to the Holy Ghost! to the Three, one equal praise! Amen


Well indeed may we sing thy praise, O Catherine! for, by thy wondrous virtues, thou receivedst a triumphant welcome from heaven itself.

Yes, it is in heaven alone, where thou art enriched with all good things, that thou receivedst the reward of thy holy life, and the recompense of thy grand virtue.

Great was thy veneration for the Patriarch of Preachers, that perfect model of every virtue; thou enteredst his Order, and art one of its brightest glories.

Joys of earth, vanity of dress, beauty of body, none had charms for thee. Sin, the injustice offered to God by his creature, oh! this thou couldst not brook.

To reduce thy body to subjection, and to atone for the sins of men, oft didst thou severely scourge thyself, till thine innocent blood would flow in streams on the ground.

Thou hadst compassion on all that were suffering, no matter where they might be, or what their misfortune. Thy sympathy was ever ready for them, too, that were a prey to care.

But our hymn would never end, were we to tell all thy praises, O Catherine! whose sanctity far surpaSssed that of other mortals.

The savage soldiers and leaders, who were threatening the people of Sienna with death, withdrew at thy word.

Oft was thy mind applied, with all its power, to the study of sacred things: and thy letters, teeming with wisdom and elegance, are still treasured in some of our richest cities.

Thou excelledst in the power of reclaiming sinners, and persuading all to follow what was right. Thus didst thou speak to them: "Virtue alone can make man happy."

Far from fearing, thou hadst a brave contempt for the dread claims of death, which thou wast wont to call the recompense of life.

When, therefore, the time came for thee to leave thy sacred body to the tomb, and ascend into heaven, thou gavest lessons of consolation to them that stood weeping around thee.

And having adored the Body of Christ, and received, amidst abundant tears of devotion, the saving Host, thy last words were instructions to all how to lead a holy life.

Let us all give infinite thanks to the Son ever blessed of the Eternal Father! let us give glory to the Holy Ghost! to the Three, one equal praise! Amen.


Holy Church, filled as she now is with the joy of her Jesus' Resurrection, addresses herself to thee, O Catherine, who followest the Lamb whithersoever He goeth (Apoc. xiv. 4). Living in this exile, where it is only at intervals that she enjoys His presence, she says to thee: Hast thou seen Him, whom my soul loveth (Cant. iii. 3)? Thou art his Spouse; so is she: but there are no veils, no separation, for thee; whereas, for her, the enjoyment is at rare and brief periods, and, even so, there are clouds that dim the lovely Light. What a life was thine, O Catherine! uniting in itself the keenest compassion for the sufferings of Jesus, and an intense happiness by the share He gave thee of His glorified life. We might take thee as our guide both to the mournful mysteries of Calvary, and to the glad splendours of the Resurrection. It is these second that we are now respectfully celebrating: oh! speak to us of our Risen Jesus. Is it not He that gave thee the nuptial ring, with its matchless diamond set amidst four precious gems? The bright rays, which gleam from thy stigmata, tell us, that when He espoused thee to Himself, thou sawest Him all resplendent with the beauty of His glorious Wounds.

Daughter of Magdalene! like her, thou art a messenger of the Resurrection; and when thy last Pasch comes, the Pasch of thy thirty-third year, thou goest to heaven, to keep it for eternity. O zealous lover of souls! love them more than ever, now that thou art in the palace of the King, our God. We, too, are in the Pasch, in the New Life; intercede for us, that the life of Jesus may never die within us, but may go on, strengthening its power and growth, by our loving Him with an ardour like thine own.

Get us, great Saint, something of the filial devotedness thou hadst for holy Mother Church, and which prompted thee to do such glorious things! Her sorrows and her joys were thine; for there can be no love for Jesus, where there is none for His Spouse: and is it not through her that He gives us all His gifts? Oh, yes! we, too, wish to love this Mother of ours; we will never be ashamed to own ourselves as her children! we will defend her against her enemies; we will do everything that lies in our power to win others to acknowledge, love, and be devoted to her.

Our God used thee as His instrument, O humble Virgin, for bringing back the Roman Pontiff to his See. Thou wast stronger than the powers of this earth, which would fain have prolonged an absence disastrous to the Church. The relics of Peter in the Vatican, of Paul on the Ostian Way, of Lawrence and Sebastian, of Caecilia and Agnes, exulted in their glorious Tombs, when Gregory entered with triumph into the Holy City. It was through thee, O Catherine, that a ruinous captivity of seventy years' duration was brought, on that day, to a close, and that Rome recovered her glory and her life.

In these our days, hell has changed its plan of destruction: men are striving to deprive of its Pontiff-King the City, which was chosen by Peter as the See where the Vicar of Christ should reign to the end of the world. Is this design of God, this design which was so dear to thee, O Catherine! is it now to be frustrated? Oh! beseech Him to forbid a sacrilege, which would scandalise the weak, and make the impious blaspheme in their success. Come speedily to our aid! and if thy Divine Spouse, in His just anger, permit us to suffer these humiliations, pray that, at least they may be shortened.

Pray, too, for unhappy Italy, which was so dear to thee, and which is so justly proud of its Saint of Sienna. Impiety and heresy are now permitted to run wild through the land; the name of thy Spouse is blasphemed; the people are taught to love error, and to hate what they had hitherto venerated; the Church is insulted and robbed; Faith has long since been weakened, but now its very existence is imperilled. Intercede for thy unfortunate country, dear Saint! oh! surely, it is time to come to her assistance, and rescue her from the hands of her enemies. The whole Church hopes in thy effecting the deliverance of this her illustrious province: delay not, but calm the storm which seems to threaten a universal wreck!


1 After the Avignon Papacy ended, the Western Schism began: not long after the Pope returned to Rome, he died and Urban VI was elected. But a group of French cardinals in Avignon elected a "Clement VII" as "Pope." Confusion reigned, and did so for 39 years. As the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us, "The saints themselves were divided: St. Catherine of Siena, St. Catherine of Sweden, Bl. Peter of Aragon, Bl. Ursulina of Parma, Philippe d'Alencon, and Gerard de Groote were in the camp of Urban; St. Vincent Ferrer, Bl. Peter of Luxemburg, and St. Colette belonged to the party of Clement."

The confusion got worse in 1409 when a supposed council -- the "Council of Pisa" -- proclaimed both men illegitimate, and named a third man, Antipope Alexander V, as "Pope."

So at one time, there were three proclaimed Popes, with different parts of Christendom supporting them, and they each died and had successors over the next almost four decades.

Actual Popes: Urban VI > Boniface IX > Innocent VII  > Gregory XII

Avignon Antipopes: Clement VII > Benedict XIII > Clement VIII > Benedict XIV

Pisan Antipopes: Alexander V > John XXIII

The powers of the day clamored for a Council to settle things once and for all. So the Council of Constance was held, in Constance, Germany, and 29 Cardinals, 3 Patriarchs, 33 Archbishops, and 150 Bishops attended, along with hundreds of abbots and theologians, and thousands of monks and friars.

Now, when he was elected, Pope Gregory XII had promised to resign for the good of the Church if Benedict XIV would quit his false claim on the papacy. Benedict refused, but Gregory -- the real Pope -- resigned anyway while the antipopes were deposed by the Council. Then, in 1417,  Martin V was elected as successor to the abdicated Gregory XII, and things proceeded normally from there. The Western Schism was over.

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