The Merry Martyr
All that We Have: The Image of Saint Lawrence in the Daily Mass Altar
Published on August 3-4, 2013 in the Parish Bulletin of Saint Andrew Catholic Church, Harrodsburg KY
On the left niche at the back of the altar in the Daily Mass Chapel is the image of Saint Lawrence of Rome (ca. 225-258). He is the patron of Saint Lawrence Church in Lawrenceburg, the parish that had been a mission of Saint Andrew’s in Anderson County from 1905 to 1919 (when it was named Saint James the Less Church) and from 1948 to 1983.
That image was based on a stained glass window on the western wall of the Saint Meinrad Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln in St. Meinrad, Indiana. The window, made by the Munich studio of Franz Xavier Zettler (1841-1916), depicts the saint as a youth with the tonsure (the shaven crown of a cleric) wearing an ornamented amice around his neck. He is clothed in an alb (a white robe) and holds a palm branch in his left hand. These identify him as a martyr for the Lord, as one of the elect who now stands before the Lamb (cf. Rev. 7:9, 13-14). Over his alb he is vested with a deacon’s red dalmatic.
Lawrence (in Latin, Laurentius) was a native of Spain ordained by Pope Saint Sixtus II (257-258) to be one of the seven deacons of Rome. The money bag that he is seen carrying in his right hand recalls his duty as a deacon to distribute alms to the poor. When the Emperor Valerian (253-259) began persecuting Christians, the Pope entrusted to Lawrence the riches of the Church of Rome. He in turn sold them and gave away the proceeds to the poor. A few days after the Pope’s martyrdom, Lawrence himself was arrested. At the trial, the prefect of Rome gave him three days to turn over the hidden hoard of the Church. It was said that the holy deacon gathered all the poor and suffering, the crippled and the blind, and proudly presented them to the prefect as the true treasures of the Church.
The furious prefect condemned Lawrence to a slow and cruel death; he ordered that the deacon be roasted alive. Thus, in this image on the altar, Lawrence is shown standing on a flaming gridiron, the instrument of his torture and death. Tradition records his famous parting jest to his executioners: “Assum est; versa et manduca” (This side is done; turn it over and eat). The manner of his martyrdom and his merry disposition even to the end have inspired chefs and cooks to adopt him as their patron.
Lawrence was buried at the catacomb of Cyriaca in agro Verano on the Via Tiburtina in Rome, the site of what is now the patriarchal basilica of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (Saint Lawrence-outside-the-Walls).
The Church celebrates the feast of the merry martyr Saint Lawrence on August 10, the day of his martyrdom in 258.