August 10: Laurence, Deacon, and Martyr at Rome, 258

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About this commemoration

Lawrence before Valerianus

Lawrence before Valerianus

Laurence the Deacon, one of the most popular saints of the Roman Church, was martyred during the persecution initiated in 257 by the Emperor Valerian. That persecution was aimed primarily at the clergy and the laity of the upper classes. All properties used by the Church were confiscated, and assemblies for Christian worship were forbidden. On August 4, 258, Pope Sixtus II and his seven deacons were apprehended in the Roman catacombs. They were summarily executed, except for the archdeacon, Laurence, who was martyred on the tenth. Though no authentic “Acts” of Laurence’s ordeal have been preserved, the tradition is that the prefect demanded information from him about the Church’s treasures. Laurence, in reply, assembled the sick and poor to whom, as archdeacon, he had distributed the Church’s relief funds, and presented them to the prefect, saying, “These are the treasures of the Church.” Laurence is believed to have been roasted alive on a gridiron.

The Emperor Constantine erected a shrine and basilica over Laurence’s tomb, which is in a catacomb on the Via Tiburtina. The present Church of St. Laurence Outside the Walls, a beautiful double basilica (damaged in World War II), includes a choir and sanctuary erected by Pope Pelagius II (579–590) and a nave by Pope Honorius III (1216– 1227).

Laurence is the subject of a small round glass medallion, probably dating from the fourth century, now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It bears the simple inscription, “Live with Christ and Laurence.”

The Greek word from which we get our English word “martyr” simply means “witness;” but, in the age of the persecutions, before Constantine recognized the Church early in the fourth century, a “martyr” was generally one who had witnessed even to death. For Laurence, as for all the martyrs, to die for Christ was to live with Christ.

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, you called your deacon Laurence to serve you with deeds of love, and gave him the crown of martyrdom: Grant that we, following his example, may fulfill your commandments by defending and supporting the poor, and by loving you with all our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Lessons

Job 29:11–17

2 Corinthians 9:6–10

John 12:24–26

Psalm 126

Preface of a Saint (3)

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

10 Responses to August 10: Laurence, Deacon, and Martyr at Rome, 258

  1. Michael Hartney says:

    Title. Laurence is identified as a ‘Martyr at Rome.’ Is this consistent with other martyrs? Is their place of martyrdom identified? i.e.: Jonathan Daniels, Martyr at Haynesville, Alabama

    New Hebrew Reading: The Job reading seems a good addition.

  2. Nigel Renton says:

    Mention of this saint’s ongoing popularity in the “Roman Church” does not identify the location of the events of 257/8. This omission would be easily corrected by the addition of the words “in Rome” immediately after “martyred”.

    The word “get” is a useful but inelegant word with multiple meanings. Where there is a more precise word in English, a careful writer will use it. In the first line of the fourth paragraph, I suggest replacing “get” with “derive”.

    In the fourth line of the fourth paragraph there is a fallacious implication that the special meaning of “martyr” applied only “in the age of the persecutions”. This misconstrual could be avoided by either:

    1. Making it “…by the time of the age…”, and in the fourth line replacing “was” by “came to be generally understood as”

    or 2. After “martyr” in line 4, add “came to be generally understood, as it is to this day, as…” (Or some such addition.)

  3. Suzanne Sauter says:

    With so little definitely known about Laurence/Lawrence, I find it hard to understand why he was and is so beloved by the Church. Certainly an example of this attachment to Lawrence is seen in the history of the Book of Common Prayer. His name from stripped from the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, but his name is back on the calendar in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer and there it stayed in England. In the United States his feast was dropped from the 1789 Book of Common Prayer and was still not included in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. I assume he has since returned to the calendar because of tradition.

  4. Michael Hartney says:

    Due to ‘technical’ difficulties this is posted for Nigel Renton by Michael Hartney,

    Mention of this saint’s ongoing popularity in the “Roman Church” does not identify the location of the events of 257/8. This omission would be easily corrected by the addition of the words “in Rome” immediately after “martyred”.

    The word “get” is a useful but inelegant word with multiple meanings. Where there is a more precise word in English, a careful writer will use it. In the first line of the fourth paragraph, I suggest replacing “get” with “derive”.

    In the fourth line of the fourth paragraph there is a fallacious implication that the special meaning of “martyr” applied only “in the age of the persecutions”. This misconstrual could be avoided by either:

    1. Making it “…by the time of the age…”, and in the fourth line replacing “was” by “came to be generally understood as”

    or 2. After “martyr” in line 4, add “came to be generally understood, as it is to this day, as…” (Or some such addition.)

  5. Celinda Scott says:

    “Though no authentic “Acts” of Laurence’s ordeal have been preserved, the tradition is that the prefect demanded information from him about the Church’s treasures. Laurence, in reply, assembled the sick and poor to whom, as archdeacon, he had distributed the Church’s relief funds, and presented them to the prefect, saying, ‘These are the treasures of the Church.’ ” Our rector used Laurence’s definition of the “treasures of the church” in his sermon this past Sunday: it’s the people, especially the sick and the poor, and not the building or the money. Perhaps that idea could be reflected in the collect.

  6. Steve Lusk says:

    The readings all seem to play with Tertullian’s observation that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Given what Laurence gave for the faith, the epistle’s “the Lord loves a cheerful giver” is a bit over the top. Although by some accounts, Laurence taunted his executioners by saying, “You can turn me over now. I’m done on this side” . . .

  7. Steve Lusk says:

    And one more thing. Laurence’s “these are the treasures of the church” makes equally playful use of Cornelia’s celebrated identification of her sons (the Gracchi) as her jewels (Valerius Maximus, Memorabilia 4.4). The quip — assuming, of course, that the real Laurence actually said it — would have reassured Roman witnesses that the Christians were OK: they take care of the poor, and their leader is an educated gentleman.

  8. Jerry Lyle says:

    I like the Scriptural references, which supported the deeds of Laurence, though no record remains of his account. The account of his saying, “These are the treasures of the church,” referring to the sick and poor are excellent comments from a deacon’s point of view, which is what he was. His focus, as a deacon, would always be on those less fortunate, the sick, the widow’s, the destitute, and all those suffering in body, mind or spirit.

  9. Susan Rigot says:

    Martyred in Rome is preferable to Martyred at Rome. At seems strange to the ear. The Job reading is very appropriate. Laurence does seem to have a sense of humor, giving “The cheerful giver” an added level of meaning to his life.

  10. Pingback: August 10 – Laurence of Rome : St. Paul's Episcopal Church

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