Saint Catherine of Alexandria

Museo Nacional de Arte, Public domain, via Wikimedia

November 25: Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr—Optional Memorial

c. 287–c. 305
Patron Saint of apologists, apprentice milliners and seamstresses, archivists, attorneys, barbers, potters, spinners, the dying, educators, girls, jurists, knife sharpeners, librarians, maidens, mechanics, millers, nurses, old maids, philosophers, preachers, scholars, schoolchildren, scribes, secretaries, tanners, teachers, theologians, and unmarried girls
Pre-Congregation canonization
Liturgical Color: Red

Lord Jesus Christ, my God, I thank Thee for having firmly set my feet on the rock of the Faith and directed my steps on the pathway of salvation. Open now Thy arms wounded on the cross to receive my soul, which I offer in sacrifice to the glory of Thy Name. Forgive the faults I committed in ignorance and wash my soul in the blood I will shed for Thee. Do not leave my body, slaughtered by love for Thee, in the power of those who hate me. Kindly regard this people and give them the knowledge of the truth. Finally, O Lord, in Thy infinite mercy exalt those who will invoke Thee through me so that Thy name be always glorified. ~Prayer attributed to Saint Catherine before her execution

Reflection: In 331 BC, the Macedonian king, Alexander the Great, founded what would become one of the most important cities in North Africa—Alexandria, Egypt. By the time that Alexandria came under the control of the newly formed Roman Empire in 30 BC, it was a flourishing city of great culture, learning, religious diversity, trade, and influence. In the third century, Alexandria emerged as one of five major patriarchates in early Christendom. The others were Rome, Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. Alexandria was a center for Christian scholarship, liturgical development, and theological discourse. It was in this important city that an extraordinary noble girl was born, Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Saint Catherine’s life comes to us from legendary sources, of which the historicity is questionable. Because legends about her have inspired the faithful for many centuries, we will ponder those stories.

As a member of a noble family, Catherine received an excellent education and became well versed in literature, poetry, rhetoric, philosophy, music, mathematics, and medicine. Catherine was also of exceptional physical beauty and high moral virtue. Her beauty—coupled with her virtues, noble status, and intelligence—made her an ideal bride. Though many noblemen proposed to her, she rejected them all, since none of them surpassed her moral virtues and intelligence. Unable to find a suitable mate, she sensed within her soul that she was called to something greater.

One day, Catherine’s mother, who was secretly a Christian, introduced her to a holy Christian monk. This monk, in turn, introduced her to her future husband, her Lord Jesus Christ, the future Bridegroom of her soul. In Him, she discovered a man of the greatest wisdom and beauty, whose moral character was unmatched and whose nobility was above all. After speaking about Jesus in detail, the monk gave Catherine an icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding her young Son.

That night, Catherine had a dream in which she beheld the Blessed Mother holding her Son. Catherine tried to see the face of the Child, but He kept turning away. She realized that it was because she was not yet baptized that the Christ Child could not bear to look upon her. Her beauty, intelligence, and nobility meant nothing to Him if she were not cleansed by the waters of that holy sacrament. Soon after, she returned to the monk who had catechized her, and she received baptism.

After Catherine’s baptism, the holy monk encouraged her to beseech the Blessed Virgin Mary. She spent all night doing so and fell asleep while praying. In her dream, the Blessed Mother appeared to her with her Child who took great delight in Catherine and chose her as His bride, giving her a ring, and calling her to embrace earthly virginity. When she awoke, the ring was still on her finger.

A few years later, when Catherine was in her late teens, Emperor Maximinus decreed that all citizens had to offer sacrifice to the Roman gods in the temple. Catherine showed up during the sacrifices and was immediately noticed for her beauty and disposition. She sent word to the emperor that she had vital information for him. Once in the emperor’s presence, Catherine chastised him for his heathen practices and for his decree requiring worship of the false gods. The emperor was not only stunned at her beauty and character, he was also struck by the depth of her wisdom and elegant speech.

The emperor was so impressed that he knew her wisdom needed a response in order to justify his continued persecution of Christians. He then gathered fifty of the wisest men from across the empire to debate Catherine and prove her error. Just the opposite happened. Catherine’s wisdom was so great that she prevailed and won over many of the wise men. She cited the best Greek philosophers to prove her points and to support the truth that Jesus was the Savior and that the Trinity was the One God. Many of the wise men converted, and, as a result, the emperor had them killed.

The emperor then took another approach. He tried to seduce Catherine, offering her half of his kingdom and a place within the royal palace. She refused. The emperor then had her scourged until her blood covered the ground, and he imprisoned her.

While Catherine was in prison, the emperor’s wife became intrigued with her. When the emperor was gone, the empress and the captain of the guard went to Catherine’s cell and listened to her. They were both so impressed that they converted and were baptized.

While in prison, a dove brought food to Catherine, keeping her healthy and strong. The emperor decided to try one more time to convince her to give up her Christian faith and worship the gods. This time, he threatened her with torture on a large wheel meant to stretch her entire body and spin her to the point of death. Before Catherine was tied to the wheel, an angel made it spin out of control and shatter before everyone’s eyes. The empress then came out and chastised her husband, revealing that she had become a Christian after listening to the wisdom of Catherine. The emperor was so enraged that he had his wife beheaded on the spot.

The following day, Catherine was brought before the emperor again, and this time he ordered her execution by beheading. Within an hour of her execution, angels came and took her body away, laying it on the heights of Mount Sinai where it remained undisturbed and undefiled. A few centuries later, a holy monk in the monastery at the base of Mount Sinai, which was built around the burning bush, had a dream that led him to discover Catherine’s relics. He took her body and buried it in the monastery chapel where she lies today.

Whether these are legends or facts, Saint Catherine’s story reveals to us deep truths we must all embrace. True wisdom comes not only from study but from union with God. True beauty is only attained by reflecting the Source of all beauty. Nobility is measured only by the judgment of God, who bestows grace and eternal rank according to the merit of one’s life. The perfection of human virtue is only obtained by those who are infused with the divine virtues of faith, hope, and love. True courage is only possible when it is Christ Who strengthens us.

As we honor Saint Catherine and ponder these truths her life reflects, consider them in the light of your own life. Seek the spiritual gifts her life and legends represent, and seek to imitate those human qualities that can only be enhanced by entering more fully into the divine life of our Bridegroom.

Prayer: Saint Catherine, you devoted yourself to your God after learning of Him through the teaching of a holy monk. Once you wedded yourself to your Lord, you never wavered in your love for Him. Please pray for me, that I will also hear God’s Word, spoken in the depths of my soul, and will respond to His voice with all my heart. Saint Catherine of Alexandria, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.

Reflection taken from:

Saints and Feasts of the Liturgical Year
Volumes One–Four

Further Reading:

Sanai Monastery

Catholic Saints & Feasts

Catholic Encyclopedia

Butler’s Lives of the Saints

Catholic Exchange

Catholic Fire


Catholic News Agency


Catholic Culture


All Saints for Today

All Saints for the Liturgical Year

Saints A–Z>>>

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