Saint Catharine, a noble lady of Alexandria, had from her childhood made such extraordinary proficiency in the knowledge of Christianity, and in other departments of learning, that at the age of eighteen she put to confusion the wisdom of the pagan philosophers. The occasion of her doing so arose from the persecution of the Emperor Maxentius. For, having heard that the young and beautiful Catharine had defended, in the most profound manner, the divine character of Christianity, he called together the most learned philosophers, and promised them a considerable reward if they would refute Catharine and bring her back to paganism. But the very contrary of this happened, for she demonstrated the divine origin of Christianity with such unanswerable wisdom that these philosophers received the faith, and gave their lives for it. The emperor, irritated thereby, sought to prevail upon her to abandon her faith by promising to marry her, and, when this means proved ineffectual, by imprisoning her eleven days, by blows, by hunger and thirst. But the consequence of this was his wife and one of his generals, Porphyry, who visited Catharine in prison, were likewise converted to Christianity, and prepared for the martyrdom which they endured. At this the tyrant fell into a great rage, and gave orders to have the body of Saint Catharine cut in pieces by a wheel set around with sharp knives and iron spikes. But upon the holy martyr making the sign of the cross over this frightful instrument of torture it burst into pieces – a miracle by which many of the beholders were converted to the faith. Finally, the youthful heroine obtained, by being beheaded, the double crown of virginity and martyrdom.
O God, Who didst give the law to Moses on the summit of Mount Sinai, and didst wonderfully deposit in the same place the body of the blessed virgin and martyr Catharine by means of Thy holy angels, grant, we beseech Thee, that by her merits and intercession we may come to the mountain, which is Christ, Who liveth, and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever, Amen.
Epistle: Ecclesiasticus 2:1-8, 12
I will give glory to Thee, O Lord, my King, and I will praIse Thee, O God my SavIour. I will give glory to Thy name, for Thou hast been a helper and protector to me, and hast preserved my body from destruction, from the snare of an unjust tongue, and from the lips of them that forge lies, and in the sight of them that stood by Thou hast been my helper. And Thou hast delivered me, according to the multitude of the mercy of Thy name, from them that did roar, prepared to devour. Out of the hands of them that sought my life, and from the gates of afflictions, which compassed me about, from the oppression of the flame which surrounded me, and in the midst of the fire I was not burnt; from the depth of the belly of hell, and from an unclean tongue, and from lying words; from an unjust king, and from a slanderous tongue. My soul shall praise the Lord even to death, for Thou deliverest them that wait for Thee, and savest them out of the hands of the nations.
Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13
At that time Jesus spoke to His disciples this parable: Then shall the kingdom of heaven be like to ten virgins, who, taking their lamps, went out to meet the bridegroom and the bride. And five of them were foolish, and five wise; but the five foolish, having taken their lamps, did not take oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with the lamps. And the bridegroom tarrying, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made: Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye forth to meet him. Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise: Give us of your oil for our lamps are gone out. The wise answered, saying: Lest perhaps there be not enough for us and for you, go you rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. Now whilst they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut. But at last came also the other virgins, saying: Lord, Lord, open to us. But He answering said: Amen I say to you, I know you not. Watch ye therefore, because you know not the day nor the hour.
After having in the preceding chapter of this gospel spoken of the Last Judgment, and warned us to watch, because this judgment would break upon us unexpectedly, Our Lord enforces what He then said by this parable of a wedding to which the bridegroom came when he was not looked for, and to which he took with him those who were ready, but excluded those who were not.
The marriage is the everlasting possession and enjoyment of God; the bridegroom is Jesus Christ; the bride is His Church upon earth; the marriage-feast is the union of Christ with His bride in heaven, which represents the marriage-hall; the ten virgins are all the faithful, inasmuch as all are invited to the marriage of the Lamb and of the Bride, and to the everlasting feast which accompanies this union; the wise virgins are they who by their pureness from all sin, and by their good works, keep themselves always ready for the coming of the Lord; the foolish virgins are they who, contented with the name of Christians, think but little on God and eternity, and perform no good works. According to the interpretation of the holy fathers, by the lamps we are to understand faith; by the oil, charity; good works, mercy; by the vessels, the hearts and consciences of men. The asking for oil is to show that they who content themselves with a dead faith in order to escape the trouble of works of charity and mercy will on the day of judgment beg for a share in the merits of the just, but without being heard. For the virtues of the just will not make good the deficiencies of the wicked. How will you feel when you then discover what you lack?
O Jesus Christ, teacher of eternal life, we thank Thee for having taught us how to keep ourselves prepared for Thy coming by a prudent, watchful life. But since we are unable to do this of our own strength, grant us Thy grace, that the fire of Thy divine love may burn in our hearts, in order that we may constantly do what is good, and with Thee enter into everlasting joys. Ah, grant that at the Last Judgment we may not hear that terrible sentence, “I know you not”; but that joyful summons, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.” Grant us this, O Jesus, our God and Saviour, Who hast redeemed us by Thy precious blood, to Whom is due honor, praise, thanksgiving, and glory, forever and ever. Amen.