Saint Lawrence, believed to be a Spaniard, was ordained deacon by Pope Xystus and made the first of the seven deacons, and therefore the Archdeacon of Rome. His office was the important one of administration of the moneys of the Church.
As Pope Xystus was being dragged through the streets of Rome, Lawrence meeting him, said reproachfully:
“Whither go you, O Father, without your son?
Whither, O priest of God, without your deacon?”
And the saintly Pope replied:
“I am not forsaking you, my son, a nobler conflict awaits you. In three days you shall follow me.”
During those three days the Archdeacon hastened through the poorest parts of Rome distributing the goods of the Church to the needy. Arrested by the prefect of the city he was commanded to deliver up the treasures of the Church. Lawrence assembled the poor of Rome, and presented them to the prefect as the treasures of the Church. The prefect was enraged at this and determined to pay him back. All through the night Lawrence was tormented. He was scourged, struck with leaden balls, stretched on the rack, burned with hot metal plates. But nothing could break his indomitable spirit. To his tormentors he exclaimed:
“For me this night has no darkness, but breaks forth into the bright of day.”
Exasperated, his executioners placed him on a gridiron to roast him slowly over a fire. The saint bore this terrible torture, even jested, telling his tormentors that one side was sufficiently roasted, and that they should turn him over.
As his flesh sizzled over the fire the martyr prayed:
“On the gridiron I have not denied You, my God.
Over the fire I have confessed You, my Saviour.
You have tried and examined my heart in the night.
You have proved me by fire and found no falsehood in me.
My soul adhered to You, whilst my flesh burned for You.”
Saint Lawrence is Rome’s proud boast; there his feast-day, on August 10th, has been celebrated since the 4th century. The Basilica of Saint Lawrence Outside the Walls was built by Constantine over his grave. It ranks fifth of the churches of Rome- one of the five basilicas where the Pope alone says Mass on the high-altar, to show his jurisdiction over all.