What’s in That Prayer? The Collect for Saint Agatha

Here is the oration that the Church prays in the Mass and Office for the feast of Saint Agatha (February 5):

Deus, qui inter cétera poténtiæ tuæ mirácula étiam in sexu frágili victóriam martýrii contulísti: concéde propítius; ut, qui beátæ Agathæ Vírginis et Mártyris tuæ natalítia cólimus, per eius ad te exémpla gradiámur.

Here is my translation:

O God, who, among other marvels of Thy power, hast joined the victory of a martyr even to the fragile sex, mercifully grant that we who honor the birthday of blessed Agatha Thy Virgin and Martyr may, through her example, advance toward Thee.

Here is the translation from the Divinum Officium site:

O God, Who among other wonders of Your power have given the victory of martyrdom even to the gentler sex, graciously grant that we who commemorate the anniversary of the death of blessed Agatha, Your Virgin and Martyr, may come to You by following her example.

This collect is not unique to Saint Agatha. It comes from the common Mass of virgin-martyrs (called Loquebar after the first word of its Introit), so there are many saints on whose feasts we pray it.

The Church is obviously not “woke” and does fully appreciate the distinctions between the sexes, frankly acknowledging reality as it is by calling the female sex the “fragile sex” or — less literally but more poetically — the “gentler sex.” The Latin word sexus means not only “sex,” as in the distinction between male and female (not the marital act, a meaning the word did not get until the twentieth century), but, in its first definition, it also means “division.” It comes, says the all-knowing Wiktionary, from the “Proto-Indo-European *séksus, from *sek– (‘to cut’), thus meaning ‘section, division’ (into male and female).” The word section comes from this same root word. Which tangent I go on to show that the fundamental notion of “sex” is a “dividing” or “sectioning off” between male and female, as in “male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). All this is a powerful sed contra to that pernicious movement with a doubly-ludicrous name (“transgenderism”) seeking to instill in our youth the lie that sex is something fluid and manifold (as opposed to “twofold”).

Acknowledging the fact that God would grant the miracle or wonder of martyrdom “even” (étiam) to a frail woman is not a put down of women (as an over-sensitive feminist may have it!), but an appreciation and exultation of God’s grace. Many of these “women” in whose honor we utter this prayer were really little girls, who show all the more by their gruesome martyrdom the power of God.

I chose to translate the word natalítia literally as “birthday” and not “anniversary of death” because the Church uses the word for birthday in her liturgy (including in the Roman Martyrology) to mean death day — i.e., one’s “birth” into eternity. There are three actual birthdays only in the Roman Church’s liturgy: the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas), the Nativity of Our Lady (September 8), and the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist (June 24).

Owing to certain circumstances of her martyrdom, the church revels in Saint Agatha’s femininity in a very big way on her feast-day. For more on that, please read Saint Agatha’s Breasts.


Image courtesy of Father Lawrence Lew, O.P.