St Catherine de’ Ricci OP
Feast Day: 4th February
Alexandra de’ Ricci was born of a noble family near Florence in 1522. At the age of twelve she entered the Dominican convent of St Vincent at Prato and took the religious name Catherine. Inspired by the Dominican reformer Girolamo Savonarola she worked constantly to promote the regular life. She was favoured with extraordinary mystical experiences and at the age of twenty began to experience the sacred stigmata and weekly ecstasies of the Passion. These phenomena continued for twenty years. Despite her intense mystical life of prayer and her penance, Catherine served as prioress of the convent for thirty-six years. She was noted as a kind and considerate superior, particularly gentle with the sick. She died on February 2, 1590 (from the Dominican Supplement for the Liturgy of the Hours).
The Passion of Christ has always been a significant focus for Dominicans at prayer. Our Holy Father Dominic himself gives us his example to follow:
Engrossed in his contemplation of the sufferings of Christ, St. Dominic would remain before the altar or in the chapter room with his gaze fixed on the Crucified One, looking upon Him with perfect attention. He genuflected frequently, again and again. He would continue sometimes from after compline until midnight, now rising, now kneeling …. Thus there was formed in our holy father, St. Dominic, a great confidence in God’s mercy . . . .
Meister Eckhart, one of the great Dominican mystics of Germany spoke of the Cross of Christ with typically vivid imagery:
We see how heat draws all things to itself . . . with such fire did our Lord Jesus Christ burn on the Cross. His heart burns like a fire and a furnace from which the flames burst forth on all sides. He was thus inflamed on the Cross by his fire of love for the whole world. Therefore, he drew all the world to himself with his heat of love.
St Catherine of Siena wrote at length about the Passion of Christ, but always emphasised Christ’s suffering as an act of love, which invites a loving response:
Place your lips to the side of the Son of God, for it is an opening which emits the fires of charity and pours forth its Blood to wash us from our iniquities. The soul which reposes there and looks with the eyes of its soul on the Heart opened and consumed by love will be made conformable to him, for seeing itself so much loved it cannot fail to love in return.
So today’s saint, St Catherine de’ Ricci, was following her Dominican forebears in her great devotion to the Passion of Christ. She has had a lasting impact on the Dominicans who came after her too, especially through her Canticle of the Passion, a sung collection of biblical verses to do with the suffering of Our Lord. On this Friday, the day of the Passion, why not take the time to listen to her composition, and meditate on the words she chose: