We have what we can call ordinary and extraordinary saints that make up the ranks of the Church Triumphant. The ordinary ones are the ones we can identify with, the ones that seemed to share our plight on earth, yet rise above it in holy but "earthbound" ways. These are the wonderful, somehow comforting saints not known for their miracles ~ saints like St. Maria Goretti , St. Francis de Sales, and St. Therese of Lisieux.
Then there are the extraordinary saints, ones that rise above the earthly in magnificent ways. Their examples go beyond piety to raise our minds to heaven; we see the power of God through them. These are the amazing saints known for their miracles, saints like St. Joseph of Cupertino, St. Martin dePorres, and St. Catherine of Siena .
Today is the feast day of St. Catherine of Siena, definitely an extraordinary saint.
She is one of the great and most unique souls celebrated by the Church: a Third Order Dominican, a writer of superb merit, a hermit, a mystic, a stigmatist, a civil and religious reformer, an incorruptible after her death, a saint known for wonders and miracles... The amazing story of her life is the stuff of legends. But the thing I always remember about St. Catherine of Siena is the ring.
You might remember that St. Catherine is one of the saints most highly favored in that she was one of the few who shared a mystic espousal to Our Lord ~ and when Our Lord took her for His bride, he gave her a beautiful ring.
Blessed Raymond of Capua, her confessor, documented that on the day of the espousal, St. Catherine was abstaining from the pre-Lenten feasting going on around her and was alone in her room "seeking through prayer and fasting the face of her eternal Bridegroom" when Our Lord appeared and said:
"Since for love of Me you have forsaken vanities and despised the pleasure of the flesh and fastened all the delights of your heart on Me, now, when the rest of the household are feasting and enjoying themselves, I have determined to celebrate the wedding feast of your soul and to espouse you to Me in faith as I promised."
Before He had finished speaking, His most glorious Virgin Mother appeared with the most blessed St. John the Evangelist, the glorious Apostle Paul, St. Dominic, the founder of the order, and the prophet David with his harp. While David played sweet strains on the harp, the Mother of God tood Catherine's hand in her own most holy hand and, presenting her to her Son, courteously asked Him to marry her to Himself in faith. The Son of God, graciously agreeing, held out a gold ring with four pearls set in a circle and a wonderful diamond in the middle, and with His most holy right hand He slipped it onto the virgin's second finger saying, "There! I marry you to Me in faith, to Me, your Creator and Saviour. Keep this faith unspotted until you come to Me in Heaven and celebrate the marriage that has no end."
OK, what do you say? Imagine being given away by the Blessed Mother, while King St. David plays the harp and St. Dominic and St. John look on. Picture Our Lady holding St. Catherine's hand, as Our Lord gently slips the ring on St. Catherine's finger. Wow.
The whole scene is unbelievably beautiful and miraculous, but, most touching to me, and most memorable (maybe because I'm just a very visual person) is St. Catherine's memento of the event ~ her wedding ring. Blessed Raymond tells us that, though the ring was invisible to everyone else, St. Catherine could always see it. What an an amazing, very personal reminder of Christ's love for her!
What an amazing reminder for us, too, though. In the ceremony of this mystical marriage, we see how much value Our Lord placed in the complete sacrifice St. Catherine made of her soul to Him, but we also get to see His complete understanding and sympathy for our earthly sensibilities. Our Lord surely didn't need to give St. Catherine a ring; she would have appreciated and understood their espousal without it. But Christ understands our human hearts. He knows how to touch us, and He knows how important visual symbols are for us. And a woman who has just been married really needs a wedding ring.
The wisdom of the Church, His wisdom, has always understood the power of symbols. This is part of the power and instruction of the liturgy and the sacraments, their value to us in their visual meaning. I love how the color of the vestments is an immediate hint about the feast or season, for instance. If you walk into church and see purple vestments, you think: penitential; if you walk in and the vestments are white, you think: must be a feast of Our Lady today! We can think of a sacrament and come up with an immediate image to go with it: Baptism - water, Holy Communion - Bread and Wine; Matrimony - a ring, and so forth...
But, I especailly love the symbolism of wedding rings.
* They are very often gold, because it is a precious metal valued for its purity and rareness in the symbolism of the Church. Did you know that the cup of all chalices used in holy Mass must be made of either gold or silver, but that the interior of the cup must be gold ? So gold has an association with gravity and sanctity. A golden wedding ring was also a promise of a new son-in-law to a loving father that he had the means to provide for his new wife.
* Another important symbol of a ring is its shape, a circle, the universal symbol for eternity.
* A wedding ring came to be worn on the third finger of the left hand to recognize the vena amori or vein of love, which was traditionally believed to have a direct path from the third finger to the heart, thus signifying a connection between life and love.
* Another old tradition connects the third finger with the Blessed Trinity. In medievel England, the bridegroom would slip the ring on each finger during the wedding ceremony, saying: In the name of the Father (on the index finger), the Son (on the middle finger), and the Holy Ghost (landing on the ring finger).
I think any faithful woman would agree that her wedding ring makes a circuit between herself, her husband, and God ~ a circle that passes through her heart. Christ understood the human importance of the symbol when He slipped the ring on St. Catherine's finger, and it was important to Him because He loved St. Catherine.
I look at my wedding ring when I think of St. Catherine and remember this all encompassing love: me for my husband, him for me, and God's love for us both. It's all right there. My wedding ring is not mystical in itself, but its meaning is. My calling is not as extraordinary as St. Catherine's, but it's just as important in God's scheme. And though I've not come remotely close to perfecting my love for Christ as St. Catherine did, He loves me just as He loves her. And His plan for me is all in the ring.
In my station, it's all about unity in marriage and commitment to the duties of wife and mother. And it's all wound up with saving souls ~ maybe on a small scale compared to St. Catherine, whose life affected thousands ~ but it's all of eternal importance, just the same.
For St. Catherine of Siena, the ring said it all, and it does for me, too.
St. Catherine, pray for us!