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Devotion to the Crown of Martyrdom: St. Stephen, Protomartyr

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st. stephen protomartyr

Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer… Be thou faithful until death: and I will give thee the crown of life.

–Revelation 2:10.

On December 26, the Church honors St. Stephen, the first martyr (protomartyr), as it introduces the Triduum of Martyrs. St. Stephen was one of the original seven deacons first ordained by the Apostles to assist in their mission of evangelization. Based on the verse from Revelation, we recognize how his martyrdom was pre-ordained.

In the Greek, Stephen’s name is rendered as Stephanos, meaning “crown.” So we see, in a sign of contradiction, that martyrs gain a heavenly crown of glory for their submission to torture and death from earthly kings. Indeed, this has symbol has been recognized from the earliest of times, where drawings of martyred Christians in the Catacombs depict them wearing or holding crowns.

Few of us will ever be found privileged or worthy of suffering a blood martyrdom for the faith, like St. Stephen the Protmartyr did. However, it is suitable for all of us Christians to participate in the holy mystery of martyrdom by offering ourselves whatever trials and persecutions God would be pleased to send to us.

The Great Theologian and Homilist Fr. Francis X. Weninger S.J. has given us a traditional teaching and reflection on the Crown of St. Stephen, found in one his most famous works, “Original, Short and Practical Sermons for Every Feast of the Liturgical Year“, (1882). In this compilation, he instructs how St. Stephen was the prototypical martyr, a model for all the martyrs that would follow.

Fr. Weninger begins by acknowledging the office of Our Lady as Queen of Martyrs as described in the beginning of Revelation 12:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

Here he points out that the woman recognizable as the Virgin Mary wears a crown referencing the Twelve Apostles (Matthias replacing Judas). She also represents the Church, the spouse of Christ. The Church’s crown of glory is indeed its martyrs, reminding us of the oft-quoted line by Tertullian from his work Apologeticus:

The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.

The 12 Stars of Virtue in St. Stephen, Protomartyr’s crown

In his homily, Father then expounds upon the 12 stars of virtue in St. Stephen’s crown, which I have adapted into a devotional prayer.

Let us pray:

Response (): St. Stephen, Protomartyr pray for us.

Holy Faith

O Lord give me the boldness of holy faith, to preach with the energy of apostolic fervor.

st. stephen protomartyr
Metal cut print of St. Stephen holding the palm of martyrdom and a stone, the instrument of his death from Carmē Rrithmicū de Passiōe Dňo. c.1516.

Hope

O Lord enable us like St. Stephen to cling to hope in a life wrought with trouble, labor, suffering and persecution.

Charity

O Lord, give us the graces to make the greatest and purest acts of love, that is those actions of total sacrifice for the souls of others.  

Meekness

O Lord, give us a humility, the great virtue to remedy pride, the source of all sin and help us develop a tranquility of our soul.  

Prayer

O Lord, enable us to remain calm and wrapt in devotion, always praying foremost for others. ℜ 

Devotion to Jesus

O Lord, may we glorify Your Name and spread the work of Your Kingdom here on earth. ℜ 

Vocation

O Lord, give us a holy fidelity to execute the duties of our state in life. ℜ 

Zeal

O Lord, give us a zeal to practice all the virtues that others may see the shining countenance within us as we faithfully bear our struggles. ℜ 

Friendship

O Lord, give us a heroic love for our neighbor, including those who dismiss or persecute us. ℜ 

Love of Enemies

O Lord, help us to pardon our enemies and persecutors. For we are taught by our Lord, “forgive them for they know not what they do.” ℜ 

Intrepidity

O Lord, as we face those that oppose the work of the Church, let us show no trace of fear or cowardice. ℜ 

Fidelity

O Lord, help us to sacrifice our lives and persevere until the end as a testimony of our faith. ℜ 

He then closes with an exhortation that I have reworded into a prayer:

Concluding Prayer

He then closes with an exhortation that I have reworded into a prayer:

Almighty God, may every Christian heart, while reflecting upon St. Stephen’s glorious martyrdom, feel comforted and strengthened by these resolutions. May we follow St. Stephen’s example by the practice of all those virtues whose merit shines so brilliantly in his crown of victory. Let us strive during our whole life to practice these virtues with the same zeal as St. Stephen did, that we may someday merit as bright stars in our crown of recompense, which our Lord will one day reward us with in heaven!

St Stephen Protomartyr, pray for us. Amen.

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