Getting to Know Saint Catherine de Ricci, a Perfect Lenten Companion

Kimberly Timmerman

Getting to Know Saint Catherine de Ricci, a Perfect Lenten Companion

Perhaps lesser known among the saints, Saint Catherine de Ricci is a saint of greatness. Lent is the perfect time to take a look at her great example of sacrificial love and young leadership.

Saint Catherine de Ricci was an Italian Third Order Dominican. She was born by the name Alexandrina Lucrezia Romola de Ricci on April 23, 1522 in Florence. Her mother died when she was very young and her grandmother, a faithful woman, raised her during her infancy years. Around the age of six, her father sent her to a convent where her aunt was a nun. She called this time a paradise and began to live a mystical and miraculous life. She developed a deep devotion to the Passion of Christ and at the age of fourteen in 1535, with the approval of her father, she entered a cloistered Third Order community of Dominicans in Tuscany. She took the name Catherine.

She suffered immensely during her novitiate. She experienced ecstasies that led to numerous trials and caused her extreme pains that ultimately forged her devotion to the Passion of Christ. She also experienced numerous humiliations before her community. During these ecstasies, she would seem to be asleep during prayer and she would frequently drop items such as dishes and food. For nearly two years these mystical experiences would take and her sisters did not recognize their spiritual roots. 

Despite a difficult novitiate, her frequent meditation on the Passion of Christ strengthened her. She led a penitential life and practiced great austerities. She fasted frequently and mortified her body by wearing a sharp iron chain around her neck. Along with these penances, she cultivated a life of virtue. She was appointed at a very young age to leadership roles within her community and eventually at the age of 25 became perpetual prioress. Her counsel was sought after by many and she became an advisor to princes, bishops and cardinals. Three of these cardinals eventually became Popes. 

Her life is an example to all. It was through an intense prayer life, specifically meditation, that she advanced in wisdom and understanding of heavenly truths. Her counsel flowed from prayer. As a testament to the value of her counsel, the Lord granted her bilocation to counsel others, including Saint Philip Neri. 

Her spiritually focused intensely on the Passion of Christ. Her most frequent ecstasies occurred while meditating on the Passion of Christ. For many years she, weekly, would go into ecstasy from noon on Thursday until 4 pm on Friday while meditating on the Passion. She received the Stigmata, Christ’s wounds from His Passion, and during these ecstasies, these wounds would bleed spontaneously. 

She wrote many letters to her sisters, to other religious, and to those who sought her counsel. Although not widely attributed known, she was given the Canticle of the Passion of Our Lord by the Blessed Mother during one of her ecstasies. The Church, particularly Dominicans, has traditionally chanted this hymn before the Crucifix during the Fridays of Lent. The text of the Canticle is below. It is scriptural. May these words open our hearts during this upcoming season of Lent.

My friends and my kinsmen have approached and stood against me. 

I was betrayed and I went not out: my eyes have languished for weariness.

And my sweat has become like drops of blood trickling down upon the earth.

For many dogs have surrounded me, the council of the wicked has besieged me.

I gave my body to the scourgers and my cheeks to be smitten.

I have not turned away my face from those who upbraided me: and spat upon me.

Because I am prepared for scourging: and my sorrow is ever before me.

The soldiers plaiting a crown of thorns have placed it upon my head.

They have pierced my hands and my feet and they have numbered all my bones.

And they gave me gall for food and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

All who saw me derided me: they spoke with their lips and wagged their heads.

They have looked upon me and watched me, they divided my garments amongst them, 

and upon my vesture they cast lots.

Into thy hands I commend my spirit; Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, God of truth.

Remember Thy servants, O Lord: when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom.

But Jesus, crying with a loud voice: gave up the spirit.

The mercies of the Lord, I will sing forever.

Surely He hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows.

He was wounded for our iniquities; He was bruised for our sins.

All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside, into his own way.

The Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all.

Arise, why sleepest Thou, O Lord? Arise, and cast us not off to the end.

Behold, God is my Saviour, I will deal confidently, and will not fear.

We therefore beseech Thee, O Lord, help Thy servants, 

whom thou hast redeemed by Thy precious blood.