Saint Catharine De Ricci,
V., O.S.D. (A.D. 1589)
The Ricci’s are an ancient family, which still exist in a flourishing condition in Tuscany. Peter de Ricci, the father of our saint, was married to Catharine Bonza, a lady of suitable birth. The saint was born at Florence in 1522, and was baptized Alexandrina, but she took the name of
Catharine at her religious profession. Having lost her mother in her infancy, she was formed to virtue by a very pious
godmother, and whenever she was missing, she was always to be found on her knees in some secret part of the house.
When she was between six and seven years old, her father placed her in the Convent of Monticelli, near the gates of Florence, where her aunt, Louisa de Ricci, was a nun. This place was a paradise to her: at a distance from the noise and tumult of the world, she served God without impediment or distraction. After some years her father took her home. She continued her usual exercises in the world as much as she was able; but the interruptions and dissipation, inseparable from her station, gave her so much uneasiness that, with the consent of her father, which she obtained with great difficulty, in the year 1535, when she was fourteen, she received the religious veil in the convent of Dominicanesses at Prat, in Tuscany, to which her uncle, Father Timothy de Ricci, was director.
For two years she suffered inexpressible pains under a complication of violent distempers, and the remedies themselves served only to increase her suffering. These sufferings she sanctified by the interior dispositions with which she bore them, and which she nourished principally by constant meditation on the Passion of Christ, in which she found incredible comfort and joy. After the recovery of her health, which seemed miraculous, she studied more perfectly to die to her senses, and to advance in a penitential life and spirit, in which God had begun to conduct her, by practicing the greatest austerities which were compatible with the obedience she had professed. She fasted two or three days a week on bread and water, and sometimes passed the whole day without taking any nourishment, and chastised her body with disciplines and a sharp iron chain which she wore next to her skin. Her obedience, humility, and meekness were still more admirable than her spirit of penance. The least shadow of distinction or commendation gave her inexpressible uneasiness and confusion, and she would have rejoiced to be able to lie hid in the center of the earth, in order to be entirely unknown to and blotted out of the hearts of all mankind, such were the sentiments of annihilation and contempt of herself in which she constantly lived.
It was by profound humility and perfect interior self-denial that she learned to vanquish sin and inordinate self-love. But this victory over herself, and purgation of her affections, was completed by a perfect spirit of prayer. For by the union of her soul with God, and the establishment of the absolute reign of His love in her heart, she was dead to and disengaged from all earthly things. And in one act of sublime prayer she advanced more than by a hundred exterior practices in the purity and ardor of her desire to do constantly what was most agreeable to God, to lose no occasion of practicing every heroic virtue, and of vigorously resisting all that was evil. Prayer, holy meditation, and contemplation were the means by which God imprinted in her soul sublime ideas of His heavenly truths, the strongest and most tender sentiments of all virtues, and the most burning desire to give all to God, with an incredible affection for suffering contempt and poverty for Christ. What she chiefly labored to obtain, by meditating on His life and sufferings, and what she most earnestly asked of Him, was that He would be pleased, in His mercy, to purge her affections of all poison of the inordinate love of creatures, and engrave in her His most holy and divine image, both exterior and interior — that is to say, both in her conversation and her affections, so that she might be animated, and might think, speak, and act by His Most Holy Spirit.
The saint was chosen, very young, first, mistress of the novices, then sub-prioress, and, at age twenty-five, was appointed perpetual prioress. The reputation of her extraordinary sanctity and prudence drew her many visits from a great number of bishops, princes, and Cardinals — among others. Saint Philip Neri and Saint Catharine of Ricci, having for some time exchanged many letters, to satisfy their mutual desire of seeing each other, while Saint Philip Neri was detained in Rome, she appeared to him in a vision, and they conversed together for a considerable time, each doubtless being in a rapture. Saint Philip Neri, though most careful in giving credit to or in publishing visions, declared that Catharine de Ricci, while living, had appeared to him in a vision.
Most wonderful were the raptures of Saint Catharine in meditating on the Passion of Christ, which was her daily exercise, to which she totally devoted herself every week from Thursday noon to three o’clock in the afternoon on Friday.
Saint Catharine of Ricci practiced the art of true devotion, which consists very much in a familiar and easy habit of accompanying exterior actions and business with a pious attention to the Divine Presence, frequent secret aspirations, and a constant union of the soul with God. This she practiced at her work, in the exterior duties of her house and office, in her attendance to the sick (which was her favorite employment, and which she usually performed on her knees), and in the tender care of the poor over the whole country. But this did not hinder the exercises of contemplation, which were her most constant employment. Therefore, retirement and silence were her delight, in order to entertain herself with the Creator of all things, and by devout
meditation, kindling in her soul the fire of heavenly love, she was never able to satiate the enthusiasm of her desire in adoring and praising the immense greatness and goodness of God.
After a long illness, she passed from this mortal life to everlasting bliss and the possession of the object of all her desires, on the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady, on February 2, 1589, at age 67. The ceremony of her beatification was performed by Clement XII in 1732, and that of her canonization by Benedict XIV in 1746. Her festival is deferred to February 13.