There's something about the Catherines, the league of saints whose name means "pure". Just when you've learned about one wonder-working Catherine, you discover another!  I knew nothing about St Catherine de Ricci 'til I read an account of her voluntarily taking upon herself all the purgatorial pains that were owed to a prince and standing in his place and suffering instead of him. Yes, this Catherine was a nun, but she had close ties with the prince because they were both of noble birth. 

Catherine was born in Florence, 1522, and as both her parents were aristocrats, Catherine enjoyed the best that Florentine society had to offer. The nobles mixed together and held a tight class structure in place whereby they married only among their own kind and kept careful tabs on each other. Catherine came into the world merely 24 years after the execution of Girolamo Savonarola who had taken the nobles of Florence to task for their lack of morals and who had taken his own religious order - the Dominicans - to task for their lack of holiness and rigor. Savonarola reformed the Dominican order 'til it the friars and sisters strictly and slavishly observed the Rule of St Dominic. And Catherine swapped a life of certain privilege for this newly restored (and severe) setting where she became a Dominican nun. 

There was a prince, who was further up the chain of nobility than Catherine, and Catherine was very worried for him. While this was five centuries ago, Florence had been quite a den of iniquity in that prostitution, gambling and drunkenness were rife a situation which Savonarola had sought to change. So the prince could have indulged all sorts of vices. But his name and his predilections are not mentioned in Catherine's history, only that she was supremely concerned for him. She offered much fasts and prayer for him. As they were both members of the nobility Catherine knew a great many particulars of this prince's life and the way he conducted himself quite scandalized her.  Her prayers, however, were answered and the prince made a firm act of contrition before he died, and it was revealed to Catherine that he was saved. 

That he was saved and in Purgatory led Catherine to make a great sacrifice. She offered to suffer his purgatory for him, and she offered herself to Our Lord in his place that the pain she would bear would satisfy Divine Justice for the soul of the prince. Our Lord accepted her offer and the prince entered Heaven, while on earth Catherine became sick with an illness that baffled the doctors and which was not treatable. Catherine developed a mass of blisters that bubbled all over her body. Her cell became extremely hot and it was hard to breathe inside its tiny confines. The room seemed to be one blazing fireplace. Catherine's flesh was actually boiling and her tongue was a like a sizzling piece of metal. Sometimes she was relieved of the blisters, but then her smooth skin looked like roasted meat.

This persisted for 40 days and throughout it all, Catherine was seen to be so happy to be doing the purgatory of her friend, the prince. When the other nuns commented that she appeared to be on fire, she meekly agreed. They protested that maybe she was doing too much, and that she ought ask Our Lord to lessen the agonizing burns that appeared on every inch of her skin, but she was determined to endure the furnace she had invited. She gave her fellow nuns this polite answer to edify them that she did to suffer merely for the prince, "Pardon me, my dear sisters, if I answer you. Jesus has so much love for souls that all we do for their salvation is infinitely agreeable to Him, that is why I gladly endure any pain whatsoever it may be for the conversion of sinners and for the deliverance of the souls detained in Purgatory."

When the 40 days ended, Catherine suddenly returned to normal, as though she had never been seared in an invisible fire. When the prince's relatives asked of Catherine where the man had gone in the afterlife, Catherine beamed with joy when she told them he was in Heaven. 

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This post was informed by Fr. F.X. Schouppe's Purgatory which you may buy in The Spirit Daily store.  

Classic painting of St Catherine de Ricci's mystical marriage to Christ was executed by Pierre Subleyras. 


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