Saint Stephen,
 First Martyr of the Catholic Church

Feast Day: December 26th

[Saint Stephen holy card]

Saint Stephen

First Martyr of the Holy Catholic Church


    One of the first deacons and the first Christian martyr; feast on 26 December. In the Acts of the Apostles the name of St. Stephen occurs for the first time on the occasion of the appointment of the first deacons (Acts, vi, 5). Dissatisfaction concerning the distribution of alms from the community's fund having arisen in the Church, seven men were selected and specially ordained by the Apostles to take care of the temporal relief of the poorer members. Of these seven, Stephen, is the first mentioned and the best known.

    Stephen's life previous to this appointment remains for us almost entirely in the dark. His name is Greek and suggests he was a Hellenist, i.e., one of those Jews who had been born in some foreign land and whose native tongue was Greek; however, according to a fifth century tradition, the name Stephanos was only a Greek equivalent for the Aramaic Kelil (Syr. kelila, crown), which may be the protomartyr's original name and was inscribed on a slab found in his tomb. It seems that Stephen was not a proselyte, for the fact that Nicolas is the only one of the seven designated as such makes it almost certain that the others were Jews by birth. That Stephen was a pupil of Gamaliel is sometimes inferred from his able defence before the Sanhedrin; but this has not been proved. Neither do we know when and in what circumstances he became a Christian; it is doubtful whether the statement of St. Epiphanius (Haer., xx, 4) numbering Stephen among the seventy disciples is deserving of any credence. His ministry as deacon appears to have been mostly among the Hellenist converts with whom the Apostles were at first less familiar; and the fact that the opposition he met with sprang up in the synagogues of the "Libertines" (probably the children of Jews taken captive to Rome by Pompey in 63 B. C. and freed hence the name Libertini), and "of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of them that were of Cilicia and Asia" shows that he usually preached among the Hellenist Jews.

     That he was pre eminently fitted for that work, his abilities and character, which the author of the Acts dwells upon so fervently, are the best indication. The Church had, by selecting him for a deacon, publicly acknowledged him as a man "of good reputation, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom" (Acts, vi, 3). He was "a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost" (vi, 5), "full of grace and fortitude" (vi, 8); his uncommon oratorical powers and unimpeachable logic no one was able to resist, so much so that to his arguments replete with the Divine energy of the Scriptural authorities God added the weight of "great wonders and signs" (vi, 8). Great as was the efficacy of "the wisdom and the spirit that spoke" (vi, 10), still it could not bend the minds of the unwilling; to these the forceful preacher was fatally soon to become an enemy.

    The conflict broke out when the cavillers of the synagogues "of the Libertines, and of the Cyreneans, and of the Alexandrians, and of them that were of Cilicia and Asia", who had challenged Stephen to a dispute, came out completely discomfited (vi, 9 10); wounded pride so inflamed their hatred that they suborned false witnesses to testify that "they had heard him speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God" (vi, 11).

    No charge could be more apt to rouse the mob; the anger of the ancients and the scribes had been already kindled from the first reports of the preaching of the Apostles. Stephen was arrested, not without some violence it seems (the Greek word synerpasan implies so much), and dragged before the Sanhedrin, where he was accused of saying that "Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place [the temple], and shall change the traditions which Moses delivered unto us" (vi, 12 14). No doubt Stephen had by his language given some grounds for the accusation; his accusers apparently twisted into the offensive utterance attributed to him a declaration that "the most High dwelleth not in houses made by hands" (vii, 48), some mention of Jesus foretelling the destruction of the Temple and some inveighing against the burthensome traditions fencing about the Law, or rather the asseveration so often repeated by the Apostles that "there is no salvation in any other" (cf. iv, 12) the Law not excluded but Jesus. However this may be, the accusation left him unperturbed and "all that sat in the council...saw his face as if it had been the face of an angel" (vi, 15).

    Stephen's answer (Acts, vii) was a long recital of the mercies of God towards Israel during its long history and of the ungratefulness by which, throughout, Israel repaid these mercies. This discourse contained many things unpleasant to Jewish ears; but the concluding indictment for having betrayed and murdered the Just One whose coming the Prophets had foretold, provoked the rage of an audience made up not of judges, but of foes. When Stephen "looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God", and said: "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God" (vii, 55), they ran violently upon him (vii, 56) and cast him out of the city to stone him to death. Stephen's stoning does not appear in the narrative of the Acts as a deed of mob violence; it must have been looked upon by those who took part in it as the carrying out of the law. According to law (Lev., xxiv, 14), or at least its usual interpretation, Stephen had been taken out of the city; custom required that the person to be stoned be placed on an elevation from whence with his hands bound he was to be thrown down. It was most likely while these preparations were going on that, "falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (vii, 59). Meanwhile the witnesses, whose hands must be first on the person condemned by their testimony (Deut., xvii, 7), were laying down their garments at the feet of Saul, that they might be more ready for the task devolved upon them (vii, 57). The praying martyr was thrown down; and while the witnesses were thrusting upon him "a stone as much as two men could carry", he was heard to utter this supreme prayer: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (vii, 58). Little did all the people present, casting stones upon him, realize that the blood they shed was the first seed of a harvest that was to cover the world.

    The bodies of men stoned to death were to be buried in a place appointed by the Sanhedrin. Whether in this instance the Sanhedrin insisted on its right cannot be affirmed; at any rate, "devout men" whether Christians or Jews, we are not told "took order for Stephen's funeral, and made great mourning over him" (vii, 2). For centuries the location of St. Stephen's tomb was lost sight of, until (415) a certain priest named Lucian learned by revelation that the sacred body was in Caphar Gamala, some distance to the north of Jerusalem. The relics were then exhumed and carried first to the church of Mount Sion, then, in 460, to the basilica erected by Eudocia outside the Damascus Gate, on the spot where, according to tradition, the stoning had taken place (the opinion that the scene of St. Stephen's martyrdom was east of Jerusalem, near the Gate called since St. Stephen's Gate, is unheard of until the twelfth century). The site of the Eudocian basilica was identified some twenty years ago, and a new edifice has been erected on the old foundations by the Dominican Fathers.

    The only first hand source of information on the life and death of St. Stephen is the Acts of the Apostles (vi, i viii, 2).

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV
Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912, Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

St. Stephen, Proto-Martyr
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

St. Stephen, whom Holy Writ calls a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, full of grace and strength, was the first who had the happiness to give his blood and life for the Gospel of Christ; hence he is called "Proto-martyr." He is also called Archdeacon, because he was the first of those seven men, who were chosen by the Christian community and ordained deacons by the Apostles. Where he was born and who his parents were, is not known; but it is certain that he came from Judea, and had been a disciple of the celebrated Gamaliel, and that, soon after the descent of the Holy Ghost, he had become famous for his zeal in professing the faith, and for his eminent piety; and that he had always enjoyed, among the Jews, the reputation of great wisdom in the divine laws, as well as of an irreproachable character. After having been ordained deacon, he had not only to distribute the alms among the poor, but also to aid the Apostles in their sacred functions, both of which he did most perfectly. There were no longer complaints about the distribution of alms, as it was done with love and faithfulness. He preached with the Apostles the gospel of Christ fearlessly, all through Jerusalem, and was greatly aided by the Almighty, who bestowed upon him the power of working many and great miracles, as is testified in Holy Writ in these words: "Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, did great wonders and signs among the people."

The Jews knew that Stephen was exceedingly well-informed in the laws of Moses; but as he preached, with great freedom, the Gospel of Christ, they ventured to dispute with him, to convict him of error by their subtle questions and assertions. At that period, there existed Various schools at Jerusalem, in which the Jews were instructed in the laws. Several disciples from each of these schools came to dispute with him; but, notwithstanding their cunning and malice, they were unable to contend with the wisdom with which he spoke. Seeing that he daily converted many to Christ, they became more and more embittered against him, and endeavored to do away with him. They suborned some wicked men to disseminate among the people that Stephen had blasphemed against Moses and God, and that they themselves had heard it. This stirred up not only the people, but also the Elders and Scribes. Full of rage, they laid hands on him and brought him to the Council, which had assembled on his account, and when the Highpriest, Caiphas, and other priests and Pharisees were present, the accusers brought forward their charges, and the suborned witnesses testified to them.

"This man," said they, "ceases not to speak words against the holy place and the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the traditions which Moses delivered to us." All present looked fixedly into the face of the accused to notice any change which fear or apprehension might work in it; but, contrary to their expectation, the countenance of the holy Arch-deacon was so illuminated by God, as a sign of his innocence, that they deemed it the face of an Angel, as is said in Holy Writ. And in truth, he might have been called an Angel, not only on account of his angelic purity, but also on account of his fearless zeal in defending the honor of God. Is it therefore, to be wondered at, that an angelic brightness shone in his countenance?" Because he was pure and chaste," writes St. Augustine, "therefore was his face that of an Angel." But notwithstanding this, the assembled judges desisted not from their wicked design. The High-priest asked, whether what his accusers had said and the witnesses testified, was true? The Saint answered in a long speech, full of learning and wisdom, which is to be found in the 7th chapter of the Acts. In it he said much in praise of Moses, and cited his prophecy in regard to the coming of Christ. In conclusion, he reproached them with their obstinacy, and the murder they had committed on the true Messiah. "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so also do you. Which of the prophets have your fathers not persecuted? And they have slain them who foretold of the coming of the Just One, of whom you are now the betrayers and murderers."

This reproach the assembled people could not bear. The wildest rage took possession of them, their hearts were torn with fury against St. Stephen. He failed not to perceive it, and knew well that they would sacrifice him to their rage. Hence, he turned his eyes to heaven, to receive thence strength for the approaching struggle. At that moment, he saw Jesus Christ, the Son of God, standing at the right hand of His heavenly Father, as if to assure His faithful servant that He would aid him in his fight. Stephen cried aloud: "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God." This caused a terrible outcry in the assembly, and they stopped their ears so as not to hear such blasphemy, and violently assailing him, they cast him from the Council and dragged him out of the city to stone him to death. The false witnesses who, according to the law, were to cast the first stones upon the accused, took off their garments, that they might be more free in the exercise of their cruelty, and gave them in charge of a youth, named Saul, who afterwards became the celebrated St. Paul. Hardly was St. Stephen out of the city, when they began to cast stones upon him. Every one was eager to take part in his death. The Christian hero stood looking unmoved to heaven, invoking Jesus, for whose honor he suffered martyrdom, and said: "Lord Jesus, receive my soul!" After this, kneeling down, to resemble his Saviour, who prayed for His murderers on the Cross, he said: "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." Having said this, he fell asleep in the Lord, amid a hail of stones.

Some devout men took care to inter the body of the holy Proto-martyr, as Holy Writ tells us. It is believed that the celebrated Scribe, Gamaliel, was the principal among these, and that St. Stephen was buried at a country-seat belonging to Gamaliel, seven miles from Jerusalem, as we related on the third day of August. The Holy Fathers, in their encomiums of St. Stephen, praise his blameless life, his angelic purity, his fearless zeal in proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord, and his strength of mind and constancy; but above all, his heroic love for his persecutors and enemies, for whom he humbly prayed to the Almighty in his last moments. Without doubt, many of those, in consequence of this prayer, received grace from God and were converted. St. Augustine hesitates not to say this of Saul, when he writes: "If St. Stephen had not prayed, the Church would not possess Paul. Paul was raised up, because the prayer of St. Stephen, who was cast down, was accepted by the Almighty. Let us, therefore," continues this Father, "commend ourselves to his intercession; for, Christ will surely grant his prayers now more readily, when he intercedes for those who invoke him."


Before I give you some special points for practical consideration, I wish you to observe why the Jews were so much embittered against St. Stephen, that they dragged him out of the city and stoned him. You find no other reason but that the holy Levite preached the truth fearlessly, and laid their vices clearly before their eyes. Ought not the Jews to have given thanks to him and have done penance for their sins? For, what he did, was done only from the desire to save them. He wished them to recognize their wickedness, and therefore secure their penance and with it their salvation. Oleaster, an ancient writer, says, that the same happens today to many preachers, who represent the awful truths of the faith, and duly reproving the prevailing vices, announce the evident danger of eternal damnation in plain words to the unrepentant. They do so because they are bound to it by their office. They have no other intention than to convert the people and to lead them from the path of vice to that of a Christian life and of salvation. But many become angry at the words of the preacher, stop their ears, will no longer listen to him, no longer endure him. If they dared, they would tear him from the pulpit, cast him out of the city, and who knows if they would not stone him, as the Jews stoned St. Stephen? As they cannot take real stones, they have recourse to moral stones, which according to Oleaster, are defamations, calumnies, and abuse. These they cast at the preacher, and endeavor to make him hateful to others. But how iniquitous is this, and how must it end? I fear it will end as it did with the hardened Jews. Most of them remained in their wickedness and went to destruction. This will be the fate of those who do not listen to the truth, and who abuse, slander and persecute its preachers. Will you be one of them? Now to the usual instructions

I. St. Stephen, during his martyrdom, fixes his eyes on the heavens, and sees them open, and Christ standing at the right hand of His heavenly Father; soon after, he kneels down, in the midst of the hail of stones thrown at him, and prays for his executioners: "Lord, lay not this to their charge." First, learn from this, whither you should turn your eyes, in suffering, that is, upon the Crucifix, as I have already advised you elsewhere, or towards heaven, which is open to you, if you suffer patiently. Jesus is ready to strengthen you, and to reward you eternally, after you have ended your struggle, in submission to His will. Gazing upward will lighten your burden, however heavy it may be, and the contemplation of Christ always ready to strengthen you, will not permit you to become faint-hearted and despondent. Secondly, consider St. Stephen's prayer. St. Maximus writes: "At a moment when another would have forgotten his best friends, the holy Levite thinks of his enemies and persecutors, and prays for them." He had doubtless heard that Christ our Lord had prayed for His enemies, saying: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." This beautiful example of his divine Master, St. Stephen, as a faithful disciple, followed. What are you doing? If you entertain in your heart malice against any one who has wronged you, cleanse your heart from it, and pray yet today for all those who have ever offended you. The example of Jesus Christ, your Saviour, demands it of you, who have not suffered as much as He. "If you say to me," writes St. Augustine, " Christ could do it, because He was God and man; I cannot, because I am only human; look at St. Stephen, your fellow servant. Was he a man, or was he God? Surely he was only human. He was what you are. Well then, if you cannot follow the Lord, follow your fellow-servant; follow St. Stephen; follow all the holy Martyrs. They were men; they were your fellow-servants."

II. St. Stephen beholds the heavens open, and enters into it by his heroic martyrdom. Heaven is also open to you; it is open to all men. You, as well as all men, may be saved. There is none who can truthfully say that he cannot gain salvation. Oh! how great a consolation, especially for those who are oppressed here on earth, and have many trials! How great a consolation for sinners! To all men heaven is open; all may enter it; all may gain salvation; because all, with the grace of God, can do what God requires of them. But do not forget, that heaven is open to you only whilst you live; that is, as long as you are in this life, you can do all that is necessary to gain salvation; but after your death, this will be no longer possible. Hence, if you have neglected to work out your salvation, death closes for you the gates of heaven for all eternity. As you do not know how long you will live, or when your last hour will come, you do not know how long, how many weeks, years, months, or days, heaven will remain open to you. There is no day, no hour, in which it may not be for evermore closed. If then it is your earnest desire to gain heaven, postpone not for a day that upon which you know your salvation depends. And to be still more incited to do this, think of this terrible truth: hell is open to receive you, hell is open to receive all men. You may be damned, and there is nobody that may not be damned. Why? You may commit sin, and die in it; and thus be condemned for ever more; for, those who die in mortal sin will be condemned. There is none who is not liable to sin; none who may not die in it, and hence be lost for all eternity. Can you think of this truth without fear? Besides this, think that hell is open to you as long as you live; you may be condemned even in your last hour, because you may even then become guilty of sin. Do you not tremble while earnestly representing hell to yourself? Trembling alone, however, does not help you. You must endeavor to escape hell by works. You can escape it, because you can avoid that which leads to hell; you can do what God requires of you to escape the eternal flames. Well then, work, do everything that you know is necessary to escape hell, and in the same manner, do, in remembrance of heaven, everything that God requires of you to enter there. Say sometimes to yourself: "Heaven and hell are open to me. I can be saved; I can be damned. I will do everything to be saved, and will do it without delay; for I do not know how long heaven will remain open to me. Perhaps I shall die soon; if so, I shall then be able to do nothing further to gain salvation; heaven once closed to me, will never again open its gates to admit me, even if I were to cry a thousand times with the foolish Virgins: "Lord, Lord, open to us." The answer would be: "Amen, I say to you, I know you not." (Matt., xxv.)

St. Stephen, the First Martyr

by Dom Prosper Gueranger, 1870

St. Peter Damian thus begins his Sermon for this Feast: "We are holding in our arms the Son of the "Virgin, and are honouring, with our caresses, this our Infant God. The holy Virgin has led us to the dear Crib. The most beautiful of the Daughters of men has brought us to the most beautiful among the Sons of men, and the Blessed among women to Him that is Blessed above all. She tell us that now the veils of prophecy are drawn aside, and the counsel of God is accomplished. Is there anything capable of distracting us from this sweet Birth? On what else shall we fix our eyes? Lo! whilst Jesus is permitting us thus to caress Him; whilst He is overwhelming us with the greatness of these mysteries, and our hearts are riveted in admiration--there comes before us Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, doing great wonders and signs among the people? Is it right, that we turn from our King, to look on Stephen, His soldier? No--unless the King himself bid us do so. This our King, who is Son of the King, rises to assist at the glorious combat of His servant. Let us go with him, and contemplate this standard-bearer of the Martyrs."

The Church gives us, in today's Office, this opening of a
Sermon of St. Fulgentius for the Feast of St. Stephen:

"Yesterday, we celebrated the temporal "Birth of our eternal King: today, we celebrate the triumphant passion of His Soldier. Yesterday, our King, having put on the garb of our flesh, came from the sanctuary of His Mother's virginal womb, and mercifully visited the earth: today, His Soldier, quitting his earthly tabernacle, entered triumphantly into heaven. Jesus, whilst still continuing to be the eternal God, assumed to Himself the lowly raiment of flesh, and entered the battlefield of this world: Stephen, laying aside the perishable garment of the body, ascended to the palace of heaven, there to reign for ever. Jesus descended veiled in our flesh: Stephen ascended wreathed with a martyr's laurels. Stephen ascended to heaven amidst the shower of stones, because Jesus had descended on earth midst the singing of Angels. Yesterday, the holy Angels exultingly sang, Glory be to God in the highest; today, they joyously received Stephen into their company. Yesterday, was Jesus wrapped, for our sakes, in swaddling-clothes: today, was Stephen clothed with the robe of immortal glory. Yesterday, a narrow crib contained the Infant Jesus: today, the immensity of the heavenly court received the triumphant Stephen."

Thus does the sacred Liturgy blend the joy of our Lord's Nativity with the gladness she feels at the triumph of the first of her Martyrs. Nor will Stephen be the only one admitted to share the honours of this glorious Octave. After him, we shall have John, the Beloved Disciple; the Innocents of Bethlehem ; Thomas, the Martyr of the Liberties of the Church; and Sylvester, the Pontiff of Peace. But, the place of honour amidst all who stand round the Crib of the new-born King, belongs to Stephen, the Proto-Martyr, who, as the Church sings of him, was " the first to pay back to the Saviour, the Death " suffered by the Saviour." It was just, that this honour should be shown to Martyrdom; for, Martyrdom is the Creature's testimony, and return to his Creator for all the favours bestowed on him: it is Man's testifying, even by shedding his blood, to the truths which God has revealed to the world.

In order to understand this, let us consider what is the plan of God, in the salvation he has given to man. The Son of God is sent to instruct mankind; He sows the seed of His divine word; and His works give testimony to His divinity. But, after His sacrifice on the cross, He again ascends to the right hand of His Father; so that His own testimony of Himself has need of a second testimony, in order to its being received by them that have neither seen nor heard Jesus Himself. Now, it is the Martyrs who are to provide this second testimony; and this they will do, not only by confessing Jesus with their lips, but by shedding their blood for Him. The Church, then, is to be founded by the Word and the Blood of Jesus, the Son of God; but she will be upheld, she will continue throughout all ages, she will triumph over all obstacles, by the blood of her Martyrs, the members of Christ: this their blood will mingle with that of their Divine Head, and their sacrifice be united to His.

The Martyrs shall bear the closest resemblance to their Lord and King. They shall be, as he said, like lambs among wolves (St. Luke, x. 3). The world shall be strong, and they shall be weak and defenceless: so much the grander will be the victory of the Martyrs, and the greater the glory of God who gives them to conquer. The Apostle tells us, that Christ crucified is the power and the wisdom of God (I. Cor. i. 24);--the Martyrs, immolated, and yet conquerors of the world, will prove, and with a testimony which even the world itself will understand, that the Christ whom they confessed, and who gave them constancy and victory, is in very deed the power and the wisdom of God. We repeat, then--it is just, that the Martyrs should share in all the triumphs of the Man-God, and that the liturgical Cycle should glorify them as does the Church herself, who puts their sacred Relics in her altar-stones; for, thus, the Sacrifice of their glorified Lord and Head is never celebrated, without they themselves being offered together with him, in the unity of His mystical Body.

Now, the glorious Martyr-band of Christ is headed by St. Stephen. His name signifies the Crowned; a conqueror like him could not be better named. He marshals, in the name of Christ, the white-robed army, as the Church calls the Martyrs; for, he was the first, even before the Apostles themselves, to receive the summons, and right nobly did he answer it. Stephen courageously bore witness, in the presence of the Jewish Synagogue, to the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth; by thus proclaiming the Truth, he offended the ears of the unbelievers; the enemies of God, became the enemies of Stephen, and, rushing upon him, they stone him to death. Amidst the pelting of the blood-drawing missives, he, like a true soldier, flinches not, but stands, (as St. Gregory of Nyssa so beautifully describes it) as though snowflakes were falling on him, or roses were covering him with the shower of their kisses. Through the cloud of stones, he sees the glory of God; Jesus, for whom he was laying down his life, showed Himself to his Martyr, and the Martyr again rendered testimony to the divinity of our Emmanuel, but with all the energy of a last act of love. Then, to make his sacrifice complete, he imitates his divine Master, and prays for his executioners: falling on his knees, he begs that this sin be not laid to their charge. Thus, all is consummated--the glorious type of Martyrdom is created, and shown to the world, that it may be imitated, by every generation, to the end of time, until the number of the Martyrs of Christ shall be filled up. Stephen sleeps in the Lord, and is buried in peace--in pace--until his sacred Tomb shall be discovered, and his glory be celebrated a second time in the whole Church, by that anticipated Resurrection of the miraculous Invention of his Relics.

Stephen, then, deserves to stand near the Crib of his King, as leader of those brave champions, the Martyrs, "who died for the Divinity of that Babe, whom we adore. Let us join the Church in praying to our Saint, that he help us to come to our Sovereign Lord, now lying on his humble throne in Bethlehem. Let us ask him to initiate us into the mystery of that divine Infancy, which we are all bound to know and imitate. It was from the simplicity he had learnt from that Mystery, that he heeded not the number of the enemies he had to fight against, nor trembled at their angry passion, nor winced under their blows, nor hid from them the Truth and their crimes, nor forgot to pardon them and pray for them. What a faithful imitator of the Babe of Bethlehem! Our Jesus did not send his Angels to chastise those unhappy Bethlehemites, who refused a shelter to the Virgin-Mother, who in a few hours was to give birth to Him, the Son of David. He stays not the fury of Herod, who plots his Death--but meekly flees into Egypt, like some helpless bondsman, escaping the threats of a tyrant lordling. But, it is under such apparent weakness as this, that He will show His Divinity to men, and He the Infant-God prove Himself the Strong God. Herod will pass away, so will his tyranny; Jesus will live, greater in His Crib, where be makes a King tremble, than is, under his borrowed majesty, this prince-tributary of Rome; nay, than Caesar-Augustus himself, whose world-wide empire has no other destiny than this--to serve as handmaid to the Church, which is to be founded by this Babe, whose name stands humbly written in the official registry of Bethlehem.

Prayers to Saint Stephen

The Litany of St. Stephen
(For private recitation only)

Lord, have mercy on us
Christ, have mercy on us
Lord, have mercy on us, Christ, hear us,
Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of heaven, have mercy on us.
God, the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God, the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.

St. Stephen, first martyr,
pray for us. *

St. Stephen, who suffered for preaching the name of Jesus Christ,*
St. Stephen, who so closely imitated Jesus Christ in that great virtue of charity for your enemies,*
St. Stephen, who, when stoned by your enemies, cast forth sparks, not of anger, but of love, to set on fire their hearts, harder than the stones which they threw,*
St. Stephen, having recommended your own soul to God, cried for your enemies, Pardon them, O Lord, and punish them not for their sins,*
St. Stephen, most zealous for the glory of God,*
St. Stephen, most patient and constant,*
St. Stephen, pattern of chastity and purity,*
St. Stephen, whose heavenly fortitude caused admiration in all,*
St. Stephen, by whom so many miracles were wrought,*
St. Stephen, who, in the love of God, was not inferior to the Apostles themselves,*
St. Stephen, who converted many to the faith of Christ,*
St. Stephen, by whom the Church has received and does continually receive such singular benefits,*
St. Stephen, of whom it is said, that the Holy Ghost, Who inhabited your soul, shone and darted forth his rays into your body,*
St. Stephen, whose face shone like that of an angel,*
St. Stephen, an angel in chastity,*
St. Stephen, full of faith and of the Holy Ghost,*
St. Stephen, dear to the heart of Jesus,*

Let us pray:

O glorious saint, faithful imitator of Jesus Christ martyr in will and in reality, so full of charity, zeal, love, and purity, deign to intercede for us poor exiles; you who are so high in the favor of God, we do entreat you to procure for us a little spark of that divine love which animated your heart, that we too one day may have the happiness of seeing our God face to face.

Oh! obtain for us that virtue for which you were so eminent, and which in our holy vocation is particularly required--Charity. Amen


Prayer to St. Stephen as your Patron Saint

Saint Stephen, whom I have chosen as my special patron, pray for me that I, too, may one day glorify the Blessed Trinity in heaven. Obtain for me your lively faith, that I may consider all persons, things, and events in the light of almighty God. Pray, that I may be generous in making sacrifices of temporal things to promote my eternal interests, as you so wisely did.

Set me on fire with a love for Jesus, that I may thirst for His sacraments and burn with zeal for the spread of His kingdom. By your powerful intercession, help me in the performance of my duties to God, myself and all the world.

Win for me the virtue of purity and a great confidence in the Blessed Virgin. Protect me this day, and every day of my life. Keep me from mortal sin. Obtain for me the grace of a happy death. Amen


Prayer to St. Stephen, Protomartyr

The Apostles chose Stephen the deacon, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, whom the Jews stoned whilst he prayed, saying: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, and lay not this sin to their charge."

V. By the merits and prayers of blessed Stephen,
R. Be merciful, O God, to Thy people.

Let us pray:

Almighty and everlasting God, Who didst consecrate the first-fruits of Thy martyrs in the blood of blessed Stephen the deacon; grant, we beseech Thee, that he may pray for us, even as he also prayed for his persecutors, to our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth world without end. Amen.

(Indulgence of 300 days once a day)


With these praises, which the venerable ages of old offered to thee, O Prince and First of Martyrs! we presume to unite ours. Fervently do we congratulate thee, that thou hast had assigned thee, by the Church, the place of honour at the Crib of our Jesus. How glorious the confession thou didst make of His Divinity, whilst thy executioners were stoning thee! How rich and bright the scarlet thou art clad in, for thy victory! How honourable the wounds thou didst receive for Christ! How immense, and yet how choice, that army of Martyrs, which follows thee as its leader, and to which fresh recruits will for ever be added, to the end of time!

Holy Martyr! help us, by thy prayers, to enter into the spirit of the mystery of the Word made Flesh, now that we are celebrating the Birth of our Saviour. Thou art the faithful guardsman of His Crib; who could better lead us to the Divine Babe, that lies there? Thou didst bear testimony to His Divinity and Humanity; thou didst preach this Man God before the blaspheming Synagogue. In vain did the Jews stop their ears; they could not stifle thy voice, which charged them with deicide, in that they had put to death Him, who is at once the Son of Mary and the Son of God. Show this Redeemer to us also, not, indeed, standing in glory at the right hand of his Father, but the sweet and humble Babe, as He now manifests Himself to the world, into which He has just been born, wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and laid in a manger. We, too, wish to bear witness to Him, and to tell how His Birth is one of love and mercy; we wish to show, by our lives, that He has been born in our hearts. Obtain for us that devotedness to the Divine Infant, which gave thee such courage on the day of trial: we shall have devotedness, if, like thee, we are simple-hearted and fearless in our love of Jesus; for love is stronger than death. May we never forget, that every Christian ought to be ready for martyrdom, simply because he is a Christian. May the life of Christ, which has again begun within us, so grow within us, by our fidelity and our conduct, that we may come, as the Apostle expresses it, to the fulness of Christ (Eph. iv. 13).

But, be mindful, O glorious Martyr! be mindful of the Holy Church in those countries, where it is the will of God that she resist even unto blood. May the number of thy fellow-martyrs be thus filled up, and let not one of the combatants grow faint-hearted. May every age and sex be staunch; that so, the testimony may be perfect, and the Church, even in her old age, win immortal laurels and crowns, as in the freshness of her infancy, when she had such a champion as thyself. But, pray, too, that the blood of these Martyrs may be fruitful, as it was in times past; pray that it be not wasted, but become the seed of abundant harvests. May infidelity lose ground, and heresy cease to canker those noble hearts, who, once in the Truth, would be the glory and consolation of the Church. Our own dear Land has had her Martyrs, who, in the hope that God would avenge their blood by restoring her to the Faith, gladly suffered and died--oh! Prince of Martyrs! pray, that this their hope may be speedily fulfilled. Amen.
(St. Stephen, the First Martyr by Dom Prosper Gueranger, 1870)

 Some text and prayers provided by Catholic Harbor of Faith and Morals