St. Vincent Ferrer was born in Spain in 1350. When he was eighteen he joined the Order of St. Dominic. Vincent’s great love for St. Dominic led him to become well acquainted with the saint’s life, so that he might imitate, as far as possible, the virtues of that great saint. Like Dominic, he sealed himself with the mark of the crucified by a life of rigid mortification and penance. Especially was he impressed by St. Dominic’s love of sacred learning, and after Vincent’s profession he gave himself with great earnestness to the study of theology and to reading the Holy Scriptures, so that, he, too, might become a preacher of the Gospel as was St. Dominic.
Vincent was ordained to the priesthood in 1379. His ministry was to travel the continent of Europe to teach and preach. This is never an easy task but must be made more difficult when the Black Death rages and when the Church faces its great schism with three people claiming to be pope. St Vincent was a politician, penitent, theologian, healer, exorcist, preacher, miracle worker, judge, reconciler and peacemaker, a prophet, an apostle, and he earned the title of “Angel of Judgment.” He was perceived in his own country as, in two words, man and angel. He was truly one of the most gifted saints who has ever lived.
Of special interest is St. Vincent’s great love for the Jews. He had a special relationship with the Jewish community of his day. In the uprising against the Jews of Valencia in July, 1391, Vincent proved himself to be their friend, father, and protector, a fact which the Jews themselves recognized in a very special manner.
It is an undisputed fact that Vincent Ferrer possessed an extraordinary gift of tongues. Wherever he preached, in all of Europe, he used his native Valencian language, and yet he was perfectly understood by all his hearers whether they were Italians, French, Hungarians, Celts, or Greeks.
St. Vincent Ferrer used the sign of the cross extensively in his healings and deliverances, for he recognized that it was by the Passion of Jesus Christ, not by his own powers, that he was able to work miraculous cures. He never entered a place to preach that he did not first make a large sign of the cross to call down the blessings of God.
Vincent was not spared of temptations but as had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother, and his constant intercession to her brought him the strength and consolation he needed.
During his preaching, a large number of people were accustomed to follow the saint from place to place. This large following of disciples and penitents played a large part in Vincent Ferrer’s preaching apostolate.
During the Lent of 1417, St. Vincent went to the city of Vannes, and here he remained preaching in the city and other parts of Brittany for the last two years of his life. At that time, he was in his sixtieth year, and although worn out by his constant labours, he continued to work as diligently as ever. In 1419 he became very ill, afflicted by a burning fever accompanied by terrible pains in his limbs. On the day of his departure to God, he asked that the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ be read to him from all four Gospels. He died on the Wednesday before Palm Sunday on April 5, 1419.
Immediately after his death, with countless miracles daily taking place at his tomb, the process of canonization was begun. On the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, 1455, St. Vincent Ferrer was canonized by Pope Calixtus III.
A saint’s influence never dies, and St. Vincent Ferrer, the Wonder-Worker and Angel of Judgment, is as powerful now before God as in the days of his earthly life. With great confidence we can ask him to intercede for us.
A prayer composed by St Vincent
(from Treatise on the Spiritual Life, ch. 18)
Good Jesus, let me be penetrated with love to the very marrow of my bones, with fear and respect toward Thee; let me burn with zeal for Thy honour, so that I may resent terribly all the outrages committed against Thee, especially those of which I myself have been guilty or the occasion. Grant further, O my God, that I may adore and acknowledge Thee humbly as my Creator, and that, I may never cease to render Thee thanks. Grant that I may bless Thee in all things, praise and glorify Thee with a heart full of joy and gladness, and that, obeying Thee with docility in every respect, I may one day, despite my ingratitude and unworthiness, be seated at Thy table together with Thy holy angels and apostles to enjoy ineffable delights. Amen.
Collect: Almighty and ever-living God, you taught us through the preaching of Saint Vincent to run the path to our heavenly home in expectation of the Saviour. With the help of his prayers may we be fervent in labour and in love and seek no lasting city here below, but an eternal dwelling place to come. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.