Each year on February 9th in the Traditional Roman Rite is the feast day of St. Cyril of Alexandria along with a commemoration of St. Apollonia. Saint Apollonia was a virgin and of Alexandria who died for Christ during the bloody persecution of the faithful in 249 AD. And her life should be more commonly recalled by parents who seek a Catholic alternative to the “tooth fairy.”
The following is taken from the traditional Roman Martyrology:
“At Alexandria, in the reign of Decius, the birthday of St. Apollonia, virgin, who had all her teeth broken out by the persecutors; then, having constructed and lighted a pyre, they threatened to burn her alive unless she uttered with them certain impious words. Deliberating a while within herself, she suddenly slipped from their grasp, and prompted by the greater fire of the Holy Ghost with her, she rushed voluntarily into the fire which they had prepared. Those responsible for her death were struck with terror at the sight of a woman who was more willing to die than they to kill her.”
Why did she undergo such torments? Because she refused to worship any false gods, as the reading from Matins on her life states:
“Apollonia was a virgin of Alexandria. In the persecution under the Emperor Decius, when she was far advanced in years, she was brought up to trial, and ordered to pay adoration to idols. She turned from them with contempt, and declared that worship ought to be given to Jesus Christ, the true God. Whereupon, the impious executioners broke and pulled out her teeth; then lighting a pile of wood, they threatened to burn her alive, unless she would hate Christ, and adore their gods. She replied, that she was ready to suffer every kind of death for the faith of Jesus Christ. Upon this, they seized her, intending to do as they said. She stood for a moment, as though hesitating what she should do; then, snatching herself from their hold, she suddenly threw herself into the fire, for there was within her the intenser flame of the Holy Ghost. Her body was soon consumed, and her most pure soul took its flight, and was graced with the everlasting crown of martyrdom.”
This account was preserved in a letter of Fabius, Bishop of Antioch, in what is now Syria. As a result, St. Apollonia is the patron saint of dentists because of the dental pains she endured during her martyrdom. She is also the patron saint of toothaches and other dental problems, as Dom Guéranger notes:
“There is one very striking circumstance in the martyrdom of St. Apollonia. Her executioners, to punish the boldness wherewith she confessed our Lord Jesus Christ, beat out her teeth. This has suggested to the faithful, when suffering the cruel pain of toothache, to have recourse to St. Apollonia; and their confidence is often rewarded, for God would have us seek the protection of His saints, not only in our spiritual, but even in our bodily sufferings and necessities.”
The Catholic Lessons of St. Apollonia Worth Teaching Our Children
Like all the martyrs, she teaches us to endure whatever torments or discomforts are sent our way. And we too can unite them to the sacrifice of the Cross, if we are in the state of grace, to make restitution for sin and to alleviate the souls in purgatory. Teaching our children the value of offering up discomforts is a valuable lesson.
We can also use this opportunity to teach our children that life is transient. Change happens. We age. And one day we will stand before God to give an account of our lives. We must never commit mortal sin, and idolatry, the worship of a false god, is the greatest of all mortal sins.
Commemoration of St. Apollonia (Taken from the Collect of the Mass Propers):
O God, one of the marvelous examples of Thy power was granting the victory of martyrdom even to delicate womanhood. May the example of the blessed virgin martyr Apollonia, whose birthday we celebrate today, draw us closer to Thee.