O Lord Jesus Christ, Who when the world was growing cold, in order that the hearts of men might burn anew with the fire of Your love, did in the flesh of the most blessed Francis reproduce the stigmata of Your passion: be mindful of his merits and prayers; and in Your mercy vouchsafe to us the grace ever to carry Your cross, and to bring forth worthy fruits of penance. Amen.
The first known stigmatic is St. Francis of Assisi. Since his day the cases have multiplied, but it seems certain that stigmatization occurs only in ecstatics and is preceded and accompanied by very acute physical and moral sufferings, which configure the soul to Jesus crucified.
Theologians have often asked how it is that the majority of stigmatics received the divine wounds without suggestion or autosuggestion, without expecting them, and without wishing them?
Blessed Raymond of Capua relates in his Life of St. Catherine of Siena,(20) that on August 18, 1370, the saint received the stigmata in an altogether unexpected manner following a prayer and a divine promise of the salvation of several persons; stigmatization was produced to confirm this promise. The absolutely unforeseen pain was as sharp as if her hand had been pierced with an iron nail driven by a hammer. At the petition of the saint, the stigmata remained invisible during her life. Later in the presence of several witnesses worthy of credence, the supernatural renewal of the fact took place with such effect that the saint swooned suddenly before their eyes, as if she had been mortally wounded. The fact and its supernatural origin are, moreover, attested by the saint, and her testimony is confirmed by the humility of her entire life, which led her to ask and obtain immediately the invisibility of this exceptional favor. In this case we see how all the physical and moral circumstances of the fact confirm its origin.
Thus we return to the explanation offered by St. Francis de Sales, which seems the wisest. It is our crucified Lord Himself who, by means of luminous rays, imprints the wounds on the bodies of stigmatics, whom He wishes to configure to His passion that He may remind us of it. Evidently the traditional argument of Bartholomew of Pisa, preserved by Benedict XIV, retains all its value. To sum it up again: Many men and women saints, of widely different temperaments, have been absorbed with ardent love in the infused contemplation of the sufferings of Christ and, nevertheless, they have not had the stigmata. Among them must be numbered the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist, St. Mary Magdalen, and many others prior to St. Francis of Assisi, the first stigmatic, and many others subsequent to him. This is a sign that ardent love, united to infused contemplation, does not suffice to produce the stigmata. Christ Jesus grants them to whom He will, when He will, and as He will. Stigmatization is an essentially extraordinary grace that is not in the normal way of sanctity.
To enkindle love for Jesus crucified in the hearts of the faithful, Paul V extended the feast of the stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi (September 17) to the universal Church. The prayer for the Mass is as follows: "Lord Jesus, who at a time when charity was growing cold in the world, to enkindle our hearts with the fire of Thy love, didst renew the sacred stigmata of Thy passion in the flesh of the Blessed Francis, grant us, in Thy goodness, that by his merits and prayers, we may continually bear the cross and bring forth worthy fruits of penance. Thou who livest," and so on. In this prayer we see the great realism of the Church, which to the highest elevation of thought unites the effective practice of all the virtues. - Three Ages of the Interior Life