Fidelity to the Word
Our Lord and His Holy Apostles at the Last Supper

A blog dedicated to Christ Jesus our Lord and His True Presence in the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist

But Christ having come a high priest of the good things to come, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption.

Hebrews 9:11-12

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Saints Felicity and Perpetua

Saints Felicity and Perpetua are invoked in the Nobis quoque peccatoribus of the traditional Mass and optionally in Eucharistic Prayer I of the new Mass. Their feast day is today in the old calendar and tomorrow in the new.

Saint Felicity was seven months pregnant and Saint Perpetua was still nursing her infant when they were arrested with three men on suspicion of conversion to Christianity. In the pagan Roman empire of their day (203 AD), as in some predominantly Muslim countries today, the presence of Christianity was barely tolerated and conversion was punishable by death.

Felicity was the slave of Perpetua, but the two are said to have been more like sisters than slave and mistress: in Christ there is neither slave nor freeman (Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28). A few days after their arrest, the five were baptised. Shortly after, they were moved from the private house where they were initially held to prison. There they were joined by their instructor Saturus, who was unwilling to abandon them in their time of suffering. (Saturus may have been the brother of Saturninus, one of the arrested catechumens).

Perpetua left a written record of her last days: the dark and crowding of the prison, her anxiety for her infant son, her pagan father's anxiety for her, and his desperate attempts to get her to recant and offer sacrifice for the emperor. She also recorded consoling visions sent to her by God. It is the earliest known writing from a Christian woman.

While in prison, Felicity delivered her baby, whom a Christian woman adopted, and one of the men, Secundulus, died. The rest were sentenced to be exposed to wild beasts. On March 7, AD 203, they were brought to the arena, and there died, encouraging each other to remain steadfast, exhorting a soldier who had shown them kindness to have faith, and warning the procurator that he faced judgment from God.

(The words of Saint Perpetua, together with a vision of Saint Saturus and the record of a witness to their martyrdom, are available in translation on several sites on the internet, for example here).

Sanctæ Perpetua et Felicitas

"And now, dear saints, Perpetua and Felicitas, intercede for us during this season of grace. Go with your palms in your hands, to the throne of God, and beseech Him to pour down His mercy upon us. It is true, the days of paganism are gone by; and there are no persecutors clamoring for our blood. You, and countless other martyrs have won victory for faith; and that faith is now ours; we are Christians. But there is a second paganism, which has taken deep root among us. It is the source of that corruption which now pervades every rank of society, and its own two sources are indifference, which chills the heart, and sensuality, which induces cowardice. Holy martyrs! pray for us that we may profit by the example of your virtues, and that the thoughts of your heroic devotedness may urge us to be courageous in the sacrifices which God claims at our hands. Pray, too, for the Churches which are now being established on that very spot of Africa, which was the scene of your glorious martyrdom: bless them, and obtain for them, by your powerful intercession, firmness of faith and purity of morals."

(From Volume 4 of The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger of happy memory).

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