March 6, 2017

Feast of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs

Saints Perpetua and Felicity

The Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions, one of the oldest Christian texts, records the early 3rd century Roman persecutions of Christians. It contains the prison diary and trial accounts of a young noble woman and Christian catechumen Perpetua from Carthage in North Africa, (present day Tunisia). Giving up her still nursing baby, she insisted on being put to death in the arena during games honoring the Emperor. Many tried to dissuade her, but she got her wish. Witnessing heroically, she faced the wild beasts. After many torments a gladiator was sent in to finish her off, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Perpetua grabbed his hand and pointed his sword at her throat. Perpetua’s example inspired other Christians to give witness to their Faith in equal measure.

A pregnant slave girl named Felicity went to prison with Perpetua. Some accounts hold they were friends prior to their imprisonment. Felicity gave birth just before they were sent to the arena. The testimony of the trial and deaths of these martyrs attest to the amazing love they had for each other in prison. They also show that Christian solidarity crossed class boundaries. There is a touching moment in the account when Perpetua and Felicity arrange each other’s clothing so as to preserve their modesty even in the midst of their suffering. They wished each other farewell with the kiss of peace. They received the crown of martyrdom along with their fellow companions in the Carthusian arena on March 7, 203 AD.

The Divine Office relates the following taken from the Martyrology:

"The day had arrived when they were to be thrown to the wild beasts. Felicitas began to be sorrowful because she feared she would have to wait longer than her companions. For eight months she had been pregnant and therefore, according to Roman law, could not be executed before the birth of the child. But the prayers of her fellow sufferers hastened her time and she gave birth to a baby girl.

While she was suffering from the pains of childbirth, one of the guards called out to her, "If you are suffering so much now, what will you do when you are thrown to the wild beasts?" 'Now I suffer,' she answered, 'but there Another will be in me, who will suffer for me, because I will suffer for Him.' When she was in travail she had sorrow, but when she was set before the wild beasts she rejoiced."

Almighty God, at the urging of whose love your most valiant and blessed Martyrs Saints Perpetua and Felicity defied their persecutors and overcame the torment of earth, grant, we ask, by their prayers, that we may ever more grow in your love. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, to whom is all glory and power unending forever. Amen.

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