7th March – Saints Perpetua & Felicity

Recently in the Catholic media and beyond there has been significant coverage about the divergence between the Catholic moral teaching and the beliefs of its members. One example being that only 33% of 12,000 Catholics interviewed worldwide agreed that there should be no abortion: a position one arrives at if you see a human in the womb as having the same right-to-life as a human outside the womb. It all depends on whether we get our fundamental principles from the Lordship of Jesus and the Bible or whether we get them from contemporary culture.

Perpetua and FelicityThe highest expression of living under the Lordship of Jesus comes from the martyrs. Today the Church celebrates Saints Perpetua and Felicity. They were martyred at Carthage in 203 during the persecution of Septimius Severus. With so many martyrs of the third and fourth centuries we have to say “they were martyred but nothing else is known about them.” That is not the case here. We have a detailed contemporary account of their arrest, trial, sufferings and martyrdom, written partly by the saints themselves and partly by an eye-witness. Devotion to them spread rapidly and they are mentioned in the Roman Canon of the Mass. See the articles in the Catholic Encyclopaedia and Wikipedia. The Office of Readings has this account of their martyrdom.

The day of the martyrs’ victory dawned. They marched from their cells into the amphitheatre, as if into heaven, with cheerful looks and graceful bearing. If they trembled it was for joy and not for fear.

Perpetua was the first to be thrown down, and she fell prostrate. She got up and, seeing that Felicity was prostrate, went over and reached out her hand to her and lifted her up. Both stood up together. The hostility of the crowd was appeased, and they were ordered to the gate called Sanavivaria. There Perpetua was welcomed by a catechumen named Rusticus. Rousing herself as if from sleep (so deeply had she been in spiritual ecstasy), she began to look around. To everyone’s amazement she said: “When are we going to be led to the beast?” When she heard that it had already happened she did not at first believe it until she saw the marks of violence on her body and her clothing. Then she beckoned to her brother and the catechumen, and addressed them in these words: “Stand firm in faith, love one another and do not be tempted to do anything wrong because of our sufferings.”

Saturus, too, in another gate, encouraged the soldier Pudens, saying: “Here I am, and just as I thought and foretold I have not yet felt any wild beast. Now believe with your whole heart: I will go there and be killed by the leopard in one bite.” And right at the end of the games, when he was thrown to the leopard he was in fact covered with so much blood from one bite that the people cried out to him: “Washed and saved, washed and saved!” And so, giving evidence of a second baptism [of blood], he was clearly saved who had been washed in this manner.

Then Saturus said to the soldier Pudens: “Farewell, and remember your faith as well as me; do not let these things frighten you; let them rather strengthen you.” At the same time he asked for the little ring from Pudens’s finger. After soaking it in his wound he returned it to Pudens as a keepsake, leaving him a pledge and a remembrance of his blood. Half dead, he was thrown along with the others into the usual place of slaughter.

The people, however, had demanded that the martyrs be led to the middle of the amphitheatre. They wanted to see the sword thrust into the bodies of the victims, so that their eyes might share in the slaughter. Without being asked they went where the people wanted them to go; but first they kissed one another, to complete their witness with the customary kiss of peace.

The others stood motionless and received the deathblow in silence, especially Saturus, who had gone up first and was first to die; he was helping Perpetua. But Perpetua, that she might experience the pain more deeply, rejoiced over her broken body and guided the shaking hand of the inexperienced gladiator to her throat. Such a woman – one before whom the unclean spirit trembled – could not perhaps have been killed, had she herself not willed it.

Bravest and happiest martyrs! You were called and chosen for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

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