In the calendar of the Holy Mother Church, there are many lives of the saints memorialized each day. Unfortunately many of these saints’ stories are shrouded with mystery and legend. There are so many saints in which there exists no recorded documents or facts of their holy lives. Often at times, it can be a bit overwhelming trying to separate ‘the fact from the fiction’, as it were. But not so, with the lives of Saint Perpetua and Saint Felicity.
As they awaited their persecution, Saint Perpetua kept a journal of all the events leading up to their execution. Her diary, along with eyewitness accounts, is one of the oldest and most reliable histories of the suffering the martyrs endured during these pagan times. This document was passed down through the years and spread wide through the lands so as to encourage other Christians to bear witness to the world with their lives, and to teach others, that knowing Chris,t and serving Him, is greater than life itself.
Perpetua and Felicity’s ordeal took place in Carthage, Africa, in the year 202 or 203. It was a difficult time for Christians as the Emperor Severus had issued an anti-Christian law which forbade anyone to be baptized as a Christian. A young woman, Perpetua, who was 22 at the time, and her slave, Felicity were studying under their teacher, Saturus, to become Christians. At the time of their arrests, Perpetua had an infant son, and Felicity was pregnant. Along with four other catechumens, they were arrested and sentenced to be thrown to the wild beasts in the amphitheater during a national holiday. At this time, deaths of Christians was viewed with the same spirit as one would view sporting events today. It was really quite barbaric.
Soon after their arrest, Perpetua and Felicity were baptized in prison by Saturus. During her baptism, she was told by the Lord to pray for nothing but endurance in the face of her trails. A few days before the execution, Perpetua’s father, who was a wealthy pagan pleaded with her to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods so she could be set free. She refused, saying “Father, so you see that water jug over there? Could anyone call it by any other name than what it is? Well, in the same way, I cannot be called by any other name than what I am…a Christian.”
Shortly before their scheduled executions, Felicity gave birth to a baby girl. During the difficult childbirth, she had cried out in pain. The guards mocked her and made fun of her asking her how she would ever endure the suffering of martyrdom. She replied, “Now it is I who suffer what I am suffering; then, there will be another in me who will suffer for me, because I will be suffering for Him.”
On the day of their execution, the martyrs left their prison “joyfully as though they were on their way to heaven” and entered the arena, where they were killed before the cheering crowd. Perpetua and Felicity were beheaded; while the others were killed by wild beasts. Today these women are mentioned in the first Eucharistic Prayer.
your love gave the saints Perpetua and Felicity
courage to suffer a cruel martyrdom.
By their prayers, help us to grow in love of you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.