Forty days before the Triduum, the Lenten season disposes Catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery through prayer and penitential practices.
Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs, d. c. 203
Perpetua was a young woman of noble birth and the mother of an infant son. She was arrested in Carthage during the persecution of Christians by Emperor Severus, along with several other catechumens who included Felicity, a slave. Perpetua kept a record of the trials and sufferings which the group endured while imprisoned and of the visions which she experienced. This journal, which ran up to the day before their deaths, was completed by an eyewitness. (A more complete transcription of Perpetua’s dairy can be found in Butler’s Lives of the Saints.)
Perpetua wrote of the discussions that she held with her father, an old man at this time and a pagan. Perpetua was his favorite child and he tried very hard to convince her to give up her faith. “Father,” she said to him, “Do you see this vessel, a waterpot? Can it be called by any other name than what it is?” “No,” he replied. “So also I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am—a Christian.”
The Christians were brought before Hilarian, the procurator of the province, who, failing to shake their faith, sentenced them to be killed in the amphitheater by wild animals. While awaiting their sentence, these Christians converted many more by their strong faith. Among them was their jailer, Pudens.
Felicity, pregnant at the time of her arrest, was fearful that she would not be allowed to suffer martyrdom with the others due to her condition. Joined by the others, she prayed that she might be delivered before the games began. Her prayers were answered when Felicity gave birth to a daughter who, after her death, was adopted by a fellow Christian. Pudens also arranged for Perpetua, who was greatly concerned for her son, to have the baby remain in prison with her.
When the day came for their deaths, the group was led to the amphitheater where some members expressed the hope that they would be set upon by several kinds of animals to gain a more glorious crown. But none of the animals would attack Perpetua and Felicity. They were then ordered beheaded by gladiators. Perpetua directed the sword of the nervous gladiator to her throat after he missed with his first stroke.
An optional memorial on March 7 honors these saints.
Perpetua and Felicity's message today: Nothing could shake the faith of these young women, along with the other martyrs, not even the fear of a painful death. While our faith is normally not tested in the manner of these martyrs, we should still remain prepared to meet death at any time since we never completely know God’s plan for us.