Today, 7 March, is the feast day of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity. They are two of the lesser known saints listed in the biptismal litany which is given at the Easter Vigil as the new catechumens are baptized. Thus, they are patron saints of catechumens and wonderful Lent saints.
During the reign of Septimius Severus (A.D. 193-211) the persecution of Christians was horrifying. One such punishment to temp believers away from the faith was to tie two legs, each to a bent tree. Once the martyr denied the chance to submit and renounce their faith the soldiers would let free the bent trees, ripping the body in two. Others were nailed to crosses, while others were fed to lions and bears. The persecution under Severus was widespread. Edicts were systematically created to persecute the clergy, then the deacons, then the laity, and even their children.
Felicity and her friend/slave Perpetua were of this persecuted lot. They were arrested along with two other men (Saterninus and Secundulus), and were catechumens (those entering the church along with a baptism). Felicity recorded all that occurred during their imprisonment up to their eventual martyrdom. She records that her father tried to convince her to give up her faith, for the sake of the family. Under the law at the time of their execution, a pregnant woman could not be killed which saddened Felicity that she might not get to taste the pains of her suffering in Christ. She had her baby just two days before the games and was then shipped out for the spactacle.
Of the two men, one died while in prison, and the other fell to the wild beasts before the crowd. The two women were also scourged as to attract the bloodlust of the wild animals. Finally, after many wounds, they gave each other a kiss of peace and took their final blows by a sword. The year was A.D. 203.
The rest of the account, their death, was recorded by an eyewitness. “But Perpetua, that she might have some taste of pain, was pierced between the bones and shrieked out; and when the swordsman’s hand wandered still (for he was a novice), herself set it upon her own neck. Perchance so great a woman could not else have been slain (being feared of the unclean spirit) had she not herself so willed it.”
Their story is one of vivid memory, but is also one that can have a patrons effect on specific individuals. Mothers, for example, can recall their pregnancy and thank God that Jesus’ words weren’t fulfilled in their lives while carrying his cross.
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and your children. Look, the days are coming when they will say, ‘The women without children, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed, are fortunate!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:28-30)
Others whom these martyrs might be patrons for are the elect, and the modern catechumens. These are the groups of those seeking to enter into communion with the church, baptized and not baptized.
As we are all on our journey to know Jesus, find our way through the Church, and to learn of our history and our faith, we are vulnerable and sometimes even unfaithful. But here we have a group of believers who never got to taste the Eucharist, did not have the Water of Life flowing in them, and had not been anointed with the chrism oil.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads:
“Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will, can be saved even if they have not been baptized” (1281).