PRAYER (traditional language)
Preface of a Saint (3)
[Common of a Martyr]
[Of the Holy Cross]
O God, the King of Saints, who didst strengthen thy servants Perpetua, Felicity, and their companions to make a good confession and encourage one another in the time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
PRAYER (contemporary language)
O God, the King of Saints, who strengthened your servants Perpetua, Felicity, and their companions to make a good confession and encourage one another in the time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
This commemoration appears in Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2018 with revised lessons and collects.
Return to Lectionary
Last updated: 6 Jan. 2019
CARTHAGE (7 MAR 202)
a persecution of Christians under the emperor Septimius Severus, a group
of Christians died together in the arena at Carthage. Their final days have
been recorded for us in a document that is partly in their own words, and
partly in those of an anonymous narrator (sometimes thought to be Tertullian).
What follow are extracts, sometimes condensed, from that document.
Vivia Perpetua was a catechumen (i.e. a convert not yet baptized), well educated
and from a prosperous family, about 22 years old, married and apparently
recently widowed, with a child at her breast, and with two brothers and
both parents still living. (Her father was not a Christian.) Felicity
(Latin: Felicitas) was a slave woman in advanced pregnancy. With them
were Revocatus (also a slave), Saturninus, and Secundus.
They were arrested and placed in a dungeon, but after a few days two
deacons visited the prison and by a gift of money to the jailers arranged
(1) that they should have an interval in the better part of the prison
to refresh themselves, and (2) that Perpetua should be allowed to keep
her child with her.
Perpetua had a vision in which she saw a golden ladder, guarded by a
fierce dragon, but she climbed it, stepping on the dragon's head to do
so. At the top, she found herself in a green meadow, with many white-robed
figures, and in their midst a shepherd, who welcomed her and gave her a
morsel of cheese from the sheep-milk. She awakened and understood that
their martyrdom was certain.
Perpetua had had a brother who died of cancer when he was eight years old.
She prayed for him, and received assurance in a vision that all was well
After a few days there was a report that we were to have a hearing
in court. And my father came to me from the city, worn out with anxiety.
He came up to me, that he might cast me down, saying: "Have pity, my daughter,
on my grey hairs. Have pity on your father, if I am worthy to be called
a father by you. If with these hands I have brought you up to this flower
of your age, if I have preferred you to all your brothers, do not deliver
me up to the scorn of men. Have regard to your brothers, have regard to
your mother and your aunt, have regard to your son, who will not be able
to live after you. Lay aside your courage, and do not bring us all to destruction;
for none of us will speak in freedom if you should suffer anything."
These things said my father in his affection, kissing my hands, and
throwing himself at my feet, and with tears he called me not Daughter,
but Lady. And I grieved over the grey hairs of my father, that he alone
of all my kindred would have no joy in my death. And I comforted him, saying,
"On that scaffold, whatever God wills shall happen. For know that we are
not placed in our own power but in that of God." And he departed from me
Her narrative continues:
Perpetua had another vision, in which she saw herself fighting against
a gladiator in the arena, and winning. She understood this to signify victory
over the devil.
After a few days, Pudens, an assistant overseer of the prison, began
to hold us in high esteem, seeing that God was with us, and he admitted
many of the brethren to see us, that we and they might be mutually refreshed.
Saturus also had a vision, which he records in his own words, in which
he and the others, having died in the arena, are borne by angels into a
beautiful garden, where they greet other martyrs who have gone before them,
and are brought before the throne of God, surrounded by twenty-four elders
(see Revelation 4), who greet them and say, "Enter into joy." Perpetua
says to Saturus: "I was joyful in the flesh, and here I am more joyful
The narrator writes:
Now Felicitas was eight months pregnant, and the law did not allow
a pregnant woman to be executed. She was accordingly fearful that her death
would be postponed, and instead of dying with her fellow Christians she
would be put to death later in the company of some group of criminals.
She and her companions accordingly prayed, and Felicity went into labor,
with the pains normal to an eight-month delivery. And a servant of the
jailers said to her, "If you cry out like that now, what will you do when
you are thrown to the beasts, which you despised when you refused to sacrifice?"
And she replied: "Now it is I that suffer what I suffer; but then Another
will be in me, who will suffer for me, because I also am about to suffer
for Him." Thus she brought forth a little girl, whom a certain sister brought
up as her own.
The day of their victory shone forth, and they proceeded from the prison
to the amphitheater, as if to an assembly, joyous and of brilliant countenance.
At the gate, the guards were going to dress them in the robes of those
dedicated to Saturn and to Ceres. But that noble-minded woman [Perpetua?]
said: "We are here precisely for refusing to honor your gods. By our deaths
we earn the right not to wear such garments." The guards recognized the
justice of her words, and let them wear their own clothing.
The men of their company were scheduled to be killed by beasts, but
the wild boar turned on its keeper instead, and the bear refused to leave
its cage. The leopard, however, attacked Saturus and mortally wounded him.
He bade farewell to his guard, Pudens, encouraging him to obey God rather
than man, and then fell unconscious.
For the young women there was prepared a fierce cow. Perpetua was first
led in. She was tossed, and when she saw her tunic torn from her side,
she drew it as a veil over her middle, rather mindful of her modesty than
of her sufferings. Then she was called up again, and bound up her dishevelled
hair, for it is not becoming for a martyr to die with dishevelled hair,
which is a sign of mourning. She saw Felicity wounded, and took her hand
and raised her up, and at the demand of the populace they were given a
Now all the prisoners were to be slain with the sword, and they went
to the center of the arena, first exchanging a farewell kiss of peace.
The others died unmoving and silent, but when the awkward hand of the young
executioner bungled her death-stroke, Perpetua cried out in pain, and herself
guided his hand to her throat. Possibly such a woman could not have been
slain unless she herself willed it, because she was feared by the impure
by James Kiefer