Saturday, March 8, 2008

SS Perpetua and Felicity

Imagine my chagrin at having missed, through illness and inattention, yesterday's feast of SS Perpetua & Felicity, among the first-fruits of Africa for Christ, those most famous holy martyrs, commemorated down all the ages, since the reign of Pope St Gregory the Great, in the very Canon of the Mass! (I am referring primarily to their commemoration in the modern Office, made now on the actual day of their death - for if I'd made it to Mass yesterday, as I had hoped, it would have been in honour of St Thomas Aquinas, since in the extraordinary form SS Perpetua & Felicity are celebrated one day earlier, on the 6th, making rooom for the great St Thomas on the 7th.)

There is a mosaic of these saints (the image link has been broken, alas) that illustrates divers features of their martyrdom.  St Felicity, but three days before her death, was delivered of child, and to the tauntings of the gaoler who wondered how she would endure the beasts if she cried out in childbirth so, she calmly replied ...alius erit in me qui patietur pro me; quia et ego pro illo passura sum ("...there will be Another in me, Who will suffer for me, because I shall be suffering for Him"). Also, St Perpetua recorded observing in a vision, is a golden ladder reaching to heaven - 'neath which lies a dragon, who must either be trod underfoot, or else he devours those who ascend not but fall - where lies the verdant pastures of life eternal, wherein the Good Shepherd ever feeds his redeemed flock in their everlasting fold.

St Augustine, with his accustomed saintly wordplay, remarks that by their steadfastness in faith even unto their deaths in the cruel Carthaginian amphitheatre, in 203, during the persecution of Septimus Severus, they attained unto "perpetual felicity". May their prayers, and those of their companion martyrs, obtain from God for us the like grace!

The account of their martyrdom - partly written by Perpetua herself, and thus the oldest remaining writing by a Christian woman - is extant, and most moving... It must be noted from this, and comparable accounts, how clear the early Christians were that their contest was not against flesh and blood so much as against the spiritual powers of darkness in the high places (cf. Eph. vi, 12), and how in their physical destruction they knew with unassailable truth that they would overthrow all machinations of Satan, and attain the preservation of their souls unto life eternal.

Here is the modern collect (the '62 Missal simply takes it from the relevant common):
Deus, cujus urgente caritate beatæ martyres Perpetua et Felicitas tormentum mortis, contempto persecutore, vicerunt, da nobis, quæsumus, earum precibus, ut in tua semper dilectione crescamus. Per...

(O God, by the urging of Whose charity the blessed martyrs Perpetua and Felicity conquered the torment of death, defying the persecutor, give unto us, we beseech Thee, by their prayers, that we may ever increase in Thy love. Through...)
As is often the case, the 1738 Paris Missal had proper orations for these saints:
Deus, fortitudo certantium, et palma martyrum, qui famulas tuas Perpetuam et Felicitatem, contra tormentorum immanitatem mira virtute roborasti: quæsumus, ut sicut earum nos triumpho lætificas, ita semper supplicatione defendas. Per...

(O God, Strength of combatants, and Palm of martyrs, Who didst strengthen Thy handmaids Perpetua and Felicity with wondrous virtue against the inhumanity of tormentors: we beseech Thee, that as Thou dost rejoice us by their triumph, so mayest Thou ever defend us at their supplication. Through...)

Sanctarum Martyrum Perpetuæ et Felicitatis victoriam incruenti sacrificii oblatione celebrantes, te, Domine, deprecamur, ut vivat ipse in nobis, ac vincat, qui de femina dignatus misericorditer nasci, fecit feminas viriliter pro te mori, Jesus Christus Filius tuus Dominus noster. Qui tecum vivit...

(Celebrating the victory of the holy martyrs Perpetua and Felicity by the oblation of the unbloody sacrifice, Thee, Lord, we humbly pray, that He would live in us, and conquer, Who mercifully didst deign to be born of woman, and made women manful to die for Thee, Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord. Who with Thee liveth...)

Quos de fructu ligni vitæ concedis edere, da nobis, Deus, virtutem calcandi caput serpentis; ut ne seducat nos falsa promittendo, qui roboratas gratia tua Perpetuam et Felicitatem superare non potuit sæviendo. Per...

(Give unto us, Lord - Those Thou dost grant to eat of the fruit of the tree of life - power to tread down the head of the serpent; that he not seduce us by false promising, who by raging was not able to overcome Perpetua and Felicity, strengthened by Thy grace. Through...)

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