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Catholic Activity: Story of the Martyrdom of Sts. Felicity and Perpetua

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A story to tell your children about St. Perpetua's little brother in Purgatory and her modesty and martyrdom in the arena with her friend St. Felicitas.

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The story of Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas is beautifully told by Perpetua in her diary. Here she recorded everything that happened to them until the day they died and, fortunately for us, a friend finished the story where she was forced to leave it. It has been loved and reverenced by the faithful for centuries. Perpetua was twenty-two, well born, married and the mother of a tiny son still at her breast. Felicitas, an expectant mother, was a slave. They were among five catechumens whose arrest and imprisonment was meant as a warning to the other Christians in Carthage in the year 203. Tormented by her father who was a pagan and wanted her to apostatize, terrified by the darkness and stifling heat of the dungeon where they were imprisoned, Perpetua's greatest suffering nevertheless was for her baby who was with her. Baptism, however, drove away her fears and with the coming of the Holy Spirit she was at peace and the prison became to her as a palace; in visions she learned the manner of their martyrdom and caught glimpses of what awaits souls in the life after death. Among these was a vision of Purgatory where she saw her little brother Dinocratus suffering.

Dinocratus had died when he was only seven, painfully ulcerated about the face. Perpetua saw him "coming out of a dark place where there were many others," dirtily clad, pale, with the wound still on his face, and he was very hot and thirsty. Near him was a fountain but its brim was higher than he could reach and, though he stood on tiptoe, he could not drink. By this vision she knew he needed her prayers, and she prayed for him night and day. On the day the Christians were put in stocks, she had another vision and saw Dinocratus freed. This time he was clean and finely clothed, on his face was a clean scar and beside him a low fountain reaching only to his waist. On the edge of the fountain was a golden cup ever full of water, and Dinocratus drank. "And when he had drunk he came away — pleased to play, as children will."

What a wonderful story for children who ask questions about Purgatory, especially since Dinocratus was such a small boy and probably had committed only venial sins. It shows one ought to try very hard not to commit even those.

In the meantime, Felicitas was worried for fear her baby would not be born in time for her to die for Christ with her companions. There was a law which forebade throwing even a Christian woman to the wild beasts if she was with child. Three days before they were to go to the arena they prayed God would permit the birth of her child, and as soon as their prayers were done, her labor began. She gave birth to a little girl who was afterward adopted by her sister.

At last the scene of their martyrdom and in it Perpetua teaches a most beautiful lesson in modesty and a proper pride in one's appearance. Told to put on the garments of pagan priestesses, the two refused and so were stripped naked, covered with nets, and sent to face assault by a maddened cow said to have been used in insult to their womanhood and their maternity. Strangely enough the audience — screaming for blood though it was — yet was touched by the sight of these two so young and so valiant, and the people shuddered. Perpetua and Felicitas were called back and clothed in loose robes.

Now Perpetua was thrown, her garment rent and her thigh gored. Regaining her feet, she gathered her tunic over her thigh so in suffering she would not appear immodest, and looking about found her fallen hair ornament and repinned her hair lest one soon to be a martyr seem to grieve in her glory. Looking for Felicitas, she gave assistance to her and standing together they awaited another attack. But the mob cried, "Enough," and the two were led off to the headsman's block. Catching sight of her brother, Perpetua cried out: "Stand fast in the faith and love one another; and do not let our sufferings be a stumbling block to you." Felicitas was struck down first then Perpetua — but only after the nervous swordsman had struck her once and failed to sever her head. The second time she guided his sword with her own hands.

So brave, and so full of love; perhaps if she were dying now she would exhort us to be brave and full of love in slightly different words. Perhaps she would cry out, "Stand fast in the faith and love one another; and do not let our color be a stumbling block to you."

For Perpetua was white and Felicitas was black.

Activity Source: Saints and Our Children, The by Mary Reed Newland, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York; reprinted by TAN Publishers, 1958

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