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Saints Perpetua and Felicity: There is Neither Slave, Nor Free in Christ

March 7th, 2013by Fr. Dave Endres

Mary and Child with Saints Perpetua and Felicity (Sacra Conversazione).

When we view the Church’s history, we see many notable pairings: Saints Peter and Paul, Timothy and Titus, Cosmas and Damian – as well as the memorial of Saints Perpetua and Felicity (March 7). All of these saints are linked for a reason – either in life or through death (as in the case of martyrs) or both.

Perpetua and Felicity have an unexpected connection – which could easily be viewed as an essential incongruity.  Perpetua was a woman of noble birth and Felicity was her slave. Though the two women were from very different social, perhaps even racial backgrounds, they are among the most celebrated martyrs of the early Church, making that ultimate sacrifice for Christ together.

And when we pray the First Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, the “Roman Canon,” we make no distinctions between the two. We invoke the names of both saints. We even mention, Felicity, the slave first – attesting to the reality nothing matters besides attaining eternal life. Both desired life with Christ; both won a martyr’s crown; both are reigning with Him. For Perpetua and Felicity, Christ was their common bond. All other distinctions, all other differences passed away – for Christ was their focus.

Every community – a family, a parish, a school, a neighborhood – should ask itself: Are we united or divided? If we are divided, what drives wedges between us? And, what should bring us unity of purpose and mission?

If we do discern some disunity, we might ask for the grace to correct our vision: to see Christ and His Church as our source of unity and to learn from the example of Perpetua and Felicity’s martyrdom – that in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Photo is in public domain.

Fr. Dave Endres

Fr. David J. Endres is assistant professor of church history and historical theology at Mount St. Marys Seminary/Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati.