Category Archives: Remembering

St. Pius X

I am not familiar with St. Pius X. Below are some videos explaining his life, work, and death.

Here’s an overview of St. Pius X’s life and work (plus great pictures). Lecture by Fr Pius X Harding, O.S.B. at the 2016 Day of Reflection for The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (Northwestern Lieutenancy, USA.) Held at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon, USA.

Pathé silent newsreel of his death:

And here’s a sermon on modernism being warned about by Pope St Pius X:

I’m not sure I am fully in line with all the critiques of modernism and of certain individuals in this last video, but it’s a perspective worth contemplating. And the video speaks to something of the saint’s life and passions.

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I would have embraced the folk-mass

Not long ago I sat in a pastoral council meeting at my parish church. We were discussing the form of Mass, use of music, etc., and I heard an older gentleman, a servant of the church, exclaim that he loved the liturgical changes brought on by the spirit of Vatican II, and thought they were one of the best things that ever happened to the Church. His words gave me pause.

Catholics waiting for someone to bring them a folk-mass. Just from this image alone one might imagine the younger generation of that day reacting to a perceived ossification.

Catholics waiting for someone to bring them a folk-mass.
Just from this image alone one might imagine the younger generation of that day reacting to a perceived ossification.

I have become increasingly interested in the very solemn-style, traditional Mass which many see as harkening back to a pre-council time. Consequently I tend to dislike what I perceive as the terrible music and bad art so common (I assume, from what I hear and read) in contemporary worship services today — all brought on by Vatican II according to popular legend. But then I had to step back a bit and think about it. Am I right in my opinions? Perhaps yes, but perhaps no.

Folk mass 2

I’m not sure this is from a Catholic Mass or Protestant service, but you get the idea.

I’m not a folk-Mass or guitar-Mass kind of guy, but I think I would have embraced the changes the Church experienced in the 1960’s if I had been a young man then. I too would have thought those changes represented a great change to a more authentic and grounded expression of faith. However, I think I would have eventually changed and embraced a more traditional style as I got older. I say this because, as a Protestant, I went through a similar experience in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. I grew up in a rather conservative, staid kind of Baptist church, but I began to embrace Christian rock, and enjoyed how the youth groups changed with the times, and then “big” church changed to a more rock-n-roll ethos as well. I don’t like rock-n-roll church either, but I did years ago.

I don’t believe this question of what kind of music is appropriate at Mass is a question of taste, though taste plays a part. It’s deeper than mere taste, for it has to do with the fact of the Real Presence and human nature. How one feels at Mass is not as important as what Mass is; in other words, it’s an ontological question, not an emotional one. Folk and rock are great genres of music, but they are arguably inappropriate for the Mass because of the Real Presence and human nature, and the very purpose of the Mass itself. So why would such changes been made if all this is so obvious?

I don’t think it was that obvious, at least to a certain generation at a certain time and place.

Of the many shifts of the 1960’s, one was towards a kind of youth leadership. That is, youth began proclaiming its divergence from older generations, and grabbed the reigns of its own destiny. This shift was, perhaps, nothing terribly new, but interestingly the older generations embraced the change, often declaring their own generation had lost its way and only the youth have the answers. Some telling slogans appeared in popular culture: “I hope I die before I get old” was a line from the band The Who in their anthem My Generation. “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” was a phrase coined by Jack Weinberg in the heady days of the Free Speech Movement. This shift also precipitated a revolutionary spirit, leading to many protests and the belief that the youth could really change the world if they just let love reign. In Protestantism there was the Jesus Movement, a kind of hippie Christianity that had profound ripple effects throughout Protestantism, and also Catholicism (as many Catholics became fascinated with the more emotive forms of Protestant spirituality in light of the perceived deadness in their own). In fact, it became a sweeping movement of sorts, and many, many people were caught up in it — not unlike being caught up in the spirit.

Folk music and then rock music were powerful cultural expressions of the spirit of that age, and continue so today.

May 5, 1973: Hundreds of Calvary Chapel members line Corona del Mar beach for baptism ceremony.

May 5, 1973: Hundreds of Calvary Chapel members line Corona del Mar beach for baptism ceremony. Calvary Chapel, lead by Chuck Smith, was a major influence on modern American Christianity.

But this shift in the zeitgeist of 20th century Christianity also had humble, simple, and personable expressions. Expressions that, I believe, constituted a kind of healthy “reformation” within the Church — often drawing people into a closer, more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

There was a craving for authenticity: authenticity of living, authenticity of worship, authenticity of emotions, authenticity of self. Needless to say, old forms of worship seemed terribly stale to many — though that probably says more about that generation and their knowledge of those forms than it does about the forms themselves. Regardless, it became an easy step to ask how could one possibly have a genuine relationship with Jesus while sitting in old churches and singing old hymns. (Not a very analytical question, but a visceral one for sure.) Thus grew the folk music movement (followed by the rock movement) within Christianity, for both Protestant and Catholic. [Note: I have played guitar at numerous church and youth worship services — so I’m am also part of the so-called “problem” if there is one.] [Note: The issue much of the time is not about what instrument is being played. Guitars are not really a problem, except for their symbolism.] Of course there is a lot more to be said about this history, but my point is that if I had been a youth or young adult at that time I’m sure I would have fully embraced the so-called spirit of Vatican II, at least in terms of worship. AND… I actually love a lot of the folk-mass/folk-christian songs — having sung many from the old, brown Young Life song book back in the day — though some (like the ones in this post) seem rather sappy nowadays. And let’s admit, as well, that many old hymns are dusty, that they were contemporary once, and being old now does not mean they are good.

FolkMass0021

Consider how one (maybe you) feels after having gone to a deeply emotional and moving (perhaps even Christian) rock concert, with its powerful music and light show, and the next morning you go to church and it seems so blah. Couldn’t you argue that you were “closer to God” at the concert? At least you felt that way, right? The same feeling would have been common in the 1960’s with its folk music, which seemed so much more authentic than dusty old hymns. I understand this. Bob Dylan was a prophet. “The Times They Are A-Changin'” is a better homily than is mostly ever preached by any priest. Peter, Paul and Mary sang truth. “If I Had A Hammer” is a more viscerally powerful sermon than most any Baptist preacher can muster. A young adult looking for such a connection at church just might welcome a couple of guitars and some bongo drums in the service of a passionately sung worship ballad in four-four. I have been that young adult and, if I am honest, I still am to some degree.

Given all that, after hearing that older gentleman wax positive about those changes of yesteryear, I realized my tendency to denigrate those changes of the post-Vatican II era is not an entirely honest tendency. Nor might it be entirely empathetic or loving. I still prefer a more traditional form of Mass, and I tend to think that guitars generally have their place outside of Mass, but I cannot assume I’m really any different than anyone else. I have come to this position over time, and I’m still on my journey. I am sure my current preferences are in reaction to my own experiences over a number of years. I too am a fish in the stream of history — and it just goes to show how easily I can forget myself.

Folk Mass Frances Mary Hunter Gordon

Final note: Let us not forget the Real Presence at Mass. The question of proper form and proper music at Mass flows from this profoundly radical fact. It’s not ultimately about a particular style, or particular instruments, or specific lyrics, as much as it is about appropriate reverence and worship, which includes proper action, and what it is that leads us to that. Understanding how much of contemporary music, especially folk and rock, does not fit within a Catholic liturgy may require a sensitivity and a knowledge most of us are unlikely to have; not because we can’t understand, but because our culture has trained us not to.

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A war begins

One hundred years ago the war known as the First World War, began.

An archive picture shows a statue of Christ on the cross on a tree at Fricourt on the Somme front in France

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
(from The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot, 1922)

Lest we forget, great public cheers went up in nearly every belligerent country at the the declaration of war. Germany cheered. France cheered. Italy cheered. England cheered.

WW1v2

England is ecstatic at the declaration of war.

“Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.” – Saint Paul

“You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war.” – Saint James

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Filed under Poetry, Remembering, War

Symphony of Sorrowful Songs: Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, Second Movement: Lento e Largo

Polish lyrics:
Mamo, nie płacz, nie.
Niebios Przeczysta Królowo,
Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie.
Zdrować Mario, Łaskiś Pełna.

Zakopane “Pałace”
cela nr 3 ściana nr 3
Błazusiakówna Helena Wanda
lat 18 siedzi od 25 IX 44

English translation:
No, Mother, do not weep,
Most chaste Queen of Heaven
Support me always.
“Zdrowas Mario.” (*)
(Prayer inscribed on wall 3 of cell no. 3 in the basement of “Palace,” the Gestapo’s headquarters in Zadopane; beneath is the signature of Helena Wanda Blazusiakówna, and the words “18 years old, imprisoned since 26 September 1944.”)
(*) “Zdrowas Mario” (Ave Maria)—the opening of the Polish prayer to the Holy Mother

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a prayer

Seven years ago today our daughter Coco died. We miss and look forward to seeing her again.

These kinds of anniversaries are interesting. On the one hand there is the reminder of a tragedy, a difficult and sad experience. On the other hand I look back and remember the great blessings of God at that time and since. God was with us, present, along side, holding us. So many people, from family and friends, to doctors and nurses, to musicians whose music touched us, made us know we were not alone, not without hope, not without love. God helped us to see His plans and His love more clearly than before. Also, if Coco had not died—and this might seem difficult to say—we would not have our next two children with us today. Her death sent us on a different course, and we are blessed still.

I believe Coco is alive with Christ and the saints.

To You, O Lord, we humbly entrust Coco, so precious in Your sight.
Take her into Your arms and welcome her into paradise,
where there will be no sorrow, no weeping nor pain,
but the fullness of peace and joy
with Your Son and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

mamapapacoco

bath

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“Due to his uncommon skills and great sense of humor he is dangerous”

After Pope John Paul II died many people reminisced about his life and the immense impact he had on the world. Peggy Noonan wrote a piece for the WSJ on the Pope’s first visit to his homeland of Poland in 1979. Noonan mentioned the efforts of the communist government of Poland to try to diffuse the impact they feared John Paul II would have. She wrote:

Two months before the pope’s arrival, the Polish communist apparatus took steps to restrain the enthusiasm of the people. They sent a secret directive to schoolteachers explaining how they should understand and explain the pope’s visit. “The pope is our enemy,” it said. “Due to his uncommon skills and great sense of humor he is dangerous, because he charms everyone, especially journalists. Besides, he goes for cheap gestures in his relations with the crowd, for instance, puts on a highlander’s hat, shakes all hands, kisses children. . . . It is modeled on American presidential campaigns. . . Because of the activation of the Church in Poland our activities designed to atheize the youth not only cannot diminish but must intensely develop. . . In this respect all means are allowed and we cannot afford any sentiments.”

Of course, the Polish government had no idea what they were getting themselves in for. And we know, looking back, that the world was never the same.

Perhaps John Paul II’s greatest homily of his tenure was given during the mass at Victory Square in Warsaw. This was the Pope’s first mass in Poland. The communist authorities were worried thousands, even tens of thousands of people would show up. Instead, over a million showed up. And then the Pope gave this homily:

HOLY MASS

HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS JOHN PAUL II

Victory Square, Warsaw, 2 June 1979 

Beloved Fellow-countrymen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters.
Participants in the Eucharistic Sacrifice celebrated today in Victory Square in Warsaw.

1. Together with you I wish to sing a hymn of praise to Divine Providence, which enables me to be here as a pilgrim.

We know that the recently deceased Paul VI, the first pilgrim Pope after so many centuries, ardently desired to set foot on the soil of Poland, especially at Jasna Gora (the Bright Mountain). To the end of his life he kept this desire in his heart, and with it he went to the grave. And we feel that this desirea desire so potent and so deeply rooted that it goes beyond the span of a pontificateis being realized today in a way that it would have been difficult to foresee. And so we thank Divine Providence for having given Paul VI so strong a desire. We thank it for the pattern of the pilgrim Pope that he began with the Second Vatican Council. At a time when the whole Church has become newly aware of being the People of God, a People sharing in the mission of Christ, a People that goes through history with that mission, a “pilgrim” People, the Pope could no longer remain a “prisoner of the Vatican”.  He had to become again the pilgrim Peter, like the first Peter, who from Jerusalem, through Antioch, reached Rome to give witness there to Christ and seal his witness with his blood.

Today it is granted to me to fulfil this desire of the deceased Pope Paul VI in the midst of you, beloved sons and daughters of my motherland. When, after the death of Paul VI and the brief pontificate of my immediate Predecessor John Paul I, which lasted only a few weeks, I was, through the inscrutable designs of Divine Providence, called by the votes of the Cardinals from the chair of Saint Stanislaus in Krakow to that of Saint Peter in Rome, I immediately understood that it was for me to fulfil that desire, the desire that Paul VI had been unable to carry out at the Millennium of the Baptism of Poland.

My pilgrimage to my motherland in the year in which the Church in Poland is celebrating the ninth centenary of the death of Saint Stanislaus is surely a special sign of the pilgrimage that we Poles are making down through the history of the Church not only along the ways of our motherland but also along those of Europe and the world. Leaving myself aside at this point, I must nonetheless with all of you ask myself why, precisely in 1978, after so many centuries of a well established tradition in this field, a son of the Polish Nation, of the land of Poland, was called to the chair of Saint Peter. Christ demanded of Peter and of the other Apostles that they should be his “witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Have we not the right, with reference to these words of Christ, to think that Poland has become nowadays the land of a particularly responsible witness? The right to think that from herefrom Warsaw, and also from Gniezno, from Jasna Gora, from Krakow and from the whole of this historic route that I have so often in my life traversed and that it is to proclaim Christ with singular humility but also with conviction? The right to think that one must come to this very place, to this land, on this route, to read again the witness of his Cross and his Resurrection? But if we accept all that I have dared to affirm in this moment, how many great duties and obligations arise? Are we capable of them?

2. Today, at the first stopping place in my papal pilgrimage in Poland, it is granted to me to celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice in Victory Square in Warsaw. The liturgy of the evening of Saturday the Vigil of Pentecost takes us to the Upper Room in Jerusalem, where the Apostles, gathered around Mary the Mother of Christ, were on the following day to receive the Holy Spirit. They were to receive the Spirit obtained for them by Christ through the Cross, in order that through the power of this Spirit they might fulfil his command: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). Before Christ the Lord left the world, he transmitted to the Apostles with these words his last recommendation, his “missionary mandate”. And he added: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20).

It is good that my pilgrimage to Poland on the ninth centenary of the martyrdom of Saint Stanislaus should fall in the Pentecost period and on the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. Fulfilling the desire of Paul VI after his death, I am able to relive the Millennium of the Baptism on Polish soil and to inscribe this year’s jubilee of Saint Stanislaus in the Millennium since the beginning of the nation and the Church. The Solemnity of Pentecost and that of the Most Holy Trinity bring us close to this beginning. In the apostles who receive the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost are spiritually present in a way all their successors, all the Bishops, including those whose task it has been for a thousand years to proclaim the Gospel on Polish soil. Among them was this Stanislaus of Szczepanow, who paid with his blood for his mission on the episcopal chair of Krakow nine centuries ago.

On the day of Pentecost there were gathered, in the Apostles and around them, not only the representatives of the peoples and tongues listed in the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Even then there were gathered about them the various peoples and nations that, through the light of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, were to enter the Church at different periods and centuries. The day of Pentecost is the birthday of the faith and of the Church in our land of Poland also. It is the proclamation of the mighty works of God in our Polish language also. It is the beginning of Christianity in the life of our nation also, in its history, its culture, its trials.

 3a. To Poland the Church brought Christ, the key to understanding that great and fundamental reality that is man. For man cannot be fully understood without Christ. Or rather, man is incapable of understanding himself fully without Christ. He cannot understand who he is, nor what his true dignity is, nor what his vocation is, nor what his final end is. He cannot understand any of this without Christ.

Therefore Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude of geography. The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man. Without Christ it is impossible to understand the history of Poland, especially the history of the people who have passed or are passing through this land. The history of people. The history of the nation is above all the history of people. And the history of each person unfolds in Jesus Christ. In him it becomes the history of salvation.

The history of the nation deserves to be adequately appraised in the light of its contributionto the development of man and humanity, to intellect, heart and conscience. This is the deepest stream of culture. It is culture’s firmest support, its core, its strength. It is impossible without Christ to understand and appraise the contribution of the Polish nation to the development of man and his humanity in the past and its contribution today also: “This old oak tree has grown in such a way and has not been knocked down by any wind since its root is Christ” (Piotr Skarga, Kazania Sejmove IVBiblioteka Narodowa, I, 70, p. 92). It is necessary to follow the traces of what, or rather who, Christ was for the sons and daughters of this land down the generations. Not only for those who openly believed in him and professed him with the faith of the Church, but also for those who appeared to be at a distance, outside the Church. For those who doubted or were opposed.

3b. It is right to understand the history of the nation through man, each human being of this nation. At the same time man cannot be understood apart from this community that is constituted by the nation. Of course it is not the only community, but it is a special community, perhaps that most intimately linked with the family, the most important for the spiritual history of man. It is therefore impossible without Christ to understand the history of the Polish nationthis great thousand-year-old communitythat is so profoundly decisive for me and each one of us. If we reject this key to understanding our nation, we lay ourselves open to a substantial misunderstanding. We no longer understand ourselves. It is impossible without Christ to understand this nation with its past so full of splendour and also of terrible difficulties. It is impossible to understand this city, Warsaw, the capital of Poland, that undertook in 1944 an unequal battle against the aggressor, a battle in which it was abandoned by the allied powers, a battle in which it was buried under its own ruinsif it is not remembered that under those same ruins there was also the statue of Christ the Saviour with his cross that is in front of the church at Krakowskie Przedmiescie. It is impossible to understand the history of Poland from Stanislaus in Skalka to Maximilian Kolbe at Oswiecim unless we apply to them that same single fundamental criterion that is called Jesus Christ.

The Millennium of the Baptism of Poland, of which Saint Stanislaus is the first mature fruitthe millennium of Christ in our yesterday, and todayis the chief reason for my pilgrimage, for my prayer of thanksgiving together with all of you, dear fellow-countrymen, to whom Christ does not cease to teach the great cause of man; together with you, for whom Jesus Christ does not cease to be an ever open book on man, his dignity and his rights and also a book of knowledge on the dignity and rights of the nation.

Today, here in Victory Square, in the capital of Poland, I am asking with all of you, through the great Eucharistic prayer, that Christ will not cease to be for us an open book of life for the future, for our Polish future.

4. We are before the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In the ancient and contemporary history of Poland this tomb has a special basis, a special reason for its existence. In how many places in our native land has that soldier fallen! In how many places in Europe and the world has he cried with his death that there can be no just Europe without the independence of Poland marked on its map! On how many battlefields has that solider given witness to the rights of man, indelibly inscribed in the inviolable rights of the people, by falling for “our free­dom and yours”!

“Where are their tombs, O Po-land? Where are they not! You know better than anyoneand God knows it in heaven” (A. Oppman, Pacierz za zmarlych).

The history of the motherland written through the tomb of an Unknown Soldier!

I wish to kneel before this tomb to venerate every seed that falls into the earth and dies and thus bears fruit. It may be the seed of the blood of a soldier shed on the battlefield, or the sacrifice of martyrdom in concentration camps or in prisons. It may be the seed of hard daily toil, with the sweat of one’s brow, in the fields, the workshop, the mine, the foundries and the factories. It may be the seed of the love of parents who do not refuse to give life to a new human being and undertake the whole of the task of bringing him up. It may be the seed of creative work in the universities, the higher institutes, the libraries and the places where the national culture is built. It may be the seed of prayer, of service of the sick, the suffering, the abandoned“all that of which Poland is made”.

All that in the hands of the Mother of Godat the foot of the cross on Calvary and in the Upper Room of Pentecost!

All thatthe history of the motherland shaped for a thousand years by the succession of the generations (among them the present generation and the coming generation) and by each son and daughter of the motherland, even if they are anonymous and unknown like the Soldier before whose tomb we are now.

All thatincluding the history of the peoples that have lived with us and among us, such as those who died in their hundreds of thousands within the walls of the Warsaw ghetto.

All that I embrace in thought and in my heart during this Eucharist and I include it in this unique most holy Sacrifice of Christ, on Victory Square.

And I cryI who am a Son of the land of Poland and who am also Pope John Paul III cry from all the depths of this Millennium, I cry on the vigil of Pentecost:

Let your Spirit descend.
Let your Spirit descend.
and renew the face of the earth,
the face of this land.

Amen.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

This homily can be found here.

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The prison diary of Saint Perpetua

The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas

A number of young catechumens were arrested, Revocatus and his fellow slave Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus, and with them Vibia Perpetua, a newly married woman of good family and upbringing. Her mother and father were still alive and one of her two brothers was a catechumen like herself. She was about twenty-two years old and had an infant son at the breast. (Now from this point on the entire account of her ordeal is her own, according to her own ideas and in the way that she herself wrote it down.)

While we were still under arrest (she said) my father out of love for me was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution. ‘Father,’ said I, ‘do you see this vase here, for example, or waterpot or whatever?’

‘Yes, I do’, said he.

And I told him: ‘Could it be called by any other name than what it is?’

And he said: ‘No.’

‘Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.’

At this my father was so angered by the word ‘Christian’ that he moved towards me as though he would pluck my eyes out. But he left it at that and departed, vanquished along with his diabolical arguments.

For a few days afterwards I gave thanks to the Lord that I was separated from my father, and I was comforted by his absence. During these few days I was baptized, and I was inspired by the Spirit not to ask for any other favour after the water but simply the perseverance of the flesh. A few days later we were lodged in the prison; and I was terrified, as I had never before been in such a dark hole. What a difficult time it was! With the crowd the heat was stifling; then there was the extortion of the soldiers; and to crown all, I was tortured with worry for my baby there.

Then Tertius and Pomponius, those blessed deacons who tried to take care of us, bribed the soldiers to allow us to go to a better part of the prison to refresh ourselves for a few hours. Everyone then left that dungeon and shifted for himself. I nursed my baby, who was faint from hunger. In my anxiety I spoke to my mother about the child, I tried to comfort my brother, and I gave the child in their charge. I was in pain because I saw them suffering out of pity for me. These were the trials I had to endure for many days. Then I got permission for my baby to stay with me in prison. At once I recovered my health, relieved as I was of my worry and anxiety over the child. My prison had suddenly become a palace, so that I wanted to be there rather than anywhere else.

Then my brother said to me: ‘Dear sister, you are greatly privileged; surely you might ask for a vision to discover whether you are to be condemned or freed.’

Faithfully I promised that I would, for I knew that I could speak with the Lord, whose great blessings I had come to experience. And so I said: ‘I shall tell you tomorrow.’ Then I made my request and this was the vision I had.

I saw a ladder of tremendous height made of bronze, reaching all the way to the heavens, but it was so narrow that only one person could climb up at a time. To the sides of the ladder were attached all sorts of metal weapons: there were swords, spears, hooks, daggers, and spikes; so that if anyone tried to climb up carelessly or without paying attention, he would be mangled and his flesh would adhere to the weapons.

At the foot of the ladder lay a dragon of enormous size, and it would attack those who tried to climb up and try to terrify them from doing so. And Saturus was the first to go up, he who was later to give himself up of his own accord. He had been the builder of our strength, although he was not present when we were arrested. And he arrived at the top of the staircase and he looked back and said to me: ‘Perpetua, I am waiting for you. But take care; do not let the dragon bite you.’

‘He will not harm me,’ I said, ‘in the name of Christ Jesus.’

Slowly, as though he were afraid of me, the dragon stuck his head out from underneath the ladder. Then, using it as my first step, I trod on his head and went up.

Then I saw an immense garden, and in it a gray-haired man sat in shepherd’s garb; tall he was, and milking sheep. And standing around him were many thousands of people clad in white garments. He raised his head, looked at me, and said: ‘I am glad you have come, my child.’

He called me over to him and gave me, as it were, a mouthful Of the milk he was drawing; and I took it into my cupped hands and consumed it. And all those who stood around said: ‘Amen!’ At the sound of this word I came to, with the taste of something sweet still in my mouth. I at once told this to my brother, and we realized that we would have to suffer, and that from now on we would no longer have any hope in this life.

A few days later there was a rumour that we were going to be given a hearing. My father also arrived from the city, worn with worry, and he came to see me with the idea of persuading me.

‘Daughter,’ he said, ‘have pity on my grey head–have pity on me your father, if I deserve to be called your father, if I have favoured you above all your brothers, if I have raised you to reach this prime of your life. Do not abandon me to be the reproach of men. Think of your brothers, think of your mother and your aunt, think of your child, who will not be able to live once you are gone. Give up your pride! You will destroy all of us! None of us will ever be able to speak freely again if anything happens to you.’

This was the way my father spoke out of love for me, kissing my hands and throwing himself down before me. With tears in his eyes he no longer addressed me as his daughter but as a woman. I was sorry for my father’s sake, because he alone of all my kin would be unhappy to see me suffer.

I tried to comfort him saying: ‘It will all happen in the prisoner’s dock as God wills; for you may be sure that we are not left to ourselves but are all in his power.’

And he left me in great sorrow.

One day while we were eating breakfast we were suddenly hurried off for a hearing. We arrived at the forum, and straight away the story went about the neighbourhood near the forum and a huge crowd gathered. We walked up to the prisoner’s dock. All the others when questioned admitted their guilt. Then, when it came my turn, my father appeared with my son, dragged me from the step, and said: ‘Perform the sacrifice–have pity on your baby!’

Hilarianus the governor, who had received his judicial powers as the successor of the late proconsul Minucius Timinianus, said to me: ‘Have pity on your father’s grey head; have pity on your infant son. Offer the sacrifice for the welfare of the emperors.’

‘I will not’, I retorted.

‘Are you a Christian?’ said Hilarianus.

And I said: ‘Yes, I am.’

When my father persisted in trying to dissuade me, Hilarianus ordered him to be thrown to the ground and beaten with a rod. I felt sorry for father, just as if I myself had been beaten. I felt sorry for his pathetic old age.

Then Hilarianus passed sentence on all of us: we were condemned to the beasts, and we returned to prison in high spirits. But my baby had got used to being nursed at the breast and to staying with me in prison. So I sent the deacon Pomponius straight away to my father to ask for the baby. But father refused to give him over. But as God willed, the baby had no further desire for the breast, nor did I suffer any inflammation; and so I was relieved of any anxiety for my child and of any discomfort in my breasts….

Some days later, an adjutant named Pudens, who was in charge of the prison, began to show us great honour, realizing that we possessed some great power within us. And he began to allow many visitors to see us for our mutual comfort.

Now the day of the contest was approaching, and my father came to see me overwhelmed with sorrow. He started tearing the hairs from his beard and threw them on the ground; he then threw himself on the ground and began to curse his old age and to say such words as would move all creation. I felt sorry for his unhappy old age.

The day before we were to fight with the beasts I saw the following vision. Pomponius the deacon came to the prison gates and began to knock violently. I went out and opened the gate for him. He was dressed in an unbelted white tunic, wearing elaborate sandals. And he said to me: ‘Perpetua, come; we are waiting for you.’

Then he took my hand and we began to walk through rough and broken country. At last we came to the amphitheatre out of breath, and he led me into the centre of the arena.

Then he told me: ‘Do not be afraid. I am here, struggling with you.’ Then he left.

I looked at the enormous crowd who watched in astonishment. I was surprised that no beasts were let loose on me; for I knew that I was condemned to die by the beasts. Then out came an Egyptian against me, of vicious appearance, together with his seconds, to fight with me. There also came up to me some handsome young men to be my seconds and assistants.

My clothes were stripped off, and suddenly I was a man. My seconds began to rub me down with oil (as they are wont to do before a contest). Then I saw the Egyptian on the other side rolling in the dust. Next there came forth a man of marvelous stature, such that he rose above the top of the amphitheatre. He was clad in a beltless purple tunic with two stripes (one on either side) running down the middle of his chest. He wore sandals that were wondrously made of gold and silver, and he carried a wand like an athletic trainer and a green branch on which there were golden apples.

And he asked for silence and said: ‘If this Egyptian defeats her he will slay her with the sword. But if she defeats him, she will receive this branch.’ Then he withdrew.

We drew close to one another and began to let our fists fly. My opponent tried to get hold of my feet, but I kept striking him in the face with the heels of my feet. Then I was raised up into the air and I began to pummel him without as it were touching the ground. Then when I noticed there was a lull, I put my two hands together linking the fingers of one hand with those of the other and thus I got hold of his head. He fell flat on his face and I stepped on his head.

The crowd began to shout and my assistants started to sing psalms. Then I walked up to the trainer and took the branch. He kissed me and said to me: ‘Peace be with you, my daughter!’ I began to walk in triumph towards the Gate of Life. Then I awoke. I realized that it was not with wild animals that I would fight but with the Devil, but I knew that I would win the victory. So much for what I did up until the eve of the contest. About what happened at the contest itself, let him write of it who will.

[Here Saturus tells the story of a vision he had of Perpetua and himself, after they were killed, being carried by four angels into heaven where they were reunited with other martyrs killed in the same persecution.]

[Here the editor/narrator begins to relate the story]:

Such were the remarkable visions of these martyrs, Saturus and Perpetua, written by themselves. As for Secundulus, God called him from this world earlier than the others while he was still in prison, by a special grace that he might not have to face the animals. Yet his flesh, if not his spirit, knew the sword.

As for Felicitas, she too enjoyed the Lord’s favour in this wise. She had been pregnant when she was arrested, and was now in her eighth month. As the day of the spectacle drew near she was very distressed that her martyrdom would be postponed because of her pregnancy; for it is against the law for women with child to be executed. Thus she might have to shed her holy, innocent blood afterwards along with others who were common criminals. Her comrades in martyrdom were also saddened; for they were afraid that they would have to leave behind so fine a companion to travel alone on the same road to hope. And so, two days before the contest, they poured forth a prayer to the Lord in one torrent of common grief. And immediately after their prayer the birth pains came upon her. She suffered a good deal in her labour because of the natural difficulty of an eight months’ delivery.

Hence one of the assistants of the prison guards said to her: ‘You suffer so much now–what will you do when you are tossed to the beasts? Little did you think of them when you refused to sacrifice.’

‘What I am suffering now’, she replied, ‘I suffer by myself. But then another will be inside me who will suffer for me, just as I shall be suffering for him.’

And she gave birth to a girl; and one of the sisters brought her up as her own daughter.

Therefore, since the Holy Spirit has permitted the story of this contest to be written down and by so permitting has willed it, we shall carry out the command or, indeed, the commission of the most saintly Perpetua, however unworthy I might be to add anything to this glorious story. At the same time I shall add one example of her perseverance and nobility of soul.

The military tribune had treated them with extraordinary severity because on the information of certain very foolish people he became afraid that they would be spirited out of the prison by magical spells.

Perpetua spoke to him directly. ‘Why can you not even allow us to refresh ourselves properly? For we are the most distinguished of the condemned prisoners, seeing that we belong to the emperor; we are to fight on his very birthday. Would it not be to your credit if we were brought forth on the day in a healthier condition?’

The officer became disturbed and grew red. So it was that he gave the order that they were to be more humanely treated; and he allowed her brothers and other persons to visit, so that the prisoners could dine in their company. By this time the adjutant who was head of the gaol was himself a Christian.

On the day before, when they had their last meal, which is called the free banquet, they celebrated not a banquet but rather a love feast. They spoke to the mob with the same steadfastness, warned them of God’s judgement, stressing the joy they would have in their suffering, and ridiculing the curiosity of those that came to see them. Saturus said: ‘Will not tomorrow be enough for you? Why are you so eager to see something that you dislike? Our friends today will be our enemies on the morrow. But take careful note of what we look like so that you will recognize us on the day.’ Thus everyone would depart from the prison in amazement, and many of them began to believe.

The day of their victory dawned, and they marched from the prison to the amphitheatre joyfully as though they were going to heaven, with calm faces, trembling, if at all, with joy rather than fear. Perpetua went along with shining countenance and calm step, as the beloved of God, as a wife of Christ, putting down everyone’s stare by her own intense gaze. With them also was Felicitas, glad that she had safely given birth so that now she could fight the beasts, going from one blood bath to another, from the midwife to the gladiator, ready to wash after childbirth in a second baptism.

They were then led up to the gates and the men were forced to put on the robes of priests of Saturn, the women the dress of the priestesses of Ceres. But the noble Perpetua strenuously resisted this to the end.

‘We came to this of our own free will, that our freedom should not be violated. We agreed to pledge our lives provided that we would do no such thing. You agreed with us to do this.’

Even injustice recognized justice. The military tribune agreed. They were to be brought into the arena just as they were. Perpetua then began to sing a psalm: she was already treading on the head of the Egyptian. Revocatus, Saturninus, and Saturus began to warn the on looking mob. Then when they came within sight of Hilarianus, they suggested by their motions and gestures: ‘You have condemned us, but God will condemn you’ was what they were saying.

At this the crowds became enraged and demanded that they be scourged before a line of gladiators. And they rejoiced at this that they had obtained a share in the Lord’s sufferings.

But he who said, Ask and you shall receive, answered their prayer by giving each one the death he had asked for. For whenever they would discuss among themselves their desire for martyrdom, Saturninus indeed insisted that he wanted to be exposed to all the different beasts, that his crown might be all the more glorious. And so at the outset of the contest he and Revocatus were matched with a leopard, and then while in the stocks they were attacked by a bear. As for Saturus, he dreaded nothing more than a bear, and he counted on being killed by one bite of a leopard. Then he was matched with a wild boar; but the gladiator who had tied him to the animal was gored by the boar and died a few days after the contest, whereas Saturus was only dragged along. Then when he was bound in the stocks awaiting the bear, the animal refused to come out of the cages, so that Saturus was called back once more unhurt.

For the young women, however, the Devil had prepared a mad heifer. This was an unusual animal, but it was chosen that their sex might be matched with that of the beast. So they were stripped naked, placed in nets and thus brought out into the arena. Even the crowd was horrified when they saw that one was a delicate young girl and the other was a woman fresh from childbirth with the milk still dripping from her breasts. And so they were brought back again and dressed in unbelted tunics.

First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sitting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph.

Then she got up. And seeing that Felicitas had been crushed to the ground, she went over to her, gave her hand, and lifted her up. Then the two stood side by side. But the cruelty of the mob was by now appeased, and so they were called back through the Gate of Life.

There Perpetua was held up by a man named Rusticus who was at the time a catechumen and kept close to her. She awoke from a kind of sleep (so absorbed had she been in ecstasy in the Spirit) and she began to look about her. Then to the amazement of all she said: ‘When are we going to be thrown to that heifer or whatever it is?’

When told that this had already happened, she refused to believe it until she noticed the marks of her rough experience on her person and her dress. Then she called for her brother and spoke to him together with the catechumens and said: ‘You must all stand fast in the faith and love one another, and do not be weakened by what we have gone through.’

At another gate Saturus was earnestly addressing the soldier Pudens. ‘It is exactly’, he said, ‘as I foretold and predicted. So far not one animal has touched me. So now you may believe me with all your heart: I am going in there and I shall be finished off with one bite of the leopard.’ And immediately as the contest was coming to a close a leopard was let loose, and after one bite Saturus was so drenched with blood that as he came away the mob roared in witness to his second baptism: ‘Well washed! Well washed!’ For well washed indeed was one who had been bathed in this manner.

Then he said to the soldier Pudens: ‘Good-bye. Remember me, and remember the faith. These things should not disturb you but rather strengthen you.’

And with this he asked Pudens for a ring from his finger, and dipping it into his wound he gave it back to him again as a pledge and as a record of his bloodshed.

Shortly after he was thrown unconscious with the rest in the usual spot to have his throat cut. But the mob asked that their bodies be brought out into the open that their eyes might be the guilty witnesses of the sword that pierced their flesh. And so the martyrs got up and went to the spot of their own accord as the people wanted them to, and kissing one another they sealed their martyrdom with the ritual kiss of peace. The others took the sword in silence and without moving, especially Saturus, who being the first to climb the stairway was the first to die. For once again he was waiting for Perpetual Perpetua, however, had yet to taste more pain. She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. It was as though so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.

Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly are you called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord! And any man who exalts, honours, and worships his glory should read for the consolation of the Church these new deeds of heroism which are no less significant than the tales of old. For these new manifestations of virtue will bear witness to one and the same Spirit who still operates, and to God the Father almighty, to his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom is splendour and immeasurable power for all the ages. Amen.

From The Acts of the Christian Marytrs

texts and translation by Herbert Musurillo

(c) Oxford University Press, 1972

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