June 9 – Sts. Primus and Felician, Martyrs
Roses and lilies are exquisitely alternated in the wreath woven by centuries, for the Bride of the Son of God. Though the world be heedless of the fact, it is none the less true that everything here below has but one object, namely to bedeck the Church with the attractive charms of heaven, to adjust her jeweled robes formed of the virtues of her saints, that she may be fitted to take her seat beside her Diving Spouse in the highest heavens for all eternity. The sacred cycle, in its yearly course, presents an image of those ceaseless labors whereby the Holy Ghost continues to form, up to the day of the eternal nuptials, that varied robe of holy Church, by diversifying the merits of God’s servants, her members here below. Today, we have two Martyrs becrimsoned with their own blood, setting off the dazzling whiteness of Norbert’s works, or of William’s innocence; and tomorrow we may contemplate with delighted gaze the softer light beamed upon our earth by Margaret, Scotland’s Pearl.
Primus and Felician, wealthy Romans, had already attained maturity of age when our Lord made his voice heard inviting them to forsake their vain idols. Brothers according to the flesh, they now became more really so, by fidelity to the same call of grace. Together, they proved themselves intrepid helpers of the confessors of Christ amidst the atrocious persecution which raged against the Church during the latter half of the Third Century. In the same combat were they to fall side by side, exchanging this frail life here below for that into which, at one birth, they were to enter forever in heaven. They furthermore were honored by having their precious relics placed in the celebrated sanctuary consecrated to Saint Stephen, the Proto-Martyr, on Monte Cœlio, and there form its richest treasure.
The holy Liturgy relates their triumph in these few lines:
|Primus et Felicianus fratres, in persecutione Diocletiani et Maximiani accusati christianæ religionis, in vincula conjiciuntur: quibus soluti, inde eripiuntur ab angelo. Mox ad prætorem adducti, cum christianam fidem acerrime tuerentur, alter ab altero distracti sunt; ac primum varie tentata est constantia Feliciani. Sed cum suasores impietatis se posse quidquam verbis proficere desperarent, affixis stipiti manibus ejus et pedibus, ipsum sine cibo et potu inde triduum pendentem reliquerunt. Postridie ejus diei prætor vocatum ad se Primum sic affatur: Vides quanto sit prudentior quam tu frater tuus, qui, obsecutus imperatoribus, apud ipsos est honoratus. Quem si tu quoque imitari volueris, particeps eris ejus honoris et gratiæ.||Primus and Felician were brothers, and being accused of professing the Christian religion, during the persecution of Diocletian and Maximiam, they were thrown into irons, which an Angel broke, and they were delivered. But being soon led again before the prætor, and as they most earnestly clung to the Christian faith, they were separated one from the other. The steadfastness of Felician was the first to be put to the test in diverse ways. As they who strove to persuade him into impiety, found it hopeless to gain aught from him by words, he was fastened hand and foot to a stake and there left to hang three days, without either food or drink. The day after that, the prætor having called Primus before him, thus addressed him: “Seest thou how much wiser is thy brother, than thou art? He hath obeyed the Emperors, and they have made him honorable. Thou hast only to follow his example to be made partaker of his honors and favors.”|
|Cui Primus: Quid factum sit fratri meo cognovi ex angelo. Utinam quemadmodum sum cum eo voluntate conjuctissimus, sic ab eodem ne martyrio disjungar. Quo dicto, excanduit prætor, et ad cæteros cruciatus quibus Primum affecit præsente jam Feliciano liquatum igne plumbum in os ejus jussit infundi. Mox utrumque perduci imperat in theatrum, in eosque immitti duos leones: qui prostrati ad eorum genua, capite et cauda ipsis blandiebantur. Ad id spectaculum cum amplius duodecim millia hominum convenissent, quingenti cum suis familiis christianam religionem susceperunt. Quibus rebus permotus prætor, eos securi percuti jussit.||Primus replied: “What hath befallen my brother, I know, for an angel hath told me. Would to God, that seeing I have the same will that he hath, I were not divided from him in the same martyrdom.” These words raised the wrath of the prætor, and to the torments which he had already inflicted in Primus, he added this also, that he had boiling lead poured into his mouth, and this, in presence of Felician. After that, he had them both dragged into the amphitheater, and two lions let loose upon them, in presence of about twelve thousand people, who were gathered together to see the show. The lions only fawned upon the knees of the saints, making friends with them, caressingly moving their heads and tails. This spectacle turned five hundred persons of the assembled crowd, together with their households, to the Christian religion. The prætor then, moved beyond all endurance, by what had passed, caused Primus and Felician to be beheaded with the axe.|
O ye brave veterans of the Lord’s battles, teach us what energy we must bring to the service of God, whatsoever be our age. Less favored than we are, ye came late in life to the knowledge of the Gospel and of those inestimable treasures promised to the Christian. But in holy Baptism your youth was renewed as that of the eagle, and for thirty years, the Holy Ghost continued to produce rich fruits in you. When, in extreme old age, the hour of final victory at last sounded, your courage was equal to that of the most vigorous warriors. You were nerved up to such heroism and sustained therein, through prayer constantly kept alive within you by the words of the Psalms, as your Acts attest. Revive then amongst us faith in the word of God; His promises will make us despise, as ye did, this present life. Lead our piety back to those true sources which strengthen the soul—the knowledge and daily use of those sacred formulæ, which bind our earth unfailingly to heaven whence they were brought down to us.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)