Today in the Latin Calendar we celebrate the Feast Day of Seven Holy Brothers and we also commemorate SS Rufina and Secunda, Virgins and Martyrs. A story about these martyrs can be found by Clicking Here.
Seven Holy Brothers
St. Felicitas and her seven sons were put to death for the Faith, about the year 162, under Marcus Aurelius. The sons preceded their mother to Heaven; she followed them four months afterwards. In order to strike terror into the hearts of the Christians the death sentences were not all carried out in the same place, for Januarius was beaten to death with leaden scourges and was buried in the Cemetery of Prætextatus, Felix and Philip died under the whip and received burial in that of Priscilla, Silanus was thrown from a precipice and was interred with his mother in the Cemetery of Maximus, Alexander, Vitalis and Martial were beheaded and were given the honor of sepultare in the Cemetery of the Giordani.
The earliest list of the Roman feasts of martyrs, known as the “Depositio Martyrum” and dating from the time of Pope Liberius, i.e. about the middle of the fourth century (Ruinart, Acta sincera, Ratisbon, p. 631), mentions seven martyrs whose feast was kept on 10 July. Their remains had been deposited in four different catacombs, viz. in three cemeteries on the Via Salaria and in one on the Via Appia. Two of the martyrs, Felix and Philip, reposed in the catacomb of Priscilla; Martial, Vitalis and Alexander, in the Coemeterium Jordanorum; Silanus (or Silvanus) in the catacomb of Maximus, and Januarius in that of Prætextatus. To the name of Silanus is added the statement that his body was stolen by the Novatians (hunc Silanum martyrem Novatiani furati sunt). In the Acts of these martyrs, that certainly existed in the sixth century, since Gregory the Great refers to them in his “Homiliæ super Evangelia” (Lib. I, hom. iii, in P.L., LXXVI, 1087), it is stated that all seven were sons of Saint Felicitas, a noble Roman lady. According to these Acts Felicitas and her seven sons were imprisoned because of their Christian Faith, at the instigation of pagan priests, during the reign of Emperor Antoninus. Before the prefect Publius they adhered firmly to their religion, and were delivered over to four judges, who condemned them to various modes of death.
The division of the martyrs among four judges corresponds to the four places of their burial. St. Felicitas herself was buried in the catacomb of Maximus on the Via Salaria, beside Silanus.
These Acts were regarded as genuine by Ruinart (op. cit., 72-74), and even distinguished modern archæologists have considered them, though not in their present form corresponding entirely to the original, yet in substance based on genuine contemporary records. Recent investigations of Führer, however (see below), have shown this opinion to be hardly tenable. The earliest recension of these Acts, edited by Ruinart, does not antedate the sixth century, and appears to be based not on a Roman, but on a Greek original. Moreover, apart from the present form of the Acts, various details have been called in question. Thus, if Felicitas were really the mother of the seven martyrs honoured on 10 July, it is strange that her name does not appear in the well-known fourth-century Roman calendar. Her feast is first mentioned in the “Martyrologium Hieronymianum”, but on a different day (23 Nov.). It is, however, historically certain that she, as well as the seven martyrs called her sons in the Acts suffered for the Christian Faith. From a very early date her feast was solemnly celebrated in the Roman Church on 23 November, for on that day Gregory the Great delivered a homily in the basilica that rose above her tomb. Her body then rested in the catacomb of Maximus; in that cemetery on the Via Salaria all Roman itineraries, or guides to the burial-places of martyrs, locate her burial-place, specifying that her tomb was in a church above this catacomb (De Rossi, Roma sotterranea, I, 176-77), and that the body of her son Silanus was also there.
The crypt where Felicitas was laid to rest was later enlarged into a subterranean chapel, and was rediscovered in 1885. A seventh-century fresco is yet visible on the rear wall of this chapel, representing in a group Felicitas and her seven sons, and overhead the figure of Christ bestowing upon them the eternal crown.
Certain historical references to St. Felicitas and her sons antedate the aforesaid Acts, e.g. a fifth-century sermon of St. Peter Chrysologus (Sermo cxxxiv, in P.L., LII, 565) and a metrical epitaph either written by Pope Damasus (d. 384) or composed shortly after his time and suggested by his poem in praise of the martyr:
Discite quid meriti præstet pro rege feriri;
Femina non timuit gladium, cum natis obivit,
Confessa Christum meruit per sæcula nomen.
Learn how meritorious it is to die for the King (Christ).
This woman feared not the sword, but perished with her sons.
She confessed Christ and merited an eternal renown.
[Ihm, Damasi Epigrammata (Leipzig, 1895), p. 45.]
We possess, therefore, confirmation for an ancient Roman tradition, independent of the Acts, to the effect that the Felicitas who reposed in the catacomb of Maximus, and whose feast the Roman Church commemorated 23 Nov., suffered martyrdom with her sons; it does not record, however, any details concerning these sons. It may be recalled that the tomb of St. Silanus, one of the seven martyrs (10 July), adjoined that of St. Felicitas and was likewise honored; it is quite possible, therefore, that tradition soon identified the sons of St. Felicitas with the seven martyrs, and that this formed the basis for the extant Acts. The tomb of St. Januarius in the catacomb of Prætextatus belongs to the end of the second century, to which period, therefore, the martyrdoms must belong, probably under Marcus Aurelius.
If St. Felicitas did not suffer martyrdom on the same occasion we have no means of determining the time of her death. In an ancient Roman edifice near the ruins of the Baths of Titus there stood in early medieval times a chapel in honour of St. Felicitas. A faded painting in this chapel represents her with her sons just as in the above-mentioned fresco in her crypt.
Saint Rufina and Saint Secunda
Saints Rufina and Secunda, Roman martyrs, who according to the legendary Acts (Acta SS., July, III, 30-1) suffered in 287 during the Aurelian persecution. Their place of burial was at the ninth milestone of the Via Cornelia, as is stated in the Berne manuscript of the "Martyrologium Hieronymianum" (ed. De Rossi-Duchesne, 89). These martyrs are also recorded in the Itineraries of the seventh century as on the road just mentioned (De Rossi, "Roma sotterranea", I, 18283). Pope Damasus erected a church over the grave of the saints. The town on this spot named after St. Rufina became the see of one of the suburbicarian dioceses that was later united with Porto (cf. Allard, "Histoire des Persécutions":, III, 96).
According to their unhistorical "acts", these were sisters, daughters of Asterius, a man of senatorial rank in Rome. They were engaged to be married, the one to Armentarius, the other to Verinus, who were also Christians. But when the persecution of the Emperor Valerian fell upon the Church, these two men apostatized. The two girls refused to follow their example and fled secretly from Rome. Their flight being soon discovered, they were overtaken not far from the city and haled before the perfect, Junius Donatus. He imprisoned them with the object of making them apostatize, and when he found that they were unmoved either by arguments or threats, he ordered Rufina to be scourged; whereupon Secunda cried out, "Why do you judge my sister to honour and me to dishonour? Be pleased to beat us both together, for we declare that Christ is God." After they both had been tortured in divers ways, they were put to death by beheading. A pagan lady named Plautilla gave their bodies burial at a spot eleven miles from Rome on the Aurelian Way, and herself became a Christian from their example. The place where they lay was at that time called Silva Nigra, the Black Forest, but from these martyrs that name was changed to Silva Candida, the White Forest. A church was built over their tomb and a town grew up around it, which also was called Silva Candida, or Santa Rufina; it was made an episcopal see and became appurtenant to the cardinalate in after years. The relics of the martyrs were translated in 1154 to the Lateran basilica, near the baptistery of Constantine. The church dedicated in honour of SS. Rufina and Secunda in the City purports to be built over the site of their dwelling-house. Except their existence, their martyrdom and their early cultus nothing is certainly known of these maidens.
The text of the passio is printed in the Acta Sanctorum, July, vol. iii. See also F. Lanzoni, Le origini delle diocesi antiche d'Italia (1923), pp. 320-321, and Delehaye's CMH., p. 364.
Silence is Golden:
Many of us want to know why we do not “hear” God when we pray. Few of us shut up long enough to really listen.
Quote by S Padre Pio:
With good reason Sacred Scripture speaks of charity as the bond of perfect harmony. Charity has as its close relatives joy and peace.
Help me, O Lord
A Living Reflection of Your Mercy
A Prayer by Saint Maria Faustina
O Most Holy Trinity! As many times as I breathe, as many times as my heart beats, as many times as my blood pulsates through my body, so many thousand times do I want to glorify Your mercy. I want to be completely transformed into Your mercy and to be Your living reflection, O Lord. May the greatest of all divine attributes, that of Your unfathomable mercy, pass through my heart and soul to my neighbour. - (Diary No. 163)