In year of Our Lord 304, in Abitina, a provincial town in Roman North Africa, 49 Christians gathered together to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. These brave Christians did this despite the fact that the celebration of the Mass had been banned by Roman law for almost a year.
The priest and these Christians were discovered by the Roman authorities and found guilty. They were told that they could be set free. All they needed to do was burn some incense in honor of the Emperor and agree not celebrate the Eucharist ever again. The Roman magistrate informed them that they could have whatever personal beliefs about Jesus that they liked, but had to agree not come together for Mass on Sundays. To this warning one of the Christians responded, “without fear of any kind we have celebrated the Lord’s Supper, because it cannot be missed; that is our law.”
Still the magistrate continued, trying to use torture to extract a recantation from one of the Christians. He raged as the band of believers stood firm. The magistrate grew impatient. He had broken far more proud men through torture, but these Christians, who boasted only of their weakness, would not bend. The magistrate reminded them that he held their lives in his hands, that he had the power to kill them or let them live. To this boast, the group responded in chorus, “without the Lord’s supper, we cannot live.” These Christians preferred death to missing Mass.
And die they did. The Roman Empire executed these Christians for attending Mass. Mother Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Martyrs of Abitina on February 12.
Catholics complain with frequency that they don’t go to Mass because they don’t get anything out of it. I wonder what response these Martyrs would have to this excuse.