Martyrologium Romanum

Feria V infra Hebdomadam VI quae superfuit post Epiphaniam IV. Novembris
Commemoratio infra octavam: S. Edmundi, Regis et Confessoris


allsaintsThe “Roman Martyrology” is an official list of recognised saints and beati (those called “blessed”), it provides an extensive but not exhaustive list of the saints recognized by the Church. After a recent conversation with a parishioner, and as a way to encourage myself to post here more regularly and compliment my other blog “Carissimi“, I shall endeavour to facilitate my suggestion preached last weekend of assisting in the inculcation of devotion and appreciation of the saints, by reproducing daily excerpts from the Martyrology.

The entry for each date in the Martyrology is usually read during the Office of Prime on the previous day. The Martyrology was read on the day before because Prime, the hour at which it was read, was the last hour said in choir before going to the day’s work – Terce, Sext and None being said, often by memory, as the monks worked. Every feast began at Vespers of the preceding day (this changed fro Romans in 1960 with Bl. John XXIII’s Rubricarum Instructum). Thus, it was necessary to know the next day’s celebration in the morning, so when the monks returned to choir for Vespers, they were prepared for the proper feast. Often in seminaries, religious houses and similar institutes it has been traditional to read it in the refectory after the main meal of the day. Reading of the Martyrology is completely omitted on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday where our attention is drawn wholly to the passion of Christ. I shall here produce it “on the day” and try to do so for the morning!

In my daily recitation of the Breviary, I particularly love reading the excerpt from the Martyrology and the lections in Mattins about the day’s Saint(s). Although the Martyrology may only give brief details of those whom the Church regards as particularly blessed and commemorates on the day, the lections at Mattins are often excerpts from the life of the saint, from their “Vita” (life) or “acta” (acts) i.e. a biography or even their writings particularly if a “Doctor of the Church”.  Particularly moving sometimes can be the account of their “passio” (passion) if a martyr, describing how they gave their life for Christ.

This tradition comes to us from the age of the Apostles and the earliest times of the Church, St Luke’s book of “Acts” in the New Testament being the first example, where he records the actions of the Apostles and important figures and events in the life of the first century Church at Jerusalem. Later writers and commentators followed suit similarly, recording the oral tradition of the testimonies of the early saints and later developing the “martyrolgies” or collections of the lives of the saints for prosperity. The term “martyrology” of course stemming from the witness initially of the martyrs – in the first three centuries of the Church’s life, saints were more often than not, martyrs.

The Early Church under persecution, having originally met for worship in the homes of local members, was driven to seek the protection of the cemeteries and in some places, the catacombs – essentially the burial places around their towns/cities. Due to a long existing “fear” of the dead and places associated with them(!) Christians could meet almost without interruption from their pagan persecutors who were too fearful to enter the places of the dead in the hours of darkness. The site of the Vatican is one such place, the great basilica of St Peter being built over the catacombs.

As the Persecutions became more deadly and church members were being martyred for their faith, the importance for Christians of gathering together in the places where the mortal remains of their brothers and sisters in the faith were kept became acutely poignant, particularly in connection to the offering of the Holy Mysteries wherein the remembrance of the Passion and Death of Our Lord were celebrated and His Body and Blood shared. Thus, as the liturgical life of the Church developed, the remembrance of the martyrs and confessors at Mass and in the “Prayer of the Church” became a logical extension of this memory of the Church.

For the Early Church to be a martyr was something some Christians “looked forward to” in the sense that they were so confident in their faith and the promise of eternal life offered to them in the Gospel, that the possibility to spill their blood in defence of the religion of He who spilt His Blood for the world was something not undesired. It became quite something then to the Early Christians to meet in the tombs surrounded by the mortal remains of their forbears in the Faith and to offer the Holy Sacrifice in “memory of Me”.

Thus later, when the Church was able to grow and develop during those times without persecutions and worship resumed to at first homes (Domus Ecclesiae) and then later Churches and more permanent and dedicated places of worship, the remembrance of the martyrs and their obvious connection to the Sacrifice of the Mass, meant that the remains of those of particular memory were transferred from the burial places to be located in these new places of worship and specifically under the Altars upon which the Blood of the Saviour of the World was offered. The connection in the Church’s heart, let alone the remembrance of those who had died for her Faith, had been inextricably linked with the most solemn offering of her worship and expression of community, the holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Martyrology generally begins with the announcement of the calends. This simply provides the date, which in the Latin is given in the old Roman format, followed by the current phase of the moon.  After the mention of any movable feast which happens to fall on this day, there then follows the reading of the saints who either died or who are for some other reason commemorated on this anniversary.   Each entry generally provides the name and type of saint, information on the location where the saint died, and if a martyr, the name of the persecutor, a description of the tortures, and the method of execution.  Often other information is added, thus making the Martyrology  an invaluable reference for those interested in the lives of the saints in addition to those celebrated in the Universal Kalendar.  The Church recognizes that the Martyrology is not an exhaustive compilation of the entire Church Triumphant (of those in Heaven), and so the daily reading always concludes with the words “Et álibi aliórum plurimórum sanctórum Mártyrum et Confessórum, atque sanctárum Vírginum”  (And elsewhere in divers places, many other holy martyrs, confessors, and holy virgins) with the response “Deo gratias”.

We can see in the Martyrology the growing and continuing witness of the Church through the ages as we note how some saints, though mentioned on any given day are perhaps no longer liturgically commemorated i.e. there is no “collect” or prayer for them; or there is but only in the Office and not at Mass etc. This simply demonstrates how later saints have come into greater prominence over time as the Church has added to the number of the elect. There was a “purge” after the Second Vatican Council and a directive that, “The accounts of martyrdom or the lives of the saints are to accord with the facts of history.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 92 c). A fully revised edition of the Roman Martyrology was issued in 2001, followed in 2005 by a revision that corrected some typographical errors in the 2001 edition and added 117 people canonized or beatified between 2001 and 2004, as well as many more ancient saints not included in the previous edition. “The updated Martyrology contains 7,000 saints and blesseds currently venerated by the Church, and whose cult is officially recognized and proposed to the faithful as models worthy of imitation.” (Adoremus Bulletin, February 2005)

The “new” Martyrologium Romanum is not yet available – as far as I can find – in English, but as we Old Roman Catholics follow the older Kalendar (Calendar) for our Offices I shall post from the older Martyrology which will accord generally with the publication of the Mass on Carissimi. I should point out, of course, that naturally the Masses published on Carissimifollow the 1570 Universal Kalendar with British and sometimes European additions or differences. Such regional variations have always been a part of the liturgical life of the Church, reflecting for example devotion to the regional saints by the local churches. Differences between the traditional Kalendar and the contemporary Calendar often reflect some of the modern scholarship that contributed to the 2001 revision referred to above, where perhaps a saint’s day has been changed from their “day of translation” (movement of relics) back to their “heavenly nativity” (earthly passing), or even where they have been removed from commemoration and been replaced with a later or contemporary saint etc.

God is calling ever more men and women to become saints...
God is calling ever more men and women to become saints…

The life of the Church has clearly never been “static” as God has continued to call more men and women throughout the centuries to give witness to their faith in Christ through trial, temptation or even martyrdom. Even since the publication of the new Martyrology in 2004/5 further men and women have been declared saints and blessed and of course, a growing number of contemporary martyrs might also be added to that throng of the “saints in light”. Only recently the charity “Open Doors” notified its members by email that in the city of Sadad in Syria, two mass graves of massacred Christians were recently discovered when the Syrian army reclaimed the city from militant Islamist rebels who had occupied it in October. Anybody watching the developments in the Middle East should be aware of the increasing number of Christians, on a daily basis and in large numbers, who are losing their lives for their faith in Christ. Its as well to remember and spare a prayer for our suffering brothers and sisters in the faith today, whilst we remember those of yesteryear in our daily excerpts from the Martyrology…

Omnes Sancti et Beati, ora pro nobis.

 ‡Jerome OSJV

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