The Roman Martyrology

Martyrologium Romanum
(Roman Martyrology)
Many Catholics are familiar with the various editions of Butler’s Lives of the Saints and through these works have come to know and love a variety of holy and inspiring people.  Have you even wondered, though, what source does Butler’s and many other saint authors draw from?  Many of these saint compilations select their saints from a book called the Roman Martyrology.  The Roman Martyrology, though not claimed to be a comprehensive collection of saints, is frequently considered to be somewhat of the go-to source. 

A Little Bit of Background
The background of the Roman Martyrology is long and complex.  However, its origins can be traced back to the very early days of Christianity.  For about the first 300 years of Christendom, it was often very risky to call yourself a follower of Christ.  There were large chunks of time during those 300 years that it was illegal to be Christian and countless were killed, often brutally, for their faith. 

Some early Christians who were spared from martyrdom were deeply impressed with the unfathomable bravery of those who had lost their lives in the name of Christ.  So, they felt an inspiration to document the names of those they knew of who were martyred, as a way to remember and share with others some wonderful examples of Christian courage.  In some cases, the recorder would include not only martyrs, but people who had lived truly holy and virtuous lives, Saint John the Evangelist being one example.

Various Collections of Saints
Over time, these lists (sometimes referred to as “martyrologies”) were added to and clusters of them from different regions were combined.  Just a few of the ancient martyr/saint collections that came about include:

·        Depositio Martyrum

·        Calendar of Carthage

·        Hieronymian Martyrology

·        Martyrology of Africa

·        Bede’s Ecclesiastical History

·        Martyrology of Usuard

Compiling the Roman Martyrology
It wasn’t until the 1500s, under the leadership of Pope Gregory XIII that a special list/calendar/book of saints for the whole church was created.  The most trusted sources were examined, studied, and reorganized into a collection which became known as the Martyrologium Romanum (Latin for Roman Martyrology).  Since then, great efforts have been made to keep the Roman Martyrology accurate and updated.   
Is the Roman Martyrology All-Inclusive?
There are no claims that the Romany Martyrology contains the names of all saints in heaven., for a few reasons:

Not every saint who has lived has had someone to write down his or her story.  Some good holy people die without the advantage of having someone left on earth able to promote their cause.

Eastern Catholic Churches recognize additional saints.  For example, Saint Susanna (Luke 8:3) is listed in the Byzantine Calendar.

New possible saints are constantly examined and considered for sainthood, and their possible inclusion must wait for times when the Roman Martyrology is updated.

Other collections of saints are still studied, added onto, and offered some recognition.  Some examples are: Acta Sanctorum and the Typikon.

Format of the Roman Martyrology  
The Roman Martyrology is set up according the calendar year.  For each day of the year, the book presents a list of approximately 15 saints with a brief description on each saint.   In some religious communities, the Roman Martyrology entries of the day are read out loud.
So, although the Roman Martyrology does not offer a complete list of saints, it does offer a very well researched and extensive list of saints.  And learning about the lives of these saints can help countless Christians grow in devotion to the Lord.
Published at Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Citta del Vaticano

Bede, the Venerable; Henderson, Jefferey, ed., Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation.  Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006.

Benedict XIV, augmented and corrected by; Gibbons, J. Card., imprimatur.  The Roman Martyrology Published by Order of Gregory XIII. New York: John Murphy and Co. Publishers, 1897.

Dwyer, John C.  Church History: Twenty Centuries of Catholic Christianity.  Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1985.

Eusebius, (translated by C.F. Cruse).  Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History.   Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004.

Johnson, Rev. George; Hannan, Rev. Jerome; Dominica, Sr. M.  The Story of the Church:  Her Founding, Mission and Progress.  Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, 1980.

Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal, Imprimi Potest.   Catechism of the Catholic Church.  New York: Doubleday, 1995.

Trigilio, Rev. John  Jr. and Kenneth Brighenti, Rev.  Catholicism for Dummies.  Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2003.

Walsh, Michael, ed.: Butler’s Lives of the Saints.  San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.

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