Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

From the March AD 2000
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

    Question: I read that the Vatican is going to issue a "martyrology" listing non-Catholic saints. How can this be, and what exactly is a "martyrology"?

    Answer: A martyrology is a list of the martyrs and other saints venerated by the Church in a particular region or religious order. It is organized by the day of the year, and also includes the feasts of our Lord and Lady when they occur. Modern martyrologies include the feasts of other saints, non-martyrs who lived lives of conspicuous holiness. The Roman Martyrology includes the saints of the Universal Church (i.e. of the Catholic Church throughout the world). Martyrologies tend to list many more saints than one finds in a missal or breviary on the corresponding days, and may include a brief note about the saints listed. No martyrology claims to be complete, for some saints are known only by God, and others have been eclipsed by the shadows of time. The Roman Martyrology is a liturgical book in that its daily entry is read at the Office of Prime when the hour is prayed in common (e.g. in a monastery or cathedral church).

    While inclusion in a martyrology is not an infallible act of the Church in the same way that canonization of individual saints is, the martyrology's purpose is to provide a guide to the faithful so that they may know the identities of the saints for public and private veneration and emulation. The publication of a martyrology, therefore, strongly implies that it is a list of the saints in heaven, at least humanly accurate, though very probably incomplete.

    But the word "martyr," as it is used in many people's speech, doesn't always connote sanctity. We admire the courage of those who face death in the line of duty; policemen, firemen, soldiers, and so on -- but rarely think of them as martyrs in the sense of dying for the Faith. Human beings have always admired the heroism of those who die for what they passionately believe in, but recognize that such heroism may be misplaced -- that the passionate beliefs may be erroneous or even evil -- and that such death is not always redemptive from sin. In this sense, there can be "Communist martyrs," and "Nazi martyrs," "martyrs" for science and art, and "martyrs" who are killed while doing something Christian and good while having no repentance or intent to stop committing a myriad of sinful actions. The cook at the soup kitchen, feeding the poor in a laudably Christian manner, can hardly be called a saint if he takes a bullet while simultaneously stirring the soup and planning how his evening will consist of beating his children, kicking the dog, and cheating on his wife.

    The perfect charity of giving one's life as a witness to the teachings of Christ might take the place of Baptism or Penance if the witness is unequivocal, but seems much less likely in the case of those who witness to only part of Christ's truth, or who lack contrition for their sins. According to Donald Attwater, Pope Benedict XIV held that a heretic or schismatic might be a martyr coram Deo (in the eyes of God), but not coram Ecclesia (in the eyes of the Church).8 The church would be derelict in its sacred duty if it were to hold such a "half-believer" up for the veneration and emulation of the faithful.

    A "Common Martyrology" would include "saints" put to death for heresy -- some by Catholics and some by Protestants -- and, presumably, still considered serious sinners by one group or the other! The faithful of both groups would be called upon to emulate behavior contrary to their doctrinal positions. Such a martyrology is an idea about as fatuous as getting all of the various kinds of Christians together to jointly evangelize non-believers9 -- such a mix of Christians would agree on very little to preach to the non-believers, and would probably spend more time trying to evangelize each other.


1. Donald Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary, s.v."Martyrdom."

2. His Holiness John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 141 in the American edition.


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