Thursday, January 6, 2011

Why you should be reading the Roman Martyrology

January 7th, The bringing back of the Child Jesus from Egypt
Though St. Raymond of Pennafort died on January 6th, his feast is celebrated today (though, in years past it was kept on January 23rd) – the reason for this move, of course, is that January 6th is the feast of the Epiphany, at least in any country where the Bishops recall what the twelve days of Christmas are all about.
As I look in my old Roman Martyrology, I see that St. Lucian, a priest of the Church of Antioch, died today in Nicomedia, having suffered under Maximian Galerius. This is the same Lucian whom St. John Chrysostom praised. Moreover, at Antioch, the deacon St. Clerus who was tortured seven times and suffered long in prison, was beheaded on this day and so consummated his martyrdom. Of course, we recall the martyrs Felix and Januarius, who gave up the ghost in Heraclea. This is the celestial birthday of both St. Julian, martyr and also, in Denmark, St. Canute who was both a king and martyr. Then there are the bishops Crispin, who died in Pavia, and, in Dacia, Nicetas – both holy confessors. Also, there is the holy monk Theodore, who, in Egypt, flourished in holiness in the time of Constantine the Great, and of whom St. Athanasius makes mention in his life of St. Antony. And elsewhere many other holy martyrs, confessors and holy virgins.
Because I have read my Martyrology, I am able to pray to all these holy saints of God today. What is more, I am inspired by the examples of these martyrs and confessors – they help me to recognize that I have only just begun to give myself over to the Lord.
Additionally, I have found the topic of my morning meditation – today, Mother Church commemorates the bringing back of the Child Jesus from Egypt.

Biblical Figures in the Roman Martyrology
By carefully paying attention to the Roman Calendar, we can easily discover the feast days of many New Testament saints; but what about the great men and women of the Old Testament? Does the Church recall David or Abraham with particular devotion?
Indeed, the Church does commemorate many of the “Old Testament saints,” here are the feast days (supposed days of death) of just a few:
Jeremiah, prophet and martyr, in Egypt – May 1st.
Elisha, prophet, in Samaria, June 14th.
Isaiah, prophet and martyr, in Jerusalem – July 6th.
Elijah, prophet, on Mount Carmel – July 20th.
Daniel, prophet, at Babylon – July 21st.
Samuel, prophet, in Judea – August 20th.
Moses, lawgiver and prophet, on Mount Nebo, September 4th.
Abraham, patriarch – October 9th. (on this day also, Denis the Areopagite, bishop and martyr, at Paris)
David, king and prophet, at Jerusalem – December 29th.
The witness of the saints: December 25th, Feast of the Nativity of the Lord
More than simply reminding us of the great heroes of the faith who have gone before us, the Roman Martyrology often contains something which spurs us on to imitate the virtues and zeal of these saints. A good example of such encouraging words can be found in the text for December 25th, Christmas day.
After the Christmas proclamation of “The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the Flesh,” the Church calls our attention to the memories of several saints who died on Christmas day – St. Anastasia (on the island of Palmaria), St. Peter Nolasco (at Barcelona), St. Eugenia (in Rome), and finally many thousands of holy martyrs (at Nicomedia).  It is the record of this last group which I will cite:
“At Nicomedia, the passion of many thousands of holy martyrs, assembled for divine service on Christ’s birthday. The Emperor Diocletian order the doors of the church to be shut and fire to be prepared all around it, and a tripod of incense to be set before the door, and that a herald should cry in a loud voice that they who desired to escape the fire should come forth outside and offer incense to Jove. All with one voice declared that they would gladly die for Christ’s sake, and were consumed by the fire which had been kindled, and so merited to be born in heaven on that very day whereon Christ for the world’s salvation deigned to be born on earth.”
The word martyr means “witness” – the Roman Martyrology has proven through the ages to be a most profound (yet simple) daily source of meditation on the lives of these great witnesses, the saints of our Church.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Reginaldus. Where can we find a reliable copy- are there various versions? Is there an old version and a new one? Does the new one abide by any rules of interpretation that differ from an older version...? Thanks much.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (4:59pm),
You can click on the hyperlink in the text to get to a site where you can buy an English copy of the old Roman Martyrology.

Personally, I prefer the pre-Vatican II version -- but the new Martyrology is also good. The new one is a bit more sceptical about certain "legends" and "miracles" ... personally, I figure that a couple legends never really hurt anyone; so I like the old Martyrology better.

Also, it should be noted that the calendar of feast days has changed a lot in the past 40 years ... these changes are reflected in the new Martyrology. Personally, I disagree with most of these changes (as did Cardinal Ratzinger), so this is another reason why I prefer the old Martyrlogy.

In any case, either the old or the new martyrology would be a worth-while investment.


Wild Bill said...

Dear Fr. Reginaldus,

The story of the martyrs of Nicomedia is a wonderful encouragement - they chose to become incense offered to the True God rather than to apostatize.

I had to laugh at your remark that "a couple legends never hurt anyone" because it interrupted my own thought doubting that "many thousands" might have fitted in a church building of that time. Our Catholic faith is a truly wondrous thing.

Papa Puttss said...

Wherever you got the inspiration to bring the Martyrology out of the woodwork I'll never guess. Pure genius! I don't miss much of anything from 50 or so years back, but the Martyrology, legends and all, is a rare treasure.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Paul Dion and Wild Bill, I'm very happy to hear that the stories (both the strictly historical and the more legendary) of the Martyrology are still being received by some in the Church today!
Personally, I begin every day with a reading from the Martyrology, a short prayer to those saints mentioned, and a firm intention to follow the example of these holy martyrs, virgins, confessors, etc..

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