A martyrology is a collection of names of martyrs which sometimes includes a short biography or brief history of those who were martyred.
Liturgical martyrologies are lists of martyrs read before praying the Divine Office and usually of the saints a particular religious order or community. The Roman Martyrology is the official collection of the martyrs of the Catholic Church.
First issued in 1584 by Pope Gregory XIII and then revised by Pope Benedict XIV in 1748, it contains the accounts of the suffering and martyrdom of individual saints. The official Roman martyrology is composed from smaller lists that existed centuries before and also were parts of liturgical calendars.
The most famous contribution came from the Hieronymain Martyrology of the seventh century. It contained the martyrology of the Churches of the East, the local martyrology of the Church of Rome, and a general martyrology of Africa. Historical martyrology is another resource; these sources are known for their short histories of saints. The best-known contributor is Bede of the eighth century. Another historical martyrology is Martyrologium Hieronymianum, alleged to have been written by Saint Jerome in the fourth century but believed to have actually been written in the sixth century.
Martyrs are as important to us now as they have been to the Church in every age. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the future Church. In the early Church, especially in Rome, it was common for the faithful to meet on the tomb of a martyr, and a priest would offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. For years, the shape of the tomb became a style of the shape of the altar in churches.
Every year, the persecuted faithful in Rome would gather for Mass. This annual gathering became part of the liturgical calendar. In fact, on the universal calendar today, many Roman martyrs are still celebrated. Many of these names are included in the Roman Canon of the Mass. They include John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicitas, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, and Anastasia. Veneration of the martyrs’ relics also became popular during this time. A first-class relic is part of the bone or tissue. A second-class relic is an article of clothing or some other article used by a saint. Finally, a third-class relic is any object that has touched a first-class relic.
Martyrs are also included in the beautiful Litany of Saints, a prayer said not only in private devotions, but also during the Sacrament of Holy Orders, Baptism, Confirmation, and at the Easter Vigil. Revisions to the Roman Martyrology are reserved for the Roman Curia.
Every Catholic is advised to read about the martyrs because knowing one’s past can inspire one to be a better Catholic and also give encouragement in the future when facing trials and tribulations.