The Roman Martyrology was first published in 1583 by Pope Gregory XIII, who in the year before had decreed the revision of the Julian calendar that is called, after him, the Gregorian calendar. A second edition was published in the same year. The third edition, in 1584, was made obligatory wherever the Roman Rite was in use.
The main source was the Martyrology of Usuard, completed by the "Dialogues" of Pope Gregory I and the works of some of the Fathers, and for the Greek saints by the catalogue known as the Menologion of Sirlet.Its origins can be traced back to the Martyrologium Hieronymianum, which was originally based on calendars of Roman, African and Syrian provenance, but to which were gradually added names of many saints from other areas, resulting in a number of duplications, fusions of different saints into one, and other mistakes.
Very soon, in 1586 and again in 1589, revised editions were published with corrections by Caesar Baronius along with indications of the sources on which he drew, and in 1630 Pope Urban VIII issued a new edition. 1748 saw the appearance of a revised edition by Pope Benedict XIV, who personally worked on the corrections: he suppressed some names, such as those of Clement of Alexandria and Sulpicius Severus, but kept others that had been objected to, such as that of Pope Siricius. Subsequent changes until the edition of 2001 were minor, involving some corrections, but mainly the addition of the names of newly canonized saints.
The Second Vatican Council decreed: "The accounts of martyrdom or the lives of the saints are to accord with the facts of history. This required years of study, after which 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.
Use of the Martyrology in the Roman Rite
As an official list of recognised saints and beati, inclusion in the Martyrologium Romanum authorises the recognition of saints in the following ways:
- On any weekday that admits celebration of the optional memorial of a saint, the Mass and the office may, if there is a good reason, be of any saint listed in the Martyrology for that day.
- A church building may be dedicated to a saint, or a saint chosen as patron of a place.
Such commemorations in honour of a person who has only been beatified are only permitted in the diocese or religious order where the cult of that person is authorised, unless special permission is obtained from the Holy See.
Reading or chanting of the Martyrology
The entry for each date in the Martyrology is to be read on the previous day. Reading in choir is recommended, but the reading may also be done otherwise: in seminaries and similar institutes it has been traditional to read it after the main meal of the day.
If the Martyrology is read outside of the Liturgy of the Hours, as for instance in the refectory, the reading begins with the mention of the date, followed, optionally, by mention of the phase of the moon. Then the text of the Martyrology is read, ending with the versicle and response "Pretiosa in conspectu Domini – Mors Sanctorum eius" (Precious in the sight of the Lord – Is the death of his Saints). A short Scripture reading may follow, which the reader concludes with "Verbum Domini" (The word of the Lord), to which those present respond: "Deo gratias" (Thanks be to God). This in turn is followed by a prayer, for which texts are given in the Martyrology, and a blessing and dismissal.
If the Martyrology is read within the Liturgy of the Hours (normally after the concluding prayer of Lauds), the same form is used, but without the optional Scripture reading.
On certain dates of the liturgical year, the Martyrology prescribes special announcements to be made before or after the commemoration of saints:
- On Christmas Eve, a long proclamation of the birth of Christ follows the list of saints for December 25th.
- On Easter Sunday, the Martyrology not having been read during the three previous days of the Paschal Triduum, a proclamation of the Resurrection of Christ precedes the day's saints.
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