Friday, June 27, 2008

Martyrs of Rome

Spending time in Rome seems to be the sort of thing which naturally lends itself to a keener sense of appreciation and connection to the early Christian martyrs. The remnants of pagan Imperial Rome are all about you and church after Roman church are filled with references, memorials and -- of course -- relics of these holy men and women. If it doesn't seem too contradictory (and with the eyes of Faith it is not) it is here that the martyrs particularly come to life, because it was there that so many came to their death for the sake of Christ.

For that reason, the upcoming June 30th feast day (in the Pauline calendar) for the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church comes with a particular pertinence for me having just returned from the Eternal City.

These things again put me to mind of the Martyrlogium Romanum, a liturgical book which recounts the names of the martyrs, their place of death and in a number of cases, the circumstances of their death. Traditionally this was adjoined to the office of Prime which was removed from the modern breviary, but still exists in the 1962 Roman Breviary. As well, the martyrology is sometimes read from in the refectory of religious houses while the meals are taken in silence.

Reading from the Martryology is a brief, non-laborious exercise and would be easy to pick up as a part of one's daily spiritual reading, or as a part of one's family's "domestic church" which seeks to tie into the liturgical life of the Church. It seems to me that we would do well to recount their names; to learn of them; to meditate upon their sacrifices and to ask the intercession of these early witnesses who were so evidently revered in first millennium Christianity -- as is particularly evidenced in the art of early Roman churches.

(A procession of martyrs depicted in mosaic on the walls of a Ravenna church)

For those interested in this idea, you can pick up an English language edition of the Roman Martyrology for only $32.00 from Preserving Christian Publications.

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