Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Martyrologium Americanum: "This cause is beautiful... most beautiful"

NLM guest article by Claudio Salvucci

When the great American Catholic historian John Gilmary Shea published his "Pictorial Lives of the Saints" in 1889, he appended to it a "Lives of the American Saints Recently Placed in the Proper for the United States." This section, interpreting "America" as widely as possible, had a grand total of three saints in it: one from Mexico and two from South America.

A move was already afoot though for examples of heroic sanctity closer to home. John O'Kane Murray's 1882 book "Lives of the Catholic Heroes and Heroines of America" presented the nation with a mix of lay Catholic notables like Columbus, members of the hierarchy, and missionaries and martyrs. In 1884, the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore discussed and then petitioned Pope Leo XIII for the Causes of the North American Martyrs and Kateri Tekakwitha. Two years later the Seventh Provincial Council of Quebec submitted a similar petition on behalf of Canada.

A "Martyrologium Americanum" appeared in the American Catholic Researches first in 1906, and then again with revisions and corrections in 1907. A similar list appeared under the entry "Catholic Indian Missions of the United States" in volume 10 of the Catholic Encyclopedia, published in 1911. These were less martyrologies in the true sense, however, than chronological lists of priests who perished in their mission fields.

When Father F. G. Holweck of St. Louis, Mo. published his own American Martyrology in the Catholic Historical Review for 1921, his contribution marked an important step forward. Holweck included not only missionary priests but all martyrs and Servants of God, and he gave for each name a short biographical sketch in the style of the Roman Martyrology. More importantly, however, he abandoned the chronological approach and followed the order of the calendar year, listing the martyrs and confessors by dates of death when known. His dates anticipate modern calendars quite well, as the following examples demonstrate:

January 4: Elizabeth Ann Seton
January 5: John Nepomucene Neumann
April 17: Catherine Tekakwitha*
August 28: Junipero Serra§
September 23: René Goupil†
October 18: Isaac Jogues†
October 18: Phiippine Rose Duchesne‡

The American Martyrology received indirect ecclesiastical sanction in 1941 when the Commission for the Cause of Canonization of the Martyrs of the United States, headed by Bishop John Mark Gannon of Erie, forwarded to the Sacred Congregation of Rites a meticulously assembled document of 116 names. Though this particular project seems to have been indefinitely stalled by World War II, Pope Pius XII told Bishop Gannon "this cause is beautiful...most beautiful."

Pius XII's 'beautiful cause' now goes forward piecemeal -- some of the 116 names have made it to the altar, others have had their causes opened at the diocesan level, but others are still almost unknown to American Catholics. All the more then, it is time to re-evaluate Fr. Holweck's work of assembling them in one place as not only a historic contribution but devotional one as well.

Unlike its Roman archetype, the American Martyrology is not an official liturgical book but it makes a wonderful private devotional text and a local supplement to the national calendar. It involves us directly in the canonization process and binds us more tightly to the communion of saints as we promote devotion to these souls and pray for their intercession on All Saints Day, their dates of death, and throughout the year.

This kind of reinforcement is absolutely vital to bring Pius XII's beautiful cause to reality because the American martyrs cannot be officially recognized without devotion, and there can be no devotion if the martyrs are not known. To that end, the American martyrology is perhaps best suited for introducing their stories to our countrymen, as here we can experience them not as interesting historical footnotes that are soon forgotten but as a regular part of a yearly devotional cycle where, God willing, they will someday join St. Kateri in the public liturgy.

Claudio R. Salvucci is the author of The Roman Rite in the Algonquian and Iroquoian Missions (2008). He has most recently edited Kateri Tekakwitha: the Iroquois Saint, now available from Arx Publishing.

* St. Kateri is honored in April 17th in Canada. Her feast was moved to July 14 in the U.S. to avoid its common conflict with Holy Week.
§ Serra is honored on August 28th in Mexico; the U.S. now honors him on July 1.
The United States honors all the North American martyrs on Oct. 18. Goupil's death—actually Sept. 29—is probably the source of the Sept. 26th date in Canada and the pre-1970 Missals, moved earlier because of the feast of St. Michael on the 29th.
A transcription error; Duchesne died Nov. 18, which is her feast day.

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