The word "martyr" comes from the Greek for "witness" and originally the martyrologies were just that, catalogues of the martyrs of a particular region. However, despite the name, it is not only "martyrs" (in the sense we understand it; those who died for Christ) who are found within martyrologies. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that early on bishops were included as well and eventually, this would expand further to include other saints.
Speaking of a fourth century local Roman version, it notes:We still possess the martyrology, or ferial, of the Roman Church of the middle of the fourth century, comprising two distinct lists, the "Depositio martyrum" and the "Depositio episcoporum", lists which are elsewhere most frequently found united....The temptation might be to think of a martyrology as simply a variant upon Butler's Lives of the Saints, but there is an important difference: while Butler's Lives of the Saints is a devotional book, the martyrology is a liturgical book.
In the ancient form of the breviary of the Roman rite, the readings of the martyrology occur in conjunction with the Office of Prime. (As an aside, this hour was suppressed in the breviary reforms which followed after the Second Vatican Council.) In the modern form of breviary, as of yet I can find no definite answer as to whether it has a new place in that context. That said, one place one will hear of the martyrology appearing in the modern liturgical context is Midnight Mass where a part of the martyrology might be sung -- a stirring custom that can be witnessed at St. Peter's Basilica, Rome each Christmas.
Saturday, March 01, 2008
~from TNLM by Shawn Tribe.