To do this, I’ve been basing the database on the Roman Martyrology. The Roman Martyrology is the Church’s official list of saints. For each day, the Martyrology lists usually about ten to twenty saints with a little phrase about where they lived, who they were or where they were martyred. Not every saint in the martyrology is a martyr. But every saint that has been officially canonized or beatified is. The process for canonization was originally set up by Pope Alexander III in 1170. Since then the process has been modified a bit, but the pope maintains the right to name saints. Before 1170, local bishops would name saints based on their lives or popular devotion.
I’ll explain the Martyrology in a bit, but first you need to know a little about how people become saints. When a holy person dies or is killed for the sake of Christ, he or she might be named a saint by the pope. There is a 5-year waiting period after the person’s death before the process can begin. Sometimes this waiting period is lifted by the pope–as in the cases of Mother Teresa and John Paul II. If people are pushing for the person to be canonized and the Church elects to begin the process, the holy person is initially called “Venerable” or “The Servant of God.” The process cannot begin until the Church does a basic verification that the holy person in question lived a holy life and was a professing Christian.
Then there is a waiting period where people across the world pray to the holy person, asking his or her intercession for various things. This is not an act of worship, but it is a prayer. That is, Catholics don’t worship saints, but they do pray to them, asking them to pray for us. It’s like asking a friend to pray for you. Ok, so if a request is granted through the intercession of the saint–usually these are medical miracles–then the “Servant of God” can be beatified. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints (part of the Roman Curia) is responsible for reviewing cases and approving miracles. The Congregation verifies the occurrence of a miracle using evidence and witnesses. Once a miracle is approved by the Congregation and the Pope, then the person is beatified. A beatification is an event, so the person is not officially “Blessed” until after the beatification event. After the event, they carry the name “Blessed” or “Bl.” for short.
But you must be thinking, so what’s a “blessed”? Is that like a junior saint? Well, in fact, you’d be correct about that. The Church permits people to pray to Blesseds and ask their intercession. Their names are entered in the Roman Martyrology and their feast days actually get celebrated by their religious order or by their local Church. But their feast days are not celebrated in the Church universal.
People continue praying to the Blessed person and if another miracle is granted, then their case or “cause” is resubmitted to the Congregation. If the miracle is approved, then the Blessed is then canonized a “Saint.” And yes, canonization is an event too, so the person isn’t officially a saint until after the event. Then they get the little “St.” in front of their name. Oh yeah, and canonizations are technically infallible pronouncements–they can’t be revoked.
So what’s the Roman Martyrology?
The Roman Martyrology is where the names of all these people go. It’s an official list. Each saint and blessed is assigned a day. Since there’s about 6,500 saints and blesseds, each day contains several saints, about 10-20 as I said above. The entries in the Martyrology are meant to be read liturgically, but few places actually practice that right now.
The current edition of the Martyrology was published in 2004. It is only in Latin for now. But since I know a little Latin, I’ve been working on translating the index and turning it into a saint database. It doesn’t have a whole ton of information about each person, but enough to organize it. I hope we get an official translation sometime soon.
Past editions of the Martyrology have often been incomplete or kind of haphazard. Fortunately, John Paul II got serious work going on a well-researched, comprehensive one and they did quite a job. The first edition came out in 2001, but it had a lot of errors and problems, so they reworked it and republished in 2004. There were previous editions in 1946 and 1962.
Now technically a “martyrology” is a list of martyrs, so a whole lot of martyrologies were floating around the early Church. Fortunately, Rome saw to it, that these lists were verified in codified, so we’re not all using different or inaccurate lists. Some of the lists are very ancient, for example, from inscriptions in the Roman catacombs.
Well, that’s the Martyrology. Oh, and if you want to buy a copy and have $150 to spare, look here at the Vatican Bookstore, yep, it’s the official one.