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Friday, June 30, 2006

Remembering the Martyrs

Today, June 30, we remember the nameless first Christian martyrs in Rome, persecuted and executed by the state. They would be persecuted on and off for the next three centuries in parts of the empire, amidst suspicion and charges of atheism (of all things) and cannibalism (for celebrating the Eucharist). St. Augustine of Hippo explains briefly why Christians ought to remember these holy ones of whom St. John had written, heroes who "washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb":

  Christians celebrate the memory of the martyrs with religious ceremony in order to arouse emulation and in order that they may be associated with their merits and helped by their prayers. But to none of the martyrs do we erect altars as we do to the God of martyrs; we erect altars at their shrines. For what bishop standing at the altars over the bodies of martyrs ever said: We offer to Peter or Paul or Cyprian? Mass is offered to God who crowned the martyrs, at the shrine of the martyrs, so that the very spot may remind us to arouse in ourselves a more fervent charity toward those whom we imitate and toward Him who gives us the power to do so.

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