I always think about the days right after Christmas: the feast of the first martyr, St. Stephen, stoned to death by the Jews; the feast of St. John the Apostle, who, though he did not die a martyr, was submerged in a cauldron of boiling oil and miraculously delivered from it; the feast of the Holy Innocents, brutally murdered by command of King Herod; then, on the 29th, the feast of the exemplary bishop St. Thomas Becket, who, for defending the liberty of the Church and the requirements of justice, was murdered at Vespers by soldiers sent from the king. Soon January 1st will come, which the old calendar, without the new calendar’s puritanical squeamishness, celebrates as the Circumcision of Christ, the day when He first shed His blood in anticipation of the sacrifice on the Cross that would empty His veins of life.
What a strange way we Catholics have of celebrating the octave of Christmas! And yet, it makes sense for those who ponder the Gospel. When the Light comes into the world, it collides with the darkness, as St. John reminds us at the end of every Mass in his sublime Prologue. The darkness repels the Light and savagely fights against it. But it cannot finally win. The light is too strong—an irrepressible fire that always finds a way to emerge and consume the victims of love, the objects of God’s predilection, while it also consumes the reprobate like the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar.
The situation in the Church is grave, no doubt about it. Words cannot do justice to how grave it is. At a time like this, we need heroic examples and powerful intercessors more than more arguments. We already know what is right, good, holy, worth fighting for and dying for. We already know that our ecclesiastical enemies are Modernist, Marxist, Masonic ideologues, bloodthirsty wolves, lavender sepulchres, blackmailers and blackmailed, who care nothing for the Faith, the faithful, tradition, or God’s glory. Like the fools described in the Psalms, they do not believe God is watching them and will condemn them one day for their wickedness.
The one thing we must never forget is that we have allies in heaven—friends, brothers, intercessors, interveners. Whichever saints we choose to invoke, let us invoke them day after day, imploring their help in this crisis.
As long-time readers know, I’ve been a devotee of the liturgical book called the Roman Martyrology for years. The entries, read after Prime, never cease to inspire me. They remind me that thousands of men and women like you and me have fought the good fight, have run the course of their vocations, have confronted evils without flinching, have surmounted some of the most horrible torments ever devised by the cruelty of men and demons.
There are many kinds of suffering—physical, psychological, spiritual. The saints experienced them all and triumphed by the grace of God. So can we. There are enemies outside and within the Church who will inflict that suffering on us, and who will do it with the glee of the first tormentors of Christianity. God permits it to test and strengthen our fidelity, to share His power and victory with our weakness and unworthiness.
What follows is a litany of saints drawn from the traditional Martyrology who were killed while either offering the Mass or assisting at it. Let us invoke their prayers as we see on all sides priests who are “killed” by being canceled out unjustly or forbidden access to the traditional Mass, laity who are “killed” by having their participation in the awesome rites of Catholic tradition snuffed out, thinned out, marginalized, ghettoized. The Lord is allowing us to taste, dryly and interiorly, something of the suffering these men and women endured outwardly and bloodily. We can relate to them, and they can help us. (A PDF of this Litany can be downloaded here).
Litany of Saints Killed While Offering or Assisting
at the Sacred Liturgy
(for private use)
Lord, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us. Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Ghost, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, pray for us.
Holy Virgin of virgins, pray for us.
Ye Alexandrians slain in church in January by Arians, pray for us.
Ye Alexandrians martyred on Good Friday by Arians and heathens, pray for us.
Ye Alexandrians killed by Arians in the church of St. Theonas, pray for us.
Ye Africans, killed on Easter Day under King Genseric, pray for us.
Ye thousands of Nicomedian martyrs, burned alive in church on Christmas, pray for us.
Ye martyrs of Carthage burned up in the oven as the “White Mass,” pray for us.
African lector, pierced through the throat by an arrow while chanting Alleluia, pray for us.
Primus and Donatus, deacons slain by the Donatists while guarding an altar, pray for us.
Matrona, secret worshiper of Christ against the will of her mistress, pray for us.
Aureus, Justina, and companions, slain in church by the devastating Huns, pray for us.
Stephen I, intrepid and immovable in the Holy Sacrifice, beheaded at the altar, pray for us.
Autonomus, slain by angry heathen at the altar while celebrating the Mysteries, pray for us.
Benedict, John, Matthew, Isaac, and Christian, killed by robbers during liturgy, pray for us.
Romanus, killed for exhorting Christians to oppose pagans damaging their church, pray for us.
Philemon and Apphias, captured in a church while others fled the heathen, pray for us.
Diodorus, Marian, and companions, walled up in an oratory while at Mass, pray for us.
Polychronius, assaulted by Arians whilst offering Mass at the altar, pray for us.
Thomas of Canterbury, defender of justice and ecclesiastical immunity, pray for us.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
V. Though in the sight of men they suffered torments, God hath tried them:
R. As gold in the furnace He hath proved them, and as burnt offerings He hath received them.
Let us pray. Hearken, O Lord, to our supplication, which we offer in remembrance of Thy saints who, by Thy grace, overcame the torments inflicted by Thine enemies: that we who trust not in our own righteousness may be helped by the merits and intercession of those who have been pleasing to Thee. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God world without end. Amen.
Sources in the Roman Martyrology
January 28. At Alexandria, the passion of several holy martyrs, who on this day were slain in different ways by the party of Syrianus, the Arian leader, while they were assembled in the church.
February 9. In Africa in the village of Lamelum, the holy martyrs Primus and Donatus, Deacons, who were slain by the Donatists while they guarded an altar in the church.
March 15. At Thessalonica, St Matrona, the servant of a certain Jewess who in secret worshipped Christ, and went daily to the church for secret prayer. She was discovered by her mistress, and tormented in many ways: and at last beaten to death with stout rods, she rendered up to God her pure spirit, in the confession of Christ.
March 21. At Alexandria, commemoration of the holy martyrs who were slain on Good Friday under the Emperor Constantius and the Prefect Philagrius, when the Arians and heathens invaded the churches.
April 5. In Africa, the passion of the holy martyrs who, in the persecution of Genseric, the Arian king, were slain in the church on Easter Day; and among them a lector, who, while he was singing the Alleluia in the pulpit, was pierced through the throat by an arrow.
May 13. At Alexandria, the commemoration of many holy martyrs, who were slain by the Arians in the church of St Theonas for the Catholic faith.
June 16. At Mainz, the passion of SS. Aureus (Bishop) and Justina, his sister, and other martyrs, who were slain as they were worshipping in church by the Huns, who were then devastating Germany.
August 2. At Rome, in the cemetery of Callistus, the birthday of St Stephen I, Pope, Martyr, who in the persecution of Valerian, when soldiers came to take him while he was celebrating Mass, continued to the end before the Altar the mysteries he had begun, intrepid and unmovable, and was beheaded where he stood.
August 24. At Carthage, 300 holy martyrs in the time of Valerian and Gallienus. The governor, among other torments, ordered a furnace to be heated, and coals and incense to be made ready in his presence, and said to them: “Choose one of these two things: either offer incense to Jupiter upon these coals, or be cast into the oven”; but, armed with faith, and confessing Christ to be the Son of God, with a rapid movement they cast themselves into the fire, and were reduced to dust amid the smoke of the furnace, and so that white-robed army of the Blessed merited to be called the “White Mass.”
September 12. In Bithynia, St Autonomus, Bishop and Martyr, who came thither from Italy to escape the persecution of Diocletian: and after he had converted very many souls to the faith, he was slain by the angry heathen at the altar while celebrating the holy Mysteries, and so became himself a victim of Christ.
November 12. Near Casimir in Poland, the holy hermits and martyrs Benedict, John, Matthew, Isaac and Christian. While celebrating the divine service they were cruelly attacked by robbers and slain by the sword.
November 18. At Antioch, the birthday of St Romanus, Martyr, who in the reign of the Emperor Galerius, when the prefect Asclepiades broke into the church and attempted completely to destroy it, exhorted the rest of the Christians to oppose him. And so after severe torments his tongue was cut out (but even without it he spoke praise of God) and then he was strangled in prison, and crowned by an illustrious martyrdom. Before him there suffered also a young boy named Barula, who, being asked by the same prefect whether it were better to worship one God or many, replied that we must needs believe in the one God whom the Christians worship. Wherefore he was beaten and ordered to be beheaded.
November 22. At Colosse in Phrygia, SS. Philemon and Apphias, disciples of St Paul; in the reign of the Emperor Nero, when the heathen burst into the church on the feast of Diana and others fled, they were captured.
December 1. At Rome, the holy martyrs Diodorus, a Priest, and Marian, a Deacon, with many others. While they were celebrating the birthdays of the Martyrs in the Catacombs, the persecutors, by order of the Emperor Numerian, walled up the door of the oratory and piled up a great mass of stones against it, and in this wise they merited the glory of martyrdom.
December 6. On the same day, St Polychronius, a Priest, who was surprised and slain by the Arians whilst he was offering Mass at the altar, in the reign of the Emperor Constantius.
December 25. At Nicomedia, the passion of many thousands of holy martyrs, assembled for divine service on Christ’s birthday. The Emperor Diocletian ordered the doors of the church to be shut and fire to be prepared all around it, and a tripod of incense to be set before the door, and that a herald should cry in a loud voice that they who desired to escape the fire should come forth outside and offer incense to Jove. All with one voice declared that they would gladly die for Christ’s sake, and were consumed by the fire which had been kindled, and so merited to be born in heaven on that very day whereon Christ for the world’s salvation deigned to be born on earth.
December 29. At Canterbury in England, the birthday of St Thomas, Bishop and Martyr, who for his defence of justice and ecclesiastical immunity was smitten with the sword in his cathedral by a faction of wicked men, and passed a martyr to Christ.
To the Reader: If you are aware of any martyrs for the Mass that I have not listed here, please send me an email. I know that I am missing some of the more recent saints; I’m referring mainly to older saints that would be contained in the preconciliar Martyrology, as I could easily have missed some.
Dr. Peter Kwasniewski is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and The Catholic University of America. He taught at the International Theological Institute in Austria, the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austria Program, and Wyoming Catholic College, which he helped establish in 2006. Today he is a full-time writer and speaker on traditional Catholicism who has written many books and publishes on a wide variety of sites. His work has been translated into twenty languages. Visit his personal website at www.peterkwasniewski.com, his Substack “Tradition and Sanity,” his publishing house Os Justi Press, and his composer site CantaboDomino.