Two days ago I was sitting in Mass when I noticed that in my Daily Roman Missal on the liturgical calendar, in the Latin Church, the first four saint memorials for the month of June are all martyrs. On June 1, we had St. Justin; June 2, we had Saints Marcellinus and Peter; June 3, it was Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions, and now today, June 5, we have Saint Boniface of Mainz.
Out of the four memorials dedicated to these martyrs, three of them come from the early centuries of the Church, when of course we know martyrdom was a regular occurrence. The one that is not of the early centuries, but is in the late 19th century, is Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions. Although many of the early Christians faced the possibility of dying for Jesus Christ, and martyrdom has existed in the life of the Catholic Church for 2000 years, it’s a reality that many our Christian brothers and sisters around the world are still faced with today.
There are two forms of martyrdom – red martyrdom and white martyrdom. Red martyrdom is witnessing to the faith where a person endures death. The Church proclaims those who are killed for the faith are baptized by blood and are directed straight to heaven. The red martyrs are genuine examples of unmatched heroic fortitude and conviction. This is the martyrdom most recognized by the Church and the saints from above endured.
White martyrdom (dry martyrdom) is social persecution rather than death. This form of martyrdom is when a person or group of persons are attacked either verbally or in writing for having a conviction of faith or when they choose not to violate their moral conscience. This is the most common form of martyrdom for us Catholics in America today. When someone calls you a bigot, intolerant, or just hates that you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you have become a white martyr.
Now that we have spoken about martyrdom a bit, let’s turn to what the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches on the subject –
CCC 2473: Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the faith: it means witness even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through an act of fortitude. “Let me become the food of the beasts, through whom it will be given me to reach God” [This quote at the end is from the Letter to the Romans by St. Ignatius of Antioch].
CCC 2474: The Church has painstakingly collected the records of those who persevered to the end in witnessing to their faith. These are the acts of the Martyrs. They form the archives of truth written in letters of blood:
Neither the pleasures of the world nor the kingdoms of this age will be of any use to me. It is better for me to die [in order to unite myself] to Christ Jesus than to reign over the ends of the earth. I seek him who died for us; I desire him who rose for us. My birth is approaching… [St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans]
I bless you for having judged me worthy from this day and this hour to be counted among your martyrs…You have kept your promise, God of faithfulness and truth. For this reason and for everything, I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Through him, who is with you and the Holy Spirit, may glory be given to you, now and in the ages to come. Amen. [Martyrdom St. Polycarp]
CCC 2506: The Christian is not to “be ashamed of testifying to our Lord’ (2 Tim 1:8) in deed and word. Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith.
For more information on martyrdom, continue by reading what Pope Francis has said on the subject, 5 things we can learn about the martyrdom of St. Lawrence, and white martyrdom from the perspective of a persecuted high school student.
Always remember the words of the early Church Father, Tertullian, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”