The time-honored collection of saints, prepared and updated occasionally at the Vatican, is called the Martyrologium Romanum; in English, the Roman Martyrology. It is written in Latin, offers very brief descriptions on roughly 15 saints for each day of the year, and while it is not a complete listing of saints, it is a wide-ranging one.
The Roman Martyrology has an extensive and complicated history, but in a nutshell, it began with ancient Christian communities keeping track of people who had been martyred for the faith, or had lived very pious and virtuous lives. Ultimately, some of the collections were gathered together, each martyr and saint carefully scrutinized, and compiled into one volume, which is updated and revised from time to time.
If you were to look at some Roman Martyrologies of the past, you would see that many Old Testament saints had been included. You would find people like Moses, Jonah, and Gideon listed. You would also find some lesser-known New Testament saints like Linus, Lydia, and Prochorus in these older editions. At some point – probably the years following Vatican II — many of these biblical figures seemed to disappear from saint books. Over time, the word “saint” was less and less frequently placed before the names of many Bible saints like Joshua, Isaiah, Job, and others.
The 2004 Roman Martyrology
The Roman Martyrology was updated in 2001 with a few extra revisions and additions in 2004; these editions included many of the saints that Blessed John Paul the Great canonized. With closer examination, you can also find many of the saints from Scripture who seem to have been set to the side decades ago.
A careful look at the latest edition of the Roman Martyrology reassures us that we can call Melchizedek St. Melchizedek; Eleazar, St. Eleazar; Samuel, St. Samuel; and so on. We can turn to them for baptismal names and Confirmation names, and with a sense of confidence ask for their heavenly intercession as we struggle on earth. Besides the several Old Testament saints to be found in the current Roman Martyrology, we can also find some less familiar, yet still inspiring, New Testament folks: Nicanor, Dionysius, and Aristarchus, to name a few. These many unsung saints from Scripture offer Catholics dozens more role models and inspiration to lead lives devoted to the Lord.
It would be impossible to include profiles on all of the almost-forgotten Bible saints in one article; however, here are a few brief biographies:
Saint David the King – The second king of Israel following Saul. Saint David was a shepherd as a boy, and was the same David who slew the giant Philistine, Goliath. For a time David played the harp for King Saul, and so is often portrayed with a harp. His personal life was not in the best order, but he lamented for his sins and strove to please God.
Saint Elijah – A great prophet of the Old Testament monarchy days. Elijah had great trust in God as he challenged the evil King Ahab and his wife Jezebel to reform their lives and encourage a true piety in the kingdom. He performed impressive miracles and was taken to heaven on a fiery chariot at the end of his earthly life.
Saints the Mother and Her Seven Sons – A beautiful Old Testament family that showed great dedication to the Lord and tremendous courage when they all refused to abandon their Jewish laws while under severe pressure from King Antiochus IV of Syria. The saintly mother was forced to watch all of her sons endure horrific torture and martyrdom, and was then murdered herself.
Saint Anna the Prophetess – Shortly after the story of Holy Simeon in Luke’s Gospel, Bible readers are introduced to the elderly widow Anna. St. Anna the Prophetess spent all of her time in the temple in worship, and like Simeon, immediately sensed the divinity of the baby Jesus.
Saint Cornelius – A centurion and Gentile who had great respect for the Jewish faith. Through a heavenly vision, St. Cornelius met with Peter, became filled with the Holy Spirit, and was baptized. This baptism of St. Cornelius helped to pave the way for welcoming Gentiles into the new faith.
Many Gifts from Many Saints
These somewhat obscure saints from Scripture offer great spiritual gifts to Catholics. They encourage us to embrace and understand Scripture better, they help us to see the goodness of God, they inspire us to endure times of difficulty, they nurture our need to pray, they aid us on bad days and remind us to thank God on good days. Although they lived many centuries ago, these devout people can re-introduce a set of wonderful friendships for Catholics as we trudge along on our earthly pilgrimage.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us … –Hebrews 12:1
Publishing Division at Liturgical Press (Butlers’ Lives of the Saints).
Office of Divine Worship at United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Director of the Little Rock Scripture Study
Witczak, Rev. Michael G., S.L.D. ~ Associate Professor of Liturgical Studies, The Catholic University of America.
Attwater, Donald and Cumming, John. A New Dictionary of Saints. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1993.
Benedict XIV, augmented and corrected by; Gibbons, J. Card., imprimatur. The Roman Martyrology Published by Order of Gregory XIII. New York: John Murphy and Co. Publishers, 1897.
Dwyer, John C. Church History: Twenty Centuries of Catholic Christianity. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1985.
Martyrologium Romanum. Editio Altera, Civitate Vaticana, 2004.
The New American Bible for Catholics. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 1991.
Stravinskas, Peter M.J., Ed. Catholic Encyclopedia. Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 1991.
Trigilio, Rev. John Jr. and Kenneth Brighenti, Rev. Catholicism for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2003.
Walsh, Michael, ed.: Butler’s Lives of the Saints. San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.