In the third century the bishops began also listing the names of persons who did not reach the point of execution, but died a natural death after having suffered persecution for the sake of Christ, like Saint Nicholas, who had been in prison for many years but was finally released in 312 at the end of the persecutions. These saints were added to the list under the name of “confessors,” because they had heroically confessed their faith before the tribunals. This term has remained in official use up to the present. It now designates any male saint who through the practice of heroic virtue gave witness to Christ. Holy women are identified in liturgical usage as “martyrs” or “virgins” or “virgins and martyrs” or “neither virgins nor martyrs” (a somewhat unfortunate negative term meaning those who became saints as wives and mothers).
In the Western Church, the conversion of the Germanic races brought about an extension of the local calendars of saints. Having no Christian past of their own, they adopted the ritual books of the Roman Church and its list of saints as well. It was not long, however, before they added the names of their own national heroes of God to the annual calendar of saints’ feasts and thus prepared the way for a more universal calendar. In the course of the succeeding centuries the Roman list of saints’ days was gradually widened by the authorities of the Church; it came to include saints of other local churches and other nations, until the Roman Missal and martyrology became truly representative of the universal Church.
In the Mass text, however, a relic of the original practice remains, for the saints mentioned in the Canon of the Mass are taken from the ancient list of the Italian community. The Oriental Rites were even slower than Rome in adopting the feasts of “foreign” martyrs and saints. Up to this day but few saints of the Western Church are celebrated in the East.
- Father Francis Xavier Weiser, SJ. “Veneration of Other Saints”. . CatholicSaints.Info. 15 February 2017. Web. 26 March 2017. <>