What is a Saint – The Ordinary Phase, Part 4

(Continuation of The Ordinary Process)

(6) Beatification. Prior to beatification, a general meeting of the cardinals of the congregation is held with the pope to decide whether it is possible to safely proceed to the beatification of the Servant of God. The meeting is ceremonial, but the issue is real. In cases of “controversial” figures, the pope may in fact decide that it is “inopportune “at the moment to declare the Servant of God Blessed, despite the merits of the cause.

At the beatification ceremony, an apostolic brief is promulgated by the pope by which he proclaims that the Servant of God is to be venerated as one of the Church’s “blessed.” At this point the candidate has passes the most rigorous part of the passage to canonization. A special prayer to the Blessed and a mass in his/her honor are authorized by the Holy See for that purpose. However, the ultimate goal is yet to be achieved, namely, canonization to sainthood. The pope symbolizes that fact by not officiating at the solemn Pontifical Mass, which concluded the Beatification ceremony. Instead, he comes to the Basilica after mass to venerate the new blessed.

(7) Canonization. Following beatification, the cause lies dormant unless and until additional divine signs (miracles) are alleged and the entire miracle investigatory process is repeated. When the last required miracle has been examined and accepted, the pope issues a bull of canonization declaring that the candidate must be venerated as a saint throughout the universal church. This time, the pope himself leads the solemn ceremonies at St. Peter’s Basilica, thereby signifying that the declaration of sainthood has full authority of the papacy behind it. In his declaration, the pope sums up the saint’s life, and briefly explain what example and message the saint brings to the church.

(8) The Process of Proving Miracles. The Church takes as a divine sign a miracle performed through the intercession of the Servant of God. But the process by which the miracle is proved is as rigorously judicial as the investigations of heroic virtue. A miracle must establish that (a) God truly performed the miracle-nearly always a physical healing-and (b) the miracle occurred through intercession of the Servant of God.

In a manner similar to the Ordinary Process, the bishop where the alleged miracle occurred gathers the evidence and takes notarized testimony, if the data warrant, he then forwards this material to Rome where it is printed as a “positio.” At the congregation, several meetings are held to discuss, refute and defend the evidence, often more information is sought. However, now the case is studied by a panel of medical specialists, whose job is to determine that the cure could not have occurred by natural means. When such a judgment is made, the documentation is turned over to a panel of theological “consultors” to determine whether the alleged miracle was in fact granted through the prayer to the Servant of God and not, for example, through the simultaneous prayers to some other established saint. Eventually the judgments of the “consultors” are circulated through the congregation and, upon favorable advice of the cardinals, the pope certifies acceptance of a miracle by issuing a formal decree.

The medical panels are drawn from a pool of more than sixty physicians resident in Rome who constitute the congregation’s Consulta Medica. To judge by their professional achievements and reputations, the physicians are very qualified. They are specialists in their particular field of medicine. All members are Italian, men and all are Roman Catholic, though no member is questioned regarding the regularity of his religious practices. Medical competence is what counts. The cure must be complete and of lasting duration. It must also be inexplicable tby all known scientific measures. In the end, each physician on the full five member panel votes two ways on the cure: “natural” or “inexplicable.” The congregation prefers unanimity. However, there is the rub in the investigatory process. Anyone who has ever had a second or third opinion can attest that unimanity among five physicians who practice five different specialties would be exceedingly difficult. Thus, a simple majority among them is usually sufficient to see a miracle through. It has been said that it is a good method, but extremely severe.

The communion of saints presupposes that in God we are all connected, giving and receiving unexpected and undeserving acts of grace. In the practice of “making saints,” however, this communion is not only presumed, it is tapped to serve a specific purpose. Graces received and attributed to the Servant of God are collected, tested, sifted and authenticated by God’s own proof of a candidate’s holiness.

It is necessary to distinguish the process as it pertains to martyrs. Recent popes have routinely dispensed the cause from having to prove any miracle for beatification on the grounds that the ultimate sacrifice is sufficient for the title of blessed. The comparable is true for canonization. However, a unique problem comes into play when a martyr is the candidate for sainthood.

The question that must be resolved is when a martyr is a martyr in the eyes of the Church.

The early Christian martyrs were perceived and celebrated as imitators of Christ’s passion and death. The classic Christian martyr is an innocent victim who dies for the faith at the hands of a tyrant who is opposed to the faith. Also like Jesus, the classical martyr forgives hi/her enemies. One could be a martyr for the faith by dying in defense of the rights of the Church, for example, Archbishop Thomas a’ Becket, who, in the twelfth century, was quickly canonized after his murder for defending the prerogatives of the English church against King Henry 11. Essentially, advocates for the cause must prove that the candidate died for the faith. More precisely, they have to prove the “tyrant” was provoked into killing the victim bt the latter’s clear and unambiguous profession of faith. The advocates must produce witnesses and/or documents proving that a profession of faith took place, that the tyrant acted in hatred of the faith, and that the victim’s motives are clearly religious. Furthermore, witnesses are required, who can testify, that the victim persevered in his/her willingness to die for the faith right through the moment of shedding their blood.

This is as simplistic a description of what a martyr is required to be and the proof necessary to prove that validity of the cause. In recent times, however, the question arose as to whether a candidate died for reasons of faith perseverance or whether they died due to political unrest. This issue came to light in the alleged martyrdoms of St.Maximilian Kolbe, Martyr of Charity, and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Carmelite nun (Edith Stein, convert), and Blessed Titus Brandsma, a Carmelite, priest, teacher and journalist, all who died as martyrs in Nazi concentration camps during World War 11.  If it cannot be proved that the candidate died as a martyr, then the cause must proceed tedious down the road of investigating virtues practiced to heroic degree as well as proving one miracle beatification and one for canonization as heretofore described. The question of whether a person died a martyr’s death is very complex and the object of much controversy within the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

(8) The new Procedures introduced by Pope John Paul 11.

Pope John Paul II was very concerned with the adversarial approach and atmosphere in the process of the causes of saints. It was his opinion and belief that the process was too time consuming and costly, and, thus an obstacle to the primary purpose of elevating candidates to sainthood, whose lives of holiness and dedication to God the faithful would hopefully be prone to imitate.

On January25, 1983, the system was officially changed. On that day Pope John Paul 11, issued an Apostolic Constitution, “Divinus perfectionis Magister,”mandating the most thoroughgoing reforming of the “saint-making” process since the decrees of Pope Urban VIII. The announced goals of the reform were to make the canonization process simpler, faster and cheaper, more collegial, and ultimately more productive. It did this in two fundamental ways. First, it put the entire responsibility for gathering all evidence in support of a cause in the hands of the local bishop.; instead of two canonical processes, the Ordinary and the Apostoloic, there would only be one, directed by the local bishop. Second-and far more drastic- it abolished the entire series of logical argumentation between defense lawyers and the Promoter of the Faith (Devil’s Advocate.) Not only were the advocates stripped of their powers, so were the Promter of the Faith and his staff of lawyers. After nearly six centuries, the function of the Devil’s Advocate had been eliminated.

Instead the Promoter of the faith was given a new title of “Prelate Theologian,” and assigned the largely administrative task of choosing the theological consultors for each cause and presiding at their meetings. The responsibility for demonstrating the truth about a candidate’s life and death now belonged to a new group of officials: “the college of realtors,” who would supervise the historical-critical account of the candidate’s life, virtues, and , in appropriate causes, martyrdom. Obviously, witnesses would still be called to testify of behalf of the Servant of God, but the chief sources of information would be historical, and the medium by which each cause was to judged hereafter would be well documented critical biography. Thus, the core of the reform was a striking paradigm shift: no longer would the church look to the courtroom as its model for arriving at the truth of a saint’s life, instead it would employ the academic model of researching and writing a doctoral dissertation. Hereafter, causes would be accepted or rejected according to canons of critical historiography, not by the arguments of contending advocates. In effect, then, the relator had replaced both the Devil’s Advocate and the defense lawyer. He alone was responsible for establishing heroic virtue or martyrdom, and it was up to the theological and historical consultants to give his work a passing or failing mark.

This, essentially, what is meant that the reform is to be “more collegial,” as well as simpler, faster and cheaper.

The reform also reduced the number of miracles require for beatification and canonization i from the previous two each to one each: a drop fifty percent.

However, application of the reforms did present complex problems. As is commonly stated-“the devil is in the details.”It is one thing to reform the system, quite another to make it work. In anticipation of the change, all new causes were put on hold for a year and many that were developed under the old system were sent back for fuller historical documentation.

Currently, the causes of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Pope John Paul II, Pope John XXIII is examples of the positive effects enhanced by the reform.

Much of the documentation utilized above was from valuable information derived and quoted from Making Saints, Kenneth L. Woodward,  Simon & Schuster copyright 1990.


What is a Saint?
Continue Reading:

Part 1: What is a Saint? – Understanding God’s Love

Part 2: What is a Saint? – Purgatory

Part 3: What is a Saint – The Ordinary Phase


Resources for “What is a Saint?”


The Jerusalem Bible – Reader’s Edition, with abridged introductions and notes, Doubleday, Division of Random House Inc., March 2000, General Editor – Alexander Jones, Nihil Obstat – Lionel Swain S.T.L., L.L.S., Imprimatur – John Cardinal Heenan, Westminster 4 July 1966.

Encyclopedia of Catholicism, Richard P. McBrien, General Editor, Harper San Francisco.

Making Saints, Kenneth L. Woodward, Simon & Schuster, 1990.

Dogmatic Constitution of the Church

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