Ceremonies of Beatification and Canonization

BEATIFICATION, as we have already seen, is an act by which the Church declares, though not in a final and definitive manner, that a deceased servant of God, after a life full of virtue and merits illustrated by miracles, enjoys eternal felicity with God in Heaven. In canonization too the Church declares that the deceased servant of God is a saint, but here, as has been shown, she speaks with infallible voice, and her decision cannot be called into question. In both cases the decree of the Church is concerned with the public ecclesiastical veneration of an individual. The religious honor to be given to the person who is beatified is merely permitted and is restricted to certain liturgical exercises. But the honor to be paid to the saint has a more extensive liturgy, and is made of precept to the Universal Church.

Such being in general the deep import of these acts of the Church it is natural to expect that they would be accompanied with striking and significant ceremonial. And nothing can equal in splendor the solemn ceremonies of these august functions. A vast crowd is always present, and the manifestation of faith of a great Christian multitude is added to the costly decorations which set off with such harmonious effect the glorious architectural proportions of Saint Peter's.

The first beatification which took place in the Vatican Basilica was that of St. Francis of Sales in 1661. From that date down to the 20th May, 1906, when the Dominican Martyrs of Tonchino were beatified, ninetytwo beatifications were made in the Basilica, and altogether one hundred and thirteen have been solemnized since St. Francis of Sales was declared blessed.1 During the Pontificate of Leo XIII., after the capture of the Eternal City by the Italian forces, it was decided that a change should be made, and that solemnities of this kind should be held in the vast hall of the Loggia above the portico of the Vatican Basilica, but, at the canonization of Blessed Antonia Maria Zaccaria and Blessed Fourier, in 1897, the ancient custom was revived, and now all beatifications and canonizations take place in the Basilica itself.


In the function of beatification the sacred rites are carried out on a scale of lesser solemnity than that observed in canonization. The Pope is not, as a rule, present in person, the apse only of the Church is decorated, and the procession is less imposing. Nevertheless the decoration is carried out with a splendor and magnificence which is only surpassed on the supreme occasion of canonization. The whole scheme is entrusted by the Postulator of the Cause to an architect of distinction, who takes counsel with the Curator of St. Peter's and with one of the Canons of the Vatican Basilica. The following are some of the principal features in the plan of ornamentation as carried out at the present day :

At the center of the "glory" which crowns the chair of St. Peter there is hung a painting of the beatified, which, assuming that the decree of beatification has been issued, represents him as being borne up to Heaven by Angels. In this picture the Beatus is depicted with shining rays proceeding from the head as center. These rays are peculiar to paintings of beatified persons, and the aureola, or golden crown surrounding the head in the form of a circle, can be used only in paintings of those who have received the honors of canonization. The central idea which the picture is meant to convey consists in this, that the Beatus is in the company of the blessed in Heaven; and this being the intention the painting is covered with a suitable veil until the decree of beatification is read, and the Pope has formally declared that the beatus is in the enjoyment of celestial glory. It is also customary to place a somewhat similar representation of the blessed one on the facade or front elevation of the Basilica; this painting was also veiled, and was exposed to view at the same time as the one placed in the interior.

Relics of the newly beatified are exposed for public veneration on the Altar upon which the Holy Sacrifice is to be offered. They are placed in a silver urn, resting on a gilt framework, and so arranged that they can be conveniently seen by those who are assisting at the ceremony. On this occasion also the body of the person to be beatified is sometimes exhumed and proposed for the veneration of the faithful after the Brief of Beatification is published.

Suitable seats are arranged in the Basilica for the ecclesiastics and distinguished laymen who assist at the solemn ceremony. On the Gospel side of the Altar of St. Peter's chair, benches, bright with purple and gold, are placed for the Cardinals of the Congregation of Rites. Behind these are raised seats or tribunes for Archbishops , Bishops and Dignitaries, as well as for the Consulters of the Congregation of Rites. Facing the Altar sits the Cardinal priest of the Vatican Basilica with the whole chapter. Special galleries are reserved for strangers of distinction, for kings and queens, for princes. and princesses, for the family of the person to be beatified, if any are present, also for the members of the Religious Order to which he belonged, if a religious, and for other persons of note.

At the remarkable beatification of Blessed Gabriel of the Dolours, which took place 1st June, 1908, a distinguished assemblage was present. Blessed Gabriel died February 27th, 1862, and his brother was present at his beatification an incident which is probably without parallel in the whole history of the Church. The Corriere d'Italia, describing the solemnities, says: "A very large multitude assisted at this morning's ceremony. On the benches of that part of the Church reserved for ecclesiastics, flanking the Altar of the Cathedral, were seated the most illustrious Cardinals Rampolla, Cagiano, Vives, Cretoni, Respighi, Martinelli, Gennari,, Segna, Gotti, Ferrata, Mathieu. Behind the eminent Cardinals, in other benches, were Mons. Jario, Vicar of the Vatican Basilica, together with the other prelates. In one tribune we observed the brother of the newly beatified, Doctor Enrico Possenti, born in Cingoli 11th August, 1835, doctor of the first rank in the town of Camerino, as well as other relatives, and his spiritual father. In other tribunes were the sisters of the Pope, the religious of the Passionist Order, and ladies and gentlemen of the Roman aristocracy."

The Altar and the whole apse are very richly adorned. The eyes are dazzled by a perfect blaze of light issuing from candelabra and chandeliers with pendants of cut glass. The most brilliant lustres are suspended through the apse forming a circle round the picture of the blessed one. The pillars all around are hung with large festoons of the richest silk and velvet fringed with gold. Tapestries of priceless value, the work of the most renowned artists, lend additional splendor to the scene. On various columns and pilasters are displayed banners and standards with exquisite paintings depicting the miracles approved for the purpose and effect of the beatification. In like manner the miracles as well as the sublime virtues of the person to be beatified are recalled by short Latin inscriptions in letters of gold suitably displayed on the pillars of the Basilica. The following epigraph, one of a number shown on the occasion of the beatification of Blessed Gabriel, will serve as an example: _ "Beate Gabriel hodie Coelitum honores adeptus _ tot juvenes miserrime ruentes mentis errore voluptate cordis _ tuam in fidem recipe."

Not only is the sense of sight gratified by the harmonious blending of light and color, but at regular intervals are displayed the most costly vases filled with the choicest flowers which yield the sweetest perfumes. Soft clouds of incense, the emblem of prayer and devotion, ascend towards Heaven; and the most delicate aromatics, placed in gold and silver pans, burn continuously upon the altars.

The selection of the music for the solemnity rests with the postulator of the Cause, who takes counsel with the master of the famous Julian choir. The greatest composers, such as Raimondi, have written special music for these celebrations, and singers and performers of the highest distinction are called in to assist the local choirs. Thus the sweet strains of the most perfect vocal and instrumental music come to the assembled multitudes like echoes from on high; the heart is mysteriously stirred; one's whole being is thrilled with the most exalted and keen emotions. One seems to hear the voice of Angels, the Magnificat of Saints; the mind and heart, detached from things of earth, and filled with impressions of awe and reverence, are carried away by strange wistful yearnings after endless harmony and peace.


The ceremony of beatification begins at 10 o'clock in the morning, and as the hour draws near, the Cardinals of the Congregation of Rites, the Archbishops, Bishops, and Dignitaries, the Chapter of the Basilica, the Officials of the Congregations, and all distinguished strangers and privileged persons occupy the places specially reserved for them. When the doors of the Basilica are thrown open, a vast multitude from all the nations of the earth rush in like a mighty wave, and occupy the floor of the building. Different places are indicated for men and women, but no division of the sexes is adhered to in the reserved tribunes. No one is admitted without a ticket, and the demand for tickets of admission on these occasions is enormous. It is expected that all present will be dressed in black; and, as directed in their tickets of admission, ladies should wear, not hats, but black veils as a head covering, the Spanish mantilla being the recognized form.

When all have taken their places and silence is restored the Postulator of the Cause, accompanied by the Secretary of the Congregation of Rites, presents himself before the Cardinal Prefect of the same Congregation and delivers into his hands the Apostolic Brief of Beatification. Next, the Postulator, who sometimes delivers a short discourse in Latin on the virtues and merits of the person to be beatified, presents his petition to the Cardinal Prefect, begging him that he would "receive and admit the Brief, that it would be published in the Basilica, and that, according to the directions given therein, and the Rite of the Holy Roman Church, the solemnities of the Beatification of the Venerable Servant of God N. would be celebrated and that all things else necessary and useful should be done according to the disposition of the Brief for the greater glory of God and of His servant N." The Cardinal Prefect, having satisfied himself that the Brief is complete and intact, yields to the prayers of the Postulator and directs that what he asks for should be done. The Postulator returns thanks and goes back to his place. Then the Cardinal Prefect hands the Brief to the Secretary of the Congregation, who bears it to the Cardinal Archpriest of the Basilica, and informs him of the petition of the Postulator and the command of the Congregation. The Archpriest receives the Brief and directs one of the Masters of Ceremonies to read it in presence of the entire assembly.

At the command of the Cardinal Archpriest, the Master of Ceremonies ascends a platform, and in a clear distinct voice reads the Brief of Beatification, the Chancellor of the Congregation holding in his hands for comparison an authenticated sealed copy of the Brief.

The reading of the Brief is the essential part of the ceremony, and the Holy Father thereby declares that the servant of God is beatified and in the enjoyment of celestial bliss. At this supreme moment the Celebrant of the Mass intones the grand hymn of triumph, the Te Deum, and the vast multitudes present stand up whilst the glorious hymn is continued by the worldfamed choirs of St. Peter's. Meanwhile, the bells of the Basilica are set ringing, and, in former times, before the Pope was deprived of the temporal power, the cannon of the Castle of St. Angelo joined their deep notes with the sharp volleys of the musketry, and the joyous peals of the bells. At the very moment in which the singing of the hymn is begun the veil which covers the picture of the new Beatus is drawn aside, and the relics of the newly Beatified, hitherto covered, are exposed to view on the Altar. The covering is also withdrawn from the banner which is suspended on the facade of the Basilica. At the close of the Te Deum the Bishop who is to celebrate the Mass sings a prayer specially composed in honor of the new Beatus; he takes the thurible in his hands and pays the honor of incensation to the relics exposed on the Altar. And all who are present at the sublime ceremony, Cardinals, Bishops, kings, princes, the whole assembly bow down their heads and render due homage and veneration to the picture and relics of the blessed one.

Preparations are now made to offer up Solemn High Mass in honor of the newly beatified inhabitant of Heaven. According to long established custom the office of Celebrant is filled by one of the BishopCanons of the Basilica, but the honor of celebrating is often granted to the Bishop of the diocese to which the blessed one belonged. The color of the vestments for the Mass is in accordance with the rank of the Beatus, white if he is a confessor, and red if a martyr.

The Sovereign Pontiff grants a plenary indulgence to all those who assist at the Holy Sacrifice and honor for the first time the relics of the Beatified.

When the Gloria in excelsis is intoned by the Celebrant, the Postulator of the Cause presents an image of the Beatified richly decorated, and a short biography, neatly ornamented, to the Cardinals of the Congregation, and the Cardinal Archpriest of the Basilica, next to the Consulters, and other Officials of the Congregation, then to the Beneficed Clergy, and to some remaining Cardinals, and finally, to the students of the Vatican Seminary, whose gifts are of a less ornamental kind. These distributions are of precept ; but, at the discretion of the Postulator, some thousands of smaller pictures and short lives of the Beatified are distributed amongst the assembled multitudes. The latter presentations are usually postponed to the end of Mass to avoid unseemly noise and disturbance during the Holy Sacrifice.

Such is the morning ceremony. In the afternoon the Holy Father comes in person to the place of beatification, and pays homage to the newly Beatified. On this occasion the apse is decorated and lighted as at the earlier ceremony, and the Cardinals are present in their respective places. The Pope prostrates himself before the relics and image of the Beatus, and spends a short time in prayer. Towards the end of the visit, the Postulator of the Cause offers to His Holiness some of the relics of the Beatified, then a costly picture of the blessed one done on white silk with lace fringes and gold; finally, a beautifully ornamented life of the Beatus, and a rich bouquet of artificial flowers.

For the afternoon ceremony at the beatification of Blessed Gabriel of the Dolours, an immense

crowd had gathered at the barriers of the Basilica at two o'clock. The members of the Association

of Artistic Workers were on guard and allowed no one to enter who was not provided with the regular ticket. The tribunes were packed, especially those reserved for the patrician families the Roman nobility, the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, and the Order of the Knights of Malta. The Pope arrived about 5:30 p.m., and took his place in the Sedan chair which was preceded by, the under forerunner of the Apostolic Palaces. At the appearance of the Venerable Pontiff a mighty cheer rose from the crowd, and all saluted and waved their handkerchiefs, whilst the Pope continually raised his hand in benediction. Four grooms in their picturesque costumes of red damask and two sergeants of the Swiss guard headed the cortege, then followed various attendants, the confidential Chamberlains, Monsignor Bisleti, Majordomo of His Holiness, Monsignor Sili, and Monsignor Pescini bearing the cross. Then came the Sovereign Pontiff in his chair, surrounded by a picket of the noble guard, and followed by the Cardinals accompanied by their Secretaries. Benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament was given on this occasion, and the Noble Guard and other Pontifical Corps, drawn up in the Church, gave the military salute. The ceremony closed with the prayer of the Holy Father before the image of the Beatified, and the offering of the customary gifts.

When the Holy Father departs from the afternoon ceremony of Beatification the Postulator of the Cause seeks an audience, and returns thanks to His Holiness for permitting the beatification to be solemnized.

And on the three following days a solemn triduum is celebrated in Rome in the National Church of the Beatus. Pontifical High Mass is offered on each of the days, and an eloquent panegyric is preached on the virtues of the newly Beatified.

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