Canonization of Saints


Ceremonies of Beatification and Canonization

(continued from September)


The canonization of a saint is the most solemn and imposing ceremony in the whole liturgy of the Church. It is the grand culminating act of a long series extending over many years, an event which tells us that the Holy Ghost is still with His Church, and that the gates of Heaven are open to all. When a new saint is presented to the veneration of mankind a thrill of joy and gladness is felt to the end of the world. Millions of hearts rejoice at the happy news. Those who are elevated to the altars of the Church have renewed in themselves the image of Christ, and have secured for themselves an immortality which can never come to earthly greatness. They lift up our souls to Heavenly things, and their example is an inspiration and encouragement to truly noble and heroic deeds. Our thoughts are carried back irresistibly to Rome, the city of the soul, whose stones are bedewed with the precious blood of the martyrs, the queen of the world, the place chosen by God to be the center of supreme rule in the spiritual order.

The ceremonies of the occasion are appropriate to an event of such deep significance. They are carried out on a scale of splendor and magnificence unequaled in any other celebration. For many centuries the Basilica of St. Peter has been the place appointed for these sacred functions, and this privilege was confirmed by a Bull of Benedict XIV. issued in the year 1641. In beatification the apse only of St. Peter's is ornamented, but in the ceremony of canonization the decorations are extended over the whole building. Amongst celebrations carried out with particular splendor may be mentioned the canonization of St. Francis of Paul in 1519, when for the first time the celebrated tapestries of Flanders, made after designs by Raphael, were used in the scheme of ornamentation.

The decoration of the vast Basilica is a work of great magnitude, the highest architectural skill being employed to ensure good taste and perfect harmony. Immense supplies of the most costly draperies have to be provided, together with candelabra, lustres, and lights of various, kinds. Latin inscriptions are prepared, and artists of eminence are employed to execute paintings of the new saint, and depict the miracles approved for the purpose of the solemnity. To reduce expense as far as possible, it is often arranged that the canonization not of one only but of many beatified servants of God is celebrated at the same time.

In canonization the most ample provision is made for the accommodation of persons of distinction from every part of the Catholic world. The Papal Throne is erected in front of the altar of the Chair of St. Peter. It is surrounded by benches for the Cardinals, Patriarchs, Archbishops, Bishops, and Dignitaries of high rank in the Papal chapels. And in this portion of the Basilica are erected special tribunes for reigning Sovereigns, for the Diplomatic Corps, the Order of Malta, the family of the Pope, the Roman aristocracy, the Prince assisting at the throne, the Majordomo, and other officials of exalted station. In the lateral transept there are galleries reserved for those who have obtained special tickets, and, towards the front, benches are placed for various Chapters who are privileged to occupy them. Special seats are also provided for the Architect in charge of the decorations and for the Postulator of the Cause, who is accompanied by his Advocate and Procurator.

The ceremonies open with a magnificent procession, the full details of which are given in the great work of Benedict XIV., and in other writings of more recent date. The Supreme Pontiff takes part in this procession, which starts from the Sixtine Chapel, descends by the Royal staircase, and enters the Portico of the Vatican Basilica. At the outset the Pope intones the Ave Maris Stella, and the hymn is continued by a special choir.

When the procession has reached its destination the Holy Father ascends the throne prepared for him in the Basilica. And, as soon as the dignitaries and others have taken the places assigned to them, the Cardinal Procurator of the Cause, accompanied by the Master of Ceremonies and the Consistorial Advocate, approaches the Papal Throne, and the latter, in the name of the Cardinal Procurator, earnestly (instanter) beseeches his Holiness to admit into the catalogue of saints the Blessed one on whose cause judgment has been given. The Prelate Secretary of Briefs for Princes responds in Latin that the Holy Father is much edified by the virtues of the Beatus, and by the miracles through which the Lord has manifested his glory, but before pronouncing sentence on a matter of such importance they should invoke light from on high, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and the whole celestial court. On this response being given, the personages who advanced to the Papal Throne return to their places, and the Pope and the whole multitude prostrate themselves, and the Litany of the Saints is recited.

When the Litany is finished the same personages again present themselves before the Papal Throne, and the Consistorial Advocate repeats the petition for canonization. But this time, in addition to the word instanter in the formula of petition, he also uses the word instantius ("more earnestly"). The Prelate Secretary again replies, declaring that the Holy Father, impressed with the supreme greatness and significance of the act he is asked to perform, desires that they should implore the special aid of the Holy Ghost, the source of sanctity and light, Who promised to guide His Church, and be with her all days even to the consummation of the world. Thereupon the Pope intones the Veni Creator Spiritus, and the hymn is sung by the assembled multitudes with the utmost piety and devotion.

The petitioners approach the Pontifical Throne for the third time, and once more make the petition for canonization, adding to the preceding words, instanter, and instantius the new word instantissime ("most earnestly"). Then the Prelate Secretary replies that his Holiness, fully satisfied that the canonization is acceptable to Almighty God, will decree that the Blessed one be placed on the roll or catalogue of saints.

At these momentous words, the entire assembly rises and the Pope, wearing the miter, is assisted to the Pontifical chair, and pronounces ex Cathedra this solemn and irrevocable sentence: "In honor of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and the increase of the Christian Religion, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, and ourselves, after mature deliberation, and having many times implored the Divine aid, by the counsel of our venerable brothers, the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, and of the Patriarchs, Archbishops, and Bishops met together in the city we have decided and defined the Blessed N. N. to be a saint and have inscribed him in the catalogue of the saints, as, by the tenor of these presents, we do decide, define, and inscribe him; ordaining that his memory shall be cherished and honored with pious devotion by the Universal Church, on his natal day N. N. in each year. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

The personages who had presented the three petitions above mentioned approach the Throne once more, and the Consistorial Advocate, in the name of the Cardinal Procurator of the cause, returns thanks to his Holiness, and begs that Apostolic letters be issued in reference to the canonization. The Holy Father grants the petition, and, in compliance with the prayer of the Protonotaries and Notaries present, he further directs that a record should be prepared to perpetuate the memory of the canonization.

The Pope then rises, and, without the miter, intones the Te Deum, which is continued by the chanters appointed for the occasion. At the same moment a fanfare of trumpets resounds from the vast dome of the temple, the bells of St. Peter's are set ringing as a signal for the other churches, and joyous peals from all the church bells in the city proclaim the glorious news of the canonization.

After the Te Deum the Holy Father recites a prayer composed specially for invoking the intercession of the new saint And with the Apostolic Benediction imparted by the Supreme Pontiff the first part of the ceremonial comes to a conclusion.


The act of canonization is followed by solemn High Mass, which is usually celebrated by the Pope himself. The Ritual of this Mass is the same as that observed on other occasions with one remarkable exception. At the Offertory a significant ceremony takes place which requires a word of explanation. It consists in an offering of wax candles, bread, wine, water, two turtle doves, two pigeons, and a number of smaller birds.

These oblations _ which are repeated for each saint if more than one is canonized _ are set forth on a credence table at the left hand side of the altar. There are five wax candles beautifully painted. In the center is an image of the saint for whom the offering is made, and underneath the Papal arms. Then there are two large loaves, placed on silver salvers with the Papal arms in relief; two small barrels, one gold, containing the offering of wine, the other silver, containing the offering of water; three cages, the first containing two turtle doves, the second, two pigeons, and the third, small birds of different species. These offerings are presented to the Pope at the Pontifical Throne in accordance with prescribed ceremonial.

It has been shown by learned writers on the subject that the custom of making offerings to the Pope on these occasions reaches back to the early ages of the Church. During the Mass it was customary, not only to present the bread and wine necessary for the Sacrifice, but also other valuable offerings for various purposes. As a rule the offerings were directed to four different ends: first to provide the matter necessary for the Holy Sacrifice; secondly, a part was sent to the bishop; thirdly, a portion was blessed and distributed amongst the congregation as a sign of Communion and charity; and, finally, a part
was set aside for the needs of the Church and the maintenance of the ministers.

But it may be further asked is there any mystical meaning in presenting these particular objects to the Holy Father on the occasion of canonizing a saint. Why is it that, out of the immense variety of good things placed by the Creator at our disposal, wax candles, bread, wine, water, turtle doves, pigeons, and small birds should be chosen to express our homage and veneration? Spiritual writers explain that they are symbols of the virtues of the saints, and that they are calculated to lift up our hearts and minds to the love and contemplation of the supernatural.

The wax candles, according to the doctrine of St. Fulbert, typify the head and members of the Church, the flame signifying the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is a consuming fire, and the wax, one of the most delicate substances in nature, indicating that the members of the Church should be pure before God, preserving the true faith animated by good works. The canonized saints have copied the virtues of our Savior in their faith, in the excellence of their works, in the purity of their intention. To use the language of the Gospel, they have been a burning and a shining light, not placed under a bushel, but on a chandelier to give light to the whole house.

The bread which is offered indicates that the saints have no other nourishment but Jesus in the Holy Sacrament. Our Divine Lord has said: "I am the living bread that came down from Heaven . . . and the bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world" (St. John vi.) And, for the saints of God, this bread was their life, their joy in this world; and it was to be also the eternal prize of their charity and love. As explained by other spiritual writers, the bread signifies the Word of God, inasmuch as the saints nourished their souls by Catholic doctrine, and by the example of their lives made this teaching efficacious to guide the people in the way of salvation.

The wine is the symbol of sanctifying grace, and there is no other natural product, says St. Cyprian, that so vividly conveys this meaning.

And with what wisdom is the offering of water connected with that of wine. Water is a figure of the tribulations of this world, and the saints, absorbed in the contemplation of divine things, can cry out with the spouse in the Canticles: "Great waters cannot extinguish charity in me."

Passing to the pigeons and turtle doves, the chief characteristics of the turtle dove are fidelity or faithfulness and love of solitude. Then the dove is the messenger of peace, and the doves offered at the ceremony of canonization are an indication that the saints are in possession of peace, and that their struggles being now over, they will reign henceforth with God in the very center of happiness and peace.

Lastly, the small birds, inhabitants of the air, and resting but a brief space upon the earth, indicate those qualities of the saints, by which they seek to escape the treacherous snares of the hunter and tend to their heavenly home. The small birds love the free air of heaven, and the saints of God, detached from things of earth, find their only attraction and gratification in the bliss of Paradise.

The canonization of a saint is a most remarkable event occurring only at rare intervals. It represents the highest honor which human society can render to any of its members, and the honor is open to all without exception of persons. With the strength of infallible truth it expresses the complete and final triumph of grace over nature. The canonized saint may belong to any grade of society, or to any age since the coming of our Lord; he may have any portion of the habitable globe for his birthplace. He may be born amid the snows of the poles or the burning heats of the tropics. The saint may have been the denizen of some deep forest or mountain fastness far removed from the paths of civilization, he, who, as the poet says "in the palace aisles of untrod woods doth walk a king." There are uncivilized tribes wise only with the wisdom of nature, and young with the terrible youth of the savage. There are men who begin history, with a faith of their own, unquestioning, immovable, permeating their lives and inseparable from their every thought and action, men of fierce elemental strength and courage, men of untamed primitive instincts filled with the love of life and the lust of conquest. Then there is the highest product of modern civilization, selfconscious, selfcentered, with worldly culture, or perhaps the Hedonist whose chief good is the pursuit of pleasure. There is the young man walking in the ways of his heart, a law unto himself; and the refined tender virgin whose delicate nature shrinks instinctively from the very thought of torture and pain. It matters not; the grace of God can mold them, can give strength to the weak, light to those who cannot see, and can subdue the fiercest passions and propensities of which human nature is capable. No human being was ever born who cannot truly say with St. Paul: "I can do all things in Him Who strengtheneth me." Even the Apostles were men of strong passionate feelings, slow to believe, dull of comprehension. Our Blessed Savior rebuked them for their incredulity. And yet divine grace obtained the victory, and their faults and shortcomings were consumed, as time wore on, in the fire enkindled by their Master. And so complete
was their triumph, that they, one and all, faced torture without shrinking, and drank the cup of martyrdom for the faith of their Lord.

So it has been in every age since then, and will be to the end of time. Whilst sin exists in the world the streams of grace and mercy must continue to flow. And now and again the operations of grace are so complete and perfect that some child of the Church is able to practice in heroic degree those virtues which are the basis of all religion and society. Amongst those who reach this high standard of perfection there are faithful souls whose sanctity is hidden from human eyes, and whose virtues are seen only by the allseeing eye of God. But when the holiness of a servant of God is widely known, and illustrated by miraculous gifts, then the Church faithful to her Divine mission, takes the cause in hand, and, if the rigorous tests are successfully borne, decrees the honors of canonization, honors before which the greatest triumphs of ancient Rome with all their pomp are as nothing. The Catholic world is stirred to its center; transports of joy, looks of love, expressions of gratitude and wonder, starting from Rome and extending throughout the Church, begin for the saint that triumph which will endure to the end of time. And gradually these demonstrations of joy, gratitude, love and wonder give way to deeper feelings which sink into the heart, and inspire the brethren to imitate in their measure, the noble example of Him who has been placed upon the altars of the Church. And bowing down in homage before the august tribunal established by God on earth, the faithful are stirred to sentiments of more filial love and loyalty towards Mother Church, and they adore, in all reverence and humility, the infinite charity of God Who, in the words of the inspired writer, is wonderful in His saints.

1 Corriere d'Italia, 18th May, 1908.

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