The Canonization of Saints

There arose with the Second Vatican Council several strange phenomena. Each is an expression of erroneous doctrine. Doctrine is teaching. If you teach what is false it is called error. When the error is deliberate, it is called `falsehood' or a `lie.'

The particular phenomenon concerning us here is that of all the instant canonizations. How founded are they? Are the apparent canonizations declared by someone without authority to be considered as valid and true? These are important questions. Their importance becomes evident when we consider that a canonical canonization involves papal infallibility.

Canonization is an ecclesiastical term which first came into use in the twelfth century. The idea which it represents has been in existence in the Church from Apostolic times.

During the earlier ages canonization consisted in writing the names of the persons to be canonized on certain tablets which were read at Mass. These blessed names still continue to be mentioned in the Sacrifice of the Mass.

In our day, canonization as understood and practiced is the final declaration of the Roman Pontiff by which he publicly and solemnly places on the catalog of saints a person who has been beatified, and commends him or her, under precept to the perpetual veneration and invocation of Christians throughout the universal Church.

Beatification, on the other hand, is an act by which the Pope permits religious honor to be paid to the deceased, or commands such veneration , but not with regard to the whole Church. The public veneration paid to a deceased servant of God may be either permissive or preceptive; it may be local or universal, and may be restricted to certain liturgical exercises. If the decree regarding religious honor contains a precept and is universal - that is to say, binding on the whole Church - it is a decree of canonization. If either of these elements is lacking it is a decree of beatification.

The cultus to be paid to those who are beatified is usually confined to a particular country, town, a certain religious Order or branch of an Order, and all attempts to extend it without a special indult from the Pope are condemned under very severe penalties

For example, Blessed Rose of Lima was made Patron of all America, the Philippines, and the Indies. The cultus to be extended to her was made obligatory and general for the countries named. However, lacking complete preceptive universality, there was no canonization strictly speaking.

In like wise, though the cultus of Blessed John Boni was permitted by Pope Sixtus for the universal Church, since there was no precept but merely a permission there was only beatification.

There are restrictions also with regard to the liturgical exercises connected with those who are beatified. Though it is sometimes permitted to say Mass or recite the divine office in their honor, yet their office has no octave, and they cannot be honored by a Votive Mass. Nor can their pictures be painted with a diadem or crown on the head; the proper mode of depicting a beatified person is with rays proceeding from the head as center. In like manner, other methods of paying them honor are interdicted.

In order to understand more clearly these definitions it will be useful to explain briefly the precise meaning of some terms that are often used in connection with this sacred subject.

It sometimes happens that persons speak of the Venerable Bede and Blessed Leonard of Port Maurice, for example, without attaching any very definite idea to these distinguishing titles.

It may be observed then that there are three principal degrees of sanctity recognized in the Church: that of Venerable, that of Blessed, and that of Saint. Before obtaining a right to any of these three titles a deceased person who has died in the odor of sanctity may be known as a servant of God. In order that anyone may be regarded as a servant of God no formal pronouncement is required on the part of the Church; it is sufficient that the deceased person should enjoy a wide reputation for holiness of life. It is to be observed, however, that according to the existing custom of the Congregation of Rites, the title servant of God is given only to those whose beatification is under consideration and they are called by this name in all decrees and writings connected with the cause.

The term Venerable or Venerable servant of God implies more than a mere character of holiness, and it is applied to one whose reputation for sanctity not only exists, but is furthermore judicially established. Strictly speaking, this title is to be given to those only in whose causes the Commission of Introduction has been signed by the Pope. When the Informative Process on the reputation for sanctity is complete, the acts and minutes are sent to Rome to be examined by the Congregation, and if its decision is favorable the Sovereign Pontiff signs a decree ordering the Introduction of the Cause. When Rome has thus placed its hand on the cause, to use the language of Canon Law, the person in question has a right to the title Venerable.

But this right does not imply that religious honor may be paid to him, all such honor being strictly forbidden until the stage of beatification has been reached. In this description there is question of the technical meaning of the word, for in the ordinary use of language the term Venerable is applied to anyone who is entitled to honor and respect.

The terms Blessed (Beatus, Beatified) and Saint correspond respectively to Beatification and Canonization. In former times these words `Blessed' and `Saint' were regarded as synonymous, and they were used freely without distinction or meaning. Even according to modern usage the distinction is not always observed. But in strictness the title of Blessed is given when the process of Beatification is complete, while the title of Saint is conferred only upon one who has already received the honor of Canonization.

Both Beatification and Canonization are of two kinds: formal and equivalent. The distinction in both cases is founded on the exceptional conditions mentioned in the Bull of Urban VIII, 1625, and has reference to the manner in which the cultus is prescribed or permitted.

Formal canonization takes place when the worship of the Beatified is prescribed for the Church at large, by and explicit and definitive decree issued after full judicial inquiry and accompanied by the ceremonies usual in such cases. Equivalent canonization occurs when the Pope, omitting the ceremonies and some of the judicial processes, orders public cultus to be paid to some servant of God throughout the Catholic world.

This happens when one or more of the conditions laid down in the decree of Urban have been fulfilled: that is to say, when "the servant of God is the object of a cultus arising out of the general consent of the Church, or a custom of which the memory of man ran not to the contrary, or the writings of the Fathers, or the long and intentional tolerance of the Holy See or the Ordinary."

Equivalent canonization usually consists in a Papal decree ordering a special Office and Mass in honor of the Saint.

Benedict XIV gives several examples of equivalent canonization: Saints Romuald, Norbert, Bruno, Peter Nolasco, Queen Margaret of Scotland, and Gregory VII. As a proof of the caution observed by the Church in such canonizations, it may be mentioned that the honor of canonization came to none of those just mentioned until over 400 years after death.

It is clear that the exceptional circumstances mentioned in the Bull of Urban may refer either to canonization or beatification according as the cultus in question is general in the Church, or merely permitted and only of a limited and partial kind. If the Pope, without going through the usual lengthy proceedings accepts one or more of the conditions stated in the Bull, and authorizes or permits the public cultus of a confessor or martyr in a particular locality, such a declaration would be equivalent beatification.

An example of such beatification is furnished by the case of some of the English martyrs under Henry VIII and Elizabeth who were beatified in 1886. It was shown by the postulator of the cause that the pictures of these martyrs were painted on the English College in Rome in 1582 with the approval of Gregory XIII and in such a manner as to give Papal authority for the veneration of the martyrs so depicted. Leo XIII accepted as proof the authorization of Gregory and, omitting further inquiry, issued the formal decree of beatification.

Is the Pope infallible in issuing a decree of beatification or canonization? In regard to beatification, the general teaching of theologians and canonists is that whether there is question of formal or equivalent beatification, the Papal decree is not infallible. Some hold the contrary view, on the ground that for the process of canonization there is no new examination of the life and virtues of the Beatus, but merely a judicial pronouncement in regard to the new miracles worked by God at his intercession. Still writers generally maintain that Papal infallibility does not extend to decrees of beatification, since beatification is always a permission, not a command, and while it is a step on the road to canonization , it is not definitive and final.

But that the Church is infallible in the canonization of saints is a proposition that is beyond all doubt, and this view has been always held with practical unanimity by Catholic writers. St. Thomas says: "Since the honor we pay the saints is in a certain sense a profession of faith - i.e., a belief in the glory of the saints (qua sanctorum gloriam credimus) - we must piously believe that in this matter also the judgment of the Church is not liable to error" - Quodlibet IX, a.16.

These words of the holy Doctor supported as they are by many similar passages from his writings, are interpreted by his school to mean that he held the doctrine of Papal infallibility in the matter of canonization. The Popes themselves believe and assert that the decision which they publish on these occasions is infallible. And in works dealing with the subject long lists of the most illustrious theologians are given who are in favor of Papal infallibility in canonization.

Let us consider briefly some of the arguments which form the basis of this general agreement of theologians. First, taking the decree issued by the Pope in the act of canonization we see that it is intimately connected with faith and morals.

This decree declares that the person canonized is a saint, and orders that his memory be devoutly and piously celebrated by all the faithful on a particular day each year. The cultus thus prescribed has been at all times an essential part of the public worship of the Church. The long line of saints, beginning with the martyrs in Apostolic times and lengthening with every age, forms a golden chain that binds together the first and second coming of our Savior. From the moment of canonization the saints are placed on the glorious roll of those who are set forth for invocation and veneration in the Missal, in the Breviary, in the public liturgy of the Church. And in thus regulating the honor to be paid to God and His saints, the Church is but obeying the precept of Christ to the Apostles "to observe all things whatever was commanded to them," in the observance of which she is protected from error by the solemn promise of God "to be with her all days, even to the consummation of the world."

Again, Papal infallibility in these matters becomes still more certain and undeniable if we suppose for a moment the possibility of error in canonization. We are all members of Christ, and we have the unspeakable happiness to belong to that body which, in the words of the inspired writer, is a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle" -! Eph.chap.5.

The Church is holy in a real and true sense; and the thought that an error could be committed in canonizing a saint is absolutely repugnant to her essential sanctity. For this would imply that a person who was damned and the slave of the devil might be proposed for the veneration of all the faithful, that he should be invoked as such by the faithful, and that Masses should be celebrated and Offices recited in his honor throughout the universal Church.

The very thought of this superstition and impiety - so great a triumph for the evil one - would excite feelings of abhorrence in the mind of a Christian. "In the Church,' says St. Thomas, "there can be no damnable error; but this would be a damnable error, if he were venerated as a saint who was in reality a sinner."

The note of holiness in the Church requires above all things that her religious worship should be pure and holy, and this stainless purity can be secured only by the prerogative of infallibility in the canonization of saints.

Here then there can be no room for error; the human and the Divine elements in the kingdom of Christ are united to protect and safeguard the worship of His children, and enable them to render unto God an acceptable sacrifice and a clean oblation.

(To be continued)

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