Outline of the Procedure for Canonization

IN the present chapter it is proposed to give a general outline of the entire procedure for canonization from the very beginning down to the final stage, when the Church solemnly places the deceased servant of God upon the roll or catalog of saints. The various Processes, both Ordinary and Apostolic, held in the course of the enquiry, are so elaborate and loaded with so many formalities that there is some danger lest the mind occupied with these details should be diverted from the thoroughly rigorous and searching character of the investigations. These judicial solemnities, which have been preserved in all their ancient abundance, will be seen at length in the chapters on the Construction of Processes and on the Informative Process. To enumerate some of them:all the witnesses are brought to a special session to be sworn, and they come a second time to give their evidence; there is a multiplicity of oaths, even the Postulator having to swear that his intention in undertaking the cause is upright and loyal; the transcription and comparison of documents are carried out under severe and minute formality, so that the sessions become most numerous and fatiguing; and no Process can be carried through without a number of dispensations and indults, as, for instance, in an Apostolic Process, that two judges be allowed to preside instead of four when the bishop or his vicargeneral cannot be present. "On peut differer," says L'Abbe, Boudinhon, "d'avis sur l'utilit! de ces solennite's judiciares d'un autre age; il est permis de se demander si leur maintien integral, l'abondance des ecritures de pure forme la multiplicite des serments, le luxe des signatures de sceaux, d'attestations diverges, ne risque pas de detourner l'attention des veritables preuves."

There is no doubt, however, that the formalities of these enquiries, consecrated by ancient usage are precautions taken to guard against all error and falsehood, and to ensure that the truth shall shine forth in all its brilliancy and splendor. The investigations are of the most searching character, extending over many years, and sometimes from century to century. The whole life of the reputed saint is subjected to the most minute and thorough enquiry, and this is especially true of his writings, his virtues, and his alleged miracles. The "fierce light which beats upon a throne" is as nothing compared to this most careful and elaborate enquiry. The proceedings throughout are conducted with much greater care and formality than the most important suit at law. The history of secular jurisprudence can show us nothing approaching the extreme circumspection observed in these investigations. Numerous witnesses are examined, who must all have an intimate knowledge of the case, and at least some must possess a local and personal acquaintance with the facts. Expert witnesses are also called, and the whole evidence, which is generally of a voluminous character, is thoroughly sifted by able and impartial intellects. The judgment of one court is revised by another, and the final decision in all Processes is reserved to the Holy See. Thus the credibility of direct and reliable testimony is united to the authority of the most serious and competent judicial consideration.

The whole procedure in causes of beatification and canonization, as it exists at the present day, is regulated by the Supreme Pontiff, the directions being contained chiefly in two Bulls issued by Urban VIII. and in subsequent decrees of the Holy See. In the public liturgy of the Church many different classes of saints are recognized, such as apostles, martyrs, confessors, widows, virgins and others; but for our present purpose all these divisions may be included under the two heads of martyrs and confessors. In this sense the word confessor includes all saints who did not actually suffer martyrdom. In the causes of martyrs the crucial enquiry is whether the servant of God was a genuine martyr; for martyrdom has been always regarded as equivalent to the possession of heroic virtue. The method followed in the enquiry regarding martyrs differs somewhat from that regarding confessors, and may be seen at length in the chapter on Martyrs. There is question in the present chapter of Confessors only, for it is in the investigation of the claims of reputed confessors that the procedure of the Church is most perfectly displayed.

It is to be borne in mind then that the procedure has three distinct stages which correspond with the ecclesiastical terms Venerable, Blessed and Saint. The first stage comprises all the acts and enquiries of the Church from the very beginning down to the " Introduction of the Apostolic Process," when the Church makes the cause her own, and the servant of God may be styled Venerable. In the second stage are included all the Apostolic Processes from the signing of the Commission of Introduction to the ceremony of Beatification. And during the third stage all the enquiries take place which are necessary in order that the Blessed one may receive the honor of canonization.


AS a general rule no official act connected with the procedure takes place until some time has elapsed from the death of the person whose canonization is to be promoted. The reason of this inactivity is not far to seek. No steps are ever taken unless the deceased person enjoys a wide reputation for sanctity and miraculous power. And the Church fears that whilst the grave is still fresh the old adage "De mortuis nil nisi bonum" might be carried too far, and, suspecting the enthusiasm of the moment, she gives public opinion time to mature, and divest itself of bias and prejudice. The first step then, when a person has died in the odor of sanctity, is to identify the body and rebury it in a place appointed by ecclesiastical authority. In order that this may be duly carried out the Postulator of the Cause, having a Commission of Procuration signed by numbers of the clergy and people, approaches the Ordinary of the diocese in which the reputed Confessor is buried and obtains from him authority for identification and reburial. When this is obtained the deceased person enjoys the title of servant of God. Should the grave of the deceased be unknown or unapproachable these acts may be omitted by the indulgence of the Holy See, and the cause may proceed.

The Postulator of the Cause next petitions the Bishop to establish the Ordinary Informative Process to enquire into the reputation for sanctity of life and the reputation for virtues and miracles enjoyed by the servant of God. There may be more than one Informative Process, if the witnesses to be examined are to be found in more than one diocese. When this is accomplished, or nearly so, the Postulator begs the Bishop, or a Roman official, to form the Process regarding noncultustthat is, as to whether the Bull of Urban VIII. has been hitherto scrupulously observed.

The acts or minutes of these two enquiries are sent to the Congregation of Rites, which Congregation possesses exclusive authority from the Holy Father in all matters pertaining to the beatification and canonization of saints.

The Acts of these Processes having been duly conveyed to the Eternal City, the chief Postulator of the Cause, who resides in Rome, begs the Holy Father, through a petition drawn up by his Procurator, to direct the Bishops of those places where the writings of the servant of God are known to exist to make a close and diligent search for them. The Bishop, having obtained the delegation of the Sacred Congregation and the instructions of the Promoter of the Faith, establishes a Process called the " Little Process of the Diligences," for the purpose of discovering and collecting the writings. All the works of the servant of God, printed or in manuscript, are sent to Rome, and most closely examined by Revisers deputed by the Cardinal Relator of the Cause, who is elected by the Supreme Pontiff. The object of this examination is to see if the writings contain any proposition contrary to faith or good morals or opposed to pure and sound doctrine. If the report is favorable a decree is issued to the effect that the cause may proceed further. It occasionally happens that by the permission of the Pope the search for the writings and the examination of them are deferred till after the Introduction of the Cause; but, except in a case of urgent necessity, the prudent Postulator, to save time and expense, will avoid taking this course, for something may be found in the writings which would constitute a fatal obstacle to the success of the cause.

As soon as the decree on the writings has been issued, or, as sometimes happens, during the enquiry into the writings, the Postulator begs that the Acts of the Informative Process already sent to Rome be opened before the Sacred Congregation. The Acts of this Process are examined with the utmost care, and the Congregation finally pronounces sentence. If the judgment be favorable it is confirmed by the Pope, and the Holy Father signs the Commission of Introduction. The signing of this Commission is variously known as "The Introduction of the Cause" and "The Introduction of the Apostolic Process." The Introduction of the Cause indicates that a very important point has been reached in the procedure of canonization, and it has been aptly compared to the finding of a grand jury under the law of England that there is ground for sending the case forward for trial.

Without a special Papal dispensation this commission is never signed till at least ten years have passed since the Acts of the Processes above mentioned were transmitted to the Congregation. The servant of God may now be styled "Venerable," for the reputation for sanctity is judicially proved. This title does not imply that any religious honour may be paid to the deceased, all such honour being strictly forbidden until beatification takes place. When the Commission of Introduction is signed, Rome makes the cause its own; and the Bishop, unless specially deputed by the Holy See, can no longer take part in the proceedings.

Besides those hitherto discussed there is another class of causes which is regarded as exceptional by the Bull of Urban VIII. In these causes it must be juridically proved that a public cultus of immemorial antiquity was paid to the servant of Godthat is to say, a cultus reaching back without interruption for a period of over 100 years before the publication of the Bull of Urban in 1625. The issuing of a favourable decree in causes of this kind is termed equipellent beatification, and etitles those servants of God to the same degree of veneration as the servants of God who are formally beatified. If these causes are continued, and canonisation is sought for, the same method of proof is observed as in other causes. But, as has been stated in the Process on Miracles, in order to obtain canonisation it must be shown that four miracles were wrought since the decree of beatification by those servants of God who enjoyed cultus from time immemorial.


When the cause is introduced in Rome the next step is the appointment of a special court for enquiring into the reputation for sanctity and miracles in general. This Process is formed by Apostolic authority in accordance with the instructions contained in the Remissorial Letter of the Pope and the Letter of the Promoter of the Faith. These letters are generally issued before the Congregation pronounces judgment on the question of noncultus, this question being decided as a rule during the construction of the Process on the reputation. The Acts and minutes of the Process are duly transmitted to Rome, where they are discussed and examined with all the prescribed solemnity and a decree is issued in accordance with the merits of the case.

If the result is favourable to the Beatificandus, the Sacred Congregation next proceeds to deliver judgment on the validity of all the Processes, both Ordinary and Apostolic, hitherto held.

A Summary of these Processes is prepared by the Procurator; the Promoter of the Faith raises objections to which the Procurator replies, and finally the question is submitted for solution to a meeting of the Sacred Congregation. If the decree is favorable the way is now open for the new delegation on the individual virtues and miracles.

The Apostolic Process on the individual virtues and miracles is the most important in its nature and working of all that have been formed up to this stage. It inquires most minutely into the real and inmost nature of all that has been deposed respecting the virtues and miracles of the servant of God. When there is danger lest the proofs in favor of the virtues and miracles should be lost, the Pope, by special dispensation, authorizes the establishment of this Process immediately after the Introduction of the Cause. But the work which it has to accomplish at this early stage is strictly confined to the examination of the witnesses whose evidence would not be available in case of delay. This arrangement insures the attainment of the end for which the Process establishednamely, to obtain all possible evidence as to whether the servant of God possessed the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, and also the Cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance, and those connected with them, in the heroic degree. The individual virtues and miracles are not proposed for discussion by the Congregation until fifty years after the death of the servant of God except in very rare cases of most remarkable sanctity. The question is finally considered before three distinct sessions of the Sacred Congregation, at the last of which the Pope himself is present. Having learned the nature of the previous discussions, and taken the votes of the Cardinals, he seeks to know the will of God by earnest prayer, and then pronounces judgment on the momentous question. It is to be noted that on each of the three days on which the question is discussed by the Sacred Congregation the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist is exposed for public adoration from nine o'clock till midday in the churches of the place where the servant of God lived and was buried.

As the possession of miraculous power must be proved at this stage it remains to say a word on the Apostolic Process regarding the miracles. By the decree of Benedict XIV., 1741, it is required that at least two miracles must have been wrought through the intercession of the servant of God before the decree for beatification can be issued. These miracles may be proved in the ordinary Informative Process, and by the Apostolic Process on the individual virtues and miracles, or by means of a special Apostolic Process on the miracles. If the latter course is adopted the Process is usually constructed where the miracles are alleged to have occurred, this place being selected on account of the greater facility thus afforded for producing the necessary witnesses and documentary evidence.

The evidence of medical experts is called into requisition if there is question of miraculous healing, and at the end the Acts are sent to Rome as in other Processes. The question is there discussed in three congregations just in the same manner as the question regarding the virtues. The Pope at length pronounces final judgment, and if the result is favorable he issues a decree that the beatification may take place on the appointed day. The servant of God, styled Venerable since the Introduction of the Cause, is after the Ceremony of Beatification entitled to be called Blessed.


Nothing can be done towards the Canonization of the Blessed one until at least two miracles have been wrought through his or her intercession since the beatification. The Postulator, being satisfied as to the existence of these miracles, petitions the Holy Father and begs that the cause be taken up once more. A new delegation is formed, and the proof of the new miracles is carried on with the same formalities and under the same rigorous conditions as in the case of the former miracles. The enquiry being complete and the Acts having been conveyed to the Sacred Congregation, all the forms are duly carried out which have been observed in the other Processes. Judgment is pronounced on the validity of the Process both as to its substance and form, a description of the miracles is prepared, the question of their existence and proof is proposed before three congregations, at the last of which the Pope is present; finally, the Supreme Pontiff pronounces sentence. Then, if the court is satisfied, judgment is given declaring that no doubt exists relative to the miracles in question, and stating that there is no reason why the canonization should not be proceeded with. Lastly, the Pope issues the decree of canonization, and the longcontinued trial is at an end.

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