The History of Canonization


The Ordinary Informative Process

IN this chapter it is proposed to describe fully the mode of procedure observed in the Ordinary Informative Process, and to explain in detail the work of the various sessions; and, for the purpose of this explanation, it is assumed that, according to the custom now generally received, the Process is carried out with all the ceremonial and formality prescribed for all subsequent Processes. The full description here given will save repetition in explaining the other Processes, and it will be sufficient, as a rule, to indicate, with regard to these Processes, important points of difference in procedure, and to set forth the special work assigned to them by recognized usage and enactment.

The series of examinations for the Beatification and Canonization of servants of God begins with the Ordinary Informative Process. This Process is the first judicial act which takes place in causes of canonization. It is called "Ordinary," because it is established by the Bishop, who is by the usage of Canon Law called the Ordinary of the diocese. The Bishop derives his authority in this matter from the Council of Trent, from the Common Law of the Church, and from custom. The VicarGeneral, though entitled to the name of Ordinary, has no authority by virtue of his office to construct this Process. The Process is called "Informative" to distinguish it from the other two Processes which Bishops have the right to construct, and especially because its object is to supply information to the Holy See regarding the reputation for sanctity of life and for virtues and miracles enjoyed by the servant of God.

Mention is first made of the Ordinary Process in the petition for the canonization of St. Raymund of Pennafort, died 1275, but at this early date the Process did not possess full judicial authority. In 1634 Urban VIII., in a special Brief confirming his general decrees, ordained that in future no cause of canonization should be undertaken by the Holy See unless the Informative Enquiry was first carried out. From that date, therefore, it is the fixed usage of the Church that the Informative Process should be regularly held in all causes of canonization.

For the valid construction of this Process it is sufficient that those formalities are observed which are required by Canon Law for ordinary courts of enquiry held by Bishops. But it is most congruous and desirable that the Ordinary should carry out all the formalities which are observed in Apostolic Processes of Canonization, both because of the grave nature of the matter in question, and because, when thus solemnly constructed, this Process takes equal rank with the Apostolic Process as regards the nature and weight of the evidence given before it. All these solemnities are set forth in this chapter, and the prudent Postulator will take care that they are carefully adhered to in practice.

Although the great object of this Process, as has been stated above, is to supply information to the Holy See regarding the reputation for virtues and miracles enjoyed by the servant of God, it is nevertheless most important that not only the general reputation should be proved, but that the individual virtues and miracles should be examined before the Court, and, if possible, established by evidence. For, according to the usual practice of the Holy See, no enquiry is now instituted in Rome regarding the individual heroic virtues until the Ordinary and Apostolic Processes on the reputation for sanctity have been held and their joint evidence combined for examination. Moreover, those who give evidence in the Informative Process are for the most part eyewitnesses, and, being possessed of more complete and accurate knowledge, their testimony must carry greater weight, and there is a better opportunity at this early stage for the solution of all possible difficulties. And, as a considerable time must elapse before the Apostolic Process concerning the individual virtues and miracles can be established, many of the witnesses may have died or left the place in the meantime, so that their evidence is no longer available. And if a number of witnesses give testimony of a reputed miracle in the Ordinary Process, and this evidence is confirmed by the same or other eyewitnesses in the Apostolic Process, the combination of both will much more easily give complete and satisfactory proof of the miracle.

For these amongst other reasons it is of the highest importance that, in addition to the enquiry into the reputation for sanctity, an examination should also be held in the Informative Process regarding the individual virtues and miracles. It will be useful, therefore, to point out here the exact nature of this twofold enquiry first, into the reputation for sanctity; and second, into the specific virtues and miracles.

If it is asked, then, what is meant by the reputation for sanctity and miracles which forms the subjectmatter of enquiry in the Informative Process, the answer is that a mere rumor or current story devoid of authority is never sufficient; the report must be of a widespread character found to exist amongst the more prudent and responsible section of the community. To use the words of Benedict XIV., who is acknowledged to be a master on all questions of canonization, this reputation is "nothing else than a judgment or common opinion regarding the purity and integrity of life, and the virtues, not rarely, but by continued acts when occasion arose, exercised above the ordinary mode of other virtuous men and women by some servant of God now deceased, also regarding miracles wrought through their intercession with God, so that devotion towards them having sprung up in one or more places they are invoked by many persons in their necessities, and, in the judgment of many men of weight and authority, they are considered worthy to be placed by the Apostolic See on the roll of saints or beatified persons."

The Informative Process makes enquiry into the reputation for sanctity of the servant of God during his life and after his death, and it also investigates the circumstances of his death.

In regard to his reputation for sanctity during life, it is asked what opinion on his sanctity was prevalent; was he regarded as a saint by pious and worthy persons; was this opinion constant, and derived from the virtues and graces with which he was, adorned by God; was he often called upon to relieve the misfortunes and troubles of others; did the populace pay him honor and respect; were there other signs of his repute for holiness.

As to his reputation after death, the Process enquires whether on account of his reputed sanctity he was buried in a distinct place apart from others; whether there was any notable inscription on his tomb; whether the faithful flocked in large numbers to his grave to implore his intercession; did they endeavor to obtain pictures and relics of the deceased, and did they consider him worthy of the honor of an Altar; did they regard him as a saint and think he would not be detained in the purifying flames of Purgatory; did they piously recall his good works and consider his intercession efficacious with God.

Then the Informative Process examines the circumstances of his death, and enquires whether from preceding, accompanying, and subsequent signs it was regarded as precious in the sight of the Lord. And in reference to antecedent signs, it is asked whether he predicted his approaching death and how; what was his last illness, and did he bear the pains of sickness joyfully and with perfect submission to the Divine Will; was he obedient to the directions of his medical attendants; did he elicit remarkable acts of virtue in his last illness, and breathe forth fervent prayers to God; did he ask for the rites of the Church, and with what fervor did he receive the last Sacraments.

As to the signs of holiness accompanying his death, it is asked whether he was glad at the announcement of his approaching dissolution; whether he was inflamed with the desire of eternal life; whether he listened with joy to the prayers of the priest in attendance; whether he sustained a conflict with the evil one; whether he showed any other signs of extraordinary sanctity at this supreme moment.

In regard to subsequent signs of holiness, it is asked whether immediately after death the report went round that a saintly person had departed this life; whether the people in large numbers attended the obsequies; whether there was any special manifestation of honor towards him, and what was its nature; whether there was any miraculous event by which God marked the sanctity of His servant.

The reputation for sanctity must be borne out by intelligent and trustworthy witnesses who are intimately acquainted with the life of the servant of God in its various stages, and who are capable of forming a reliable judgment on the prevailing opinion regarding his sanctity and miracles. The Introduction of the Apostolic Process will be sought for in vain if the reputation for sanctity and miracles is not proved beyond all possibility of doubt, and, as a general principle, the proof would be regarded as weak and imperfect if not solemnly attested by at least thirty witnesses.

In dealing with the duties of witnesses in these enquiries it has been stated already that on account of the difficulty of procuring sufficient evidence of sanctity many hermits and solitaries of extraordinary holiness have never been enrolled in the catalog of saints. One feels inclined to think that the same remark applies to numbers of saintly men and women living in the world, whose whole lives are one continued act of joyous, cheerful, almost unconscious selfsacrifice and self denial. From first to last they lead lives of purity; their hearts and minds are so thoroughly imbued with the Christian spirit that all the imperfections and shortcomings of our nature appear to have died within them, and they seem to be incapable of thinking or acting save on the lines laid down by our Blessed Savior. Every thought they think, every act they perform, proceeds from the motive of charity, from the love of God overflowing into a love of the brethren. They suffer, but sadness is a thing apart from their lives; they know not the joys of this world; they take their Purgatory here below; and one can readily believe that when their hour is come they go straight to their reward. They preserve the faith, and hand it down with undimmed luster to those who come after them. And as the sunshine gives joy and health and vigor in the order of nature, so these holy souls are a source of light and strength, dispelling the clouds of doubt, encouraging the faltering and the timid in the spiritual combat. They shed a gentle influence around them, and the noble example of their lives wins many wayward souls to God. Without ostentation or display the good they do is inestimable.

What Irish priest is there of, say, twenty years' missionary work who has not come across such souls as these? Some casual act, some chance circumstance, reveals their presence. The writer remembers some years ago being called to administer the last Sacraments to an aged woman. The distance was far about nine miles and the attendants at the sick bed had abandoned all hope that the poor old lady could survive till the priest arrived. But she prayed with the most intense fervor that her life would be spared till she received the last rites of the Church. It would seem as if a miracle had been worked in her favor. Her prayer was granted, and when the priest arrived she burst into wild transports of joy, thanking God most earnestly for His goodness to her, and declaring in the most soulstirring accents that she knew the Blessed Virgin, to whom she had always prayed for a happy death, would not abandon her in her last hour. The priest rapidly administered the last Sacraments, and just as he had finished the saintly patient breathed forth her soul to God. Her simple earnest faith, her childlike confidence in our Blessed Lady will ever remain engraven upon his memory. We rarely hear of the canonization of such as these. The means are not available for the rigorous examination required by the Church. But the good God will reward them abundantly in His Heavenly Kingdom.

In regard to the second part of the examination carried out by the Informative Process, it must suffice to state here that it makes minute enquiry into the individual virtues and miracles of the servant of God, examining the possession of the three theological virtues faith, hope and charity; and the four cardinal virtues prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, as well as the virtues suited to his calling or state in life. For full details of this examination the reader must be referred to the chapters describing the Process on the individual virtues and the Process on miracles.

In textbooks written for the guidance of officials the most minute and elaborate instructions are given as to the mode of procedure. Ample provision is made for every possible contingency. Nothing is overlooked, nothing is left to chance; directions are given for every stage of the enquiry with the most minute detail from the day on which the Postulator of the cause first makes application to the Ordinary of the diocese till the time when a duly signed and sealed copy of the work of the Process is sent by an accredited Bearer to be laid before the Congregation of Rites. The form of oath to be taken by each of the officials is given, forms of letters to Rome, of letters summoning witnesses, of letters granting authority to the officials of the Process; all these are set out with the utmost minuteness, and may be seen by anyone. It is not proposed to overload this little work by giving these forms in detail, their substance will be given so far as is necessary to explain the procedure.

The first step towards the construction of the Informative Process is taken when the Postulator, having satisfied himself that there is reasonable ground to hope for the success of the cause, and supported by the Commission of Procuration, approaches the Bishop of the diocese and petitions him to establish the Process. The Bishop replies according to the canonical form granting the petition. If the Bishop is impeded from acting in the capacity of Judge he delegates another Bishop or other ecclesiastic to act in his stead according to the powers described above in the chapter on the Construction of Processes. In his letter granting the petition of the Postulator the Bishop fixes the day and hour for the first session, and also designates the place where it is to be held, which must be a church, or an oratory specially devoted to the worship of God. The officials are summoned according to the prescribed method, and all necessary preparation is made for the opening of the Process.


The first session of the Informative Process, and of all Processes, whether established by Episcopal or Apostolic authority, is held for a twofold purpose, to show fully the authority for constructing the Process, and to administer the oath to some of the officials. The first session of every Process is public, and in all public sessions that is to say, when there is no secret discussion two witnesses are present who sign at the end and bear testimony on oath that the work of the session was duly performed. The Judge takes the oath at the first session, and the Bishop of the diocese, even when not acting in the capacity of Judge, is generally sworn, in order that he may be in a position to assist the Judges by his counsel and advice through the course of the enquiry. In like manner the Fiscal Promoter and both Notaries take the oath at this session according to the prescribed form. The following documents are incorporated in the record of the session: The petition of the Postulator to the Bishop and the Bishop's reply granting leave to hold the Process, the Commission of Procuration obtained by the Postulator, the citation of the Fiscal Promoter, the documents granting authority to the two Notaries, to the two Witnesses and to the Messenger. The acts of the session are signed by the Judge, or Judges, when there are more than one, by the Fiscal Promoter, by the Notary deputed to take the part of Actuary, and by the two witnesses. Then the other Notary, sometimes called the Ecclesiastical Notary, prepares and signs a special instrument or document which gives official authority to the work done at the session. A declaration of this kind. duly signed by the Notary, is absolutely necessary for all sessions in the Informative and all other Processes, and in its absence the work done is null and void, and will not be recognized by the Holy See.


The second session of the Informative Process which is also public, and has the testimony of the two witnesses referred to above, is held for the purpose of receiving the oath of calumny from the Postulator, and to present the Propositions and Articles for the examination, together with a list of the witnesses. At the end of the first session the Fiscal Promoter is generally summoned by the Notary to be present at this the second session. It is expedient to give the words of the oath of calumny taken by the Postulator on this occasion on bended knees and touching the book of the Gospels: "I swear and promise that I do not enter, that I have not entered, nor shall enter upon this cause and the construction of this Process or any act of this Process from hatred, love, fear, lucre or any other human motive, but solely from zeal for the honor and glory of God, who is magnified and to be praised in His saints; and that my Principals, who appointed me, had this intention, to whose design as well as to my own I swear by all the clauses expressed or implied in a similar oath of calumny. This is my oath; so help me God and these His holy Gospels."

The oath having been taken and signed, the Judge or Judges admit formally the Propositions and Articles and the list of witnesses, and direct the Notary to summon the witnesses through the Messenger to the third session in order to be sworn. All is signed by the Judge, the Promoter of the Faith and the two witnesses. Lastly, the Notary, as in the first session, signs a declaration that everything was done in due and proper order. The summons to the Fiscal Promoter, the Propositions and Articles, together with the list of witnesses are appended.


The third session is devoted exclusively to the swearing of the witnesses. The Messenger must sign a declaration to the effect that he personally summoned the Fiscal Promoter and the several witnesses to this session. The oath is administered in the vernacular, if the witness does not understand Latin; and all the witnesses sign their names to the oath taken. If any witness is unable to write he makes the sign of the cross as a signature, the Notary adding the words: "The sign of the cross of the witness N. N., who cannot write." A statement that the witnesses have been duly summoned and sworn is signed by the Judge, by the Fiscal Promoter, and by the two witnesses. The Notary signs a declaration as in the other sessions, and the summonses to the Fiscal Promoter and the witnesses are inserted.


The examination of the first witness begins at the fourth session. The proceedings are not open to the public, the evidence being given with closed doors, and only the Judges, the Fiscal Promoter, the Notary and the witness are present. The obligation of secrecy is binding until the decree of publication is issued, when the authenticated copy of the minutes is made towards the end of the Process. The Articles and Interrogatories are shown at this session, and the witnesses are not allowed to confer amongst themselves, or speak to anyone but the members of the Court concerning the subjectmatter of their evidence. The witness to be examined is bound to repeat the oath given in the third session, but in a shorter form. The questions are put to the witness clearly and in order, and the replies are written verbatim by the Notary at the dictation of the Judge or the Fiscal Promoter. The depositions are given not in the third but in the first person for example, "I have known the servant of God," not "the witness replied that he knew the servant of God." If, however, the witness had no evidence to give regarding one or more Interrogatories say, for example the 10th the Notary records it in this manner: "Concerning the 10th Interrogatory, the witness replied that he knew nothing."

The deposition opens with a long statement setting forth the date of the session and the place where it was held, the names of the officials present, the oath of the witness and its repetition, together with any other important circumstance as given with full details in guidebooks for Postulators. If the examination of the witness cannot be completed at this session it is postponed to the following session, for which the time is fixed by the Court and recorded in the minutes. At all sessions of Processes for canonization it is usual to indicate the work of the succeeding session. Towards the close of the session the witness signs his deposition, and the Judge and Fiscal Promoter also affix their signatures. And the Notary, as in the other sessions, adds a signed declaration, always necessary for the validity of the session, stating that everything was carried out in order and with the prescribed formality.

To be continued

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