Historical Sketch of Canonization


The Excepted Case

ALL causes of canonization may be divided into two classesthose which proceed by the ordinary way of noncultus, and those which are carried through by the provisions of the excepted case.

To the first class belong the causes of all the servants of God who have never been honoured by public ecclesiastical worship. These form the vast majority of causes of canonization, and the procedure described in this chapter has no reference whatsoever to them. The servants of God who have received public veneration belong to the second or exceptional class, and to this class exclusively the present Process has application. Equipollent or equivalent beatification is intimately connected with this Process, for all those servants of God, and those only who proceed to beatification by way of the Excepted Case, receive, if the final judgment is favourable, equipollent beatification. In other words, the cultus with which they are already honoured is authorised by the Holy See on proof of one or more of the exceptional conditions stated in the Bull of Urban VIII. There is no other enquiry in the case of these servants of God; if immemorial cultus is judicially proved they proceed at once to beatification.

It may be asked what is the use of the approbation of Rome if they are already in receipt of public and legitimate veneration? The answer is that equipollent, beatification strengthens and enlarges the cultus they are receiving and opens the way to canonization. The Order of St. Dominick, for example, could not celebrate the feasts of Blessed Reginald, or Blessed Andrew Avellino. The Order applied to Rome petitioning the recognition of the immemorial honour rendered to these holy personages. Their causes were duly investigated, it was proved that they enjoyed public religious honour since 1524, over a hundred years before the Bull of Urban, and the Holy See permitted their feasts to be celebrated with a proper office and Mass.

Who are the servants of God of whom there is question in this Process, and why are they regarded as an exceptional class? For answer we must refer to the celebrated Decrees of Urban VIII., the first, published in 1625, and the second, confirming it, published in 1634. These decrees prohibit public and ecclesiastical worship to be shown towards servants of God who are not beatified or canonised, with the exception of those who were the objects of a cultus arising either, "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 of holy men, or the long and intentional tolerance of the Holy See or the Ordinary." These words supply a clear answer to both questions, and, though the servants of God excepted in the decree may be either martyrs or confessors, it is clear from the conditions laid down that they must be comparatively few in number. The Decree of Urban gives several exceptions from the law prohibiting cultus namely, those who have received religious honour, by the general consent of the Church, or those who have received it by a custom of which the memory of man ran not to the contrary, or those who are the objects of a cultus against which there was no remonstrance in the writings of the Fathers or holy men, or finally, those who received honour by the long and continued tolerance of the Holy See or the Ordinary. But, of all these, by far the most commonly occurring exception is the case of cultus from time immemorial, and the Excepted Case always refers to immemorial cultus, unless the contrary is evident from the context. This cultus, as defined in another part of the Decree, must exceed in duration a period of a hundred years, and must therefore have commenced on or before the year 1525 or a hundred years before the Bull of Urban was issued.

The Process regarding the Excepted Case has a close analogy with the Process of noncultus. Cultus or public honour is the object of enquiry in both. But, whilst in the Process of noncultus the end in view is to show the absence of religious honour, the purpose of the Process in the Excepted Case is to show that the servant of God was the recipient of public veneration. It must be proved too, first, that this cultus extended back a hundred years before the Bull of Urban, and, according to the ancient decrees, confirmed by a decree of Pius IX. issued in 1868, it must also be juridically proved that this cultus continued without notable interruption down to the time when the judge of the Process pronounces sentence.

The enquiry regarding the Excepted Case may be conducted either by Episcopal or Apostolic authority. In former times it was customary to establish the Process after the Introduction of the Cause, and in this case the enquiry was Apostolic. But more recently the custom has long obtained of constructing the Process by Ordinary authority.

The first point to be determined by the Court is the existence of cultus, and the recognised proofs of this cultus were somewhat as follow: That the body of the servant of God was solemnly raised from the tomb that it was exposed for public veneration that it was placed under the table of an altar, and according to the Bollandists such exposition for the public veneration of the faithful was regarded as solemn canonization that the name of the servant of God was invoked in public supplications that his image was given in painting or in sculpture with an aureole or rays round the head, the former being proper to a saint, the latter to a person beatified that anniversaries were celebrated in his honour that oratories were built to him that he was regarded as the patron of a city or state that honour was rendered to him with the knowledge and tolerance of the Holy See or the Ordinary that votive tablets were attached to his sepulchre, candles lighted, or incense offered there that public prayers were said to obtain his intercession that an office was recited in his honour or Mass celebrated that the title of Blessed or Saint was given to him in public statues, writings, or monuments, or any other signs of ecclesiastical cultus. It is not necessary that all these proofs should be adduced in every single instance, but it is essential that it should be shown beyond all possible doubt that he began to receive public religious honour as early as 1525, and that this cultus was continued without moral interruption to the close of the enquiry.

The number of witnesses in this Process should be at least eight or ten, besides those called officially by, the judge or by the Fiscal Promoter.1 Nor is it sufficient that they should testify to the honour paid to the servant of God at the time of the examination, but they should be able to give evidence as to past cultus, what they remember, what they have heard from their ancestors, and what has come down to them by tradition, whether favourable or otherwise. Hence witnesses should, as far as possible, be persons of judgment and responsibility, and well versed in the history of their country. And since the evidence must show that religious honour reached back to the year 1525 and was continued through the ages to the close of the enquiry it is generally necessary to produce historical documents to supply adequate proof. And hence provision is duly made for taking authentic extracts from the works of recognised historians, and from ancient manuscripts preserved in libraries and museums. In like manner, experts are called into requisition to show the exact meaning and weight to be attached to paintings, statues, tablets, oratories, and monuments of every kind, and, as far as possible, pictures or copies of these are to be inserted in the records of the Process.

Finally, the Court visits the tomb of the servant of God and examines any signs of religious honour to be seen there. And if the body is regarded as incorrupt, or if an odour proceeds from it which is considered supernatural, skilled surgeons and physicians are called who give their opinion under oath on these important points. Then the judge, having carefully considered all the arguments favourable and unfavourable, solemnly pronounces sentence, and declares, if he can do so before God, that religious honour was paid to the servant of God from time immemorial, and that it continued to the date of the sentence. The solemnities required for all Ordinary Processes must be carefully observed at every stage of the work; and the official duties of this Process are complete when a signed and sealed copy of the acts is sent by the accredited Bearer to the Congregation of Rites.

The judgment of the Process, together with the evidence on which it is based, is afterwards reviewed at an ordinary meeting of the Congregation; and if the decision is favourable, a Decree of Confirmation is issued and the servant of God is equivalently beatified. Equipollent beatification is not celebrated with the ceremonies of ordinary beatification.

1 Fornari, p. 222.

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