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Canonization - Saints - Sanctus

Canonization is the ceremony by which a deceased person, who has previously been beatified, is proclaimed a saint in the Roman and Greek churches. In the Roman church this is done by the pope, who, after investigation, declares the person in question to have led a perfect life, that God has worked miracles at his intercession, either during his life or after his death, and that consequently he is worthy to be honored as a saint.

There are, so to speak, three degrees in the canonization process, to which severally belong the titles of venerable, blessed, and holy, - Venerabilis, Beatus, Sanctus. All who die in "the odor of sanctity" are honored with the name of "Venerabiles," which gives them only the general right to the respect and gratitude of the faithful. Beatification is the preliminary to "Sanctification." The large company of the Beati alone is privileged to offer recruits for the highest rank in the hierarchy.

Before a beatified person can be canonized in the Roman church four consistories must be held. In the first the pope causes the petition of the parties requesting the canonization to be examined by cardinals appointed for the purpose ; in the second the cardinals report the result of their investigation ; in the third, which is public, a person called the devil's advocate (advocatiu diaboli) says all he can against the proposed saints, to which another advocate responds by praising him, and reciting the miracles he has performed; in the fourth and last consistory, ut which all the cardinals are convened, the canonization is put to the vote, and if the verdict is favorable the person is pronounced a saint.

The first canonization is said to have been performed by Leo III in 804. No person can be canonized until 50 years after death, except in cases of martyrdom. Though only two miracles wrought through the intercession of a blessed after formal beatification are required for canonization, three are necessary when the beatification has been merely equivalent or virtual (can. 2138). Finally, no writings relating to the causes of beatification or canonization of servants of God may be published without leave of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Canonization creates a cultus which is universal and obligatory. But in imposing this obligation the pope may, and does, use one of two methods, each constituting a new species of canonization, i. e. formal canonization and equivalent canonization. Formal canonization occurs when the cultus is prescribed in an explicit and definitive decision, after due judicial process and the ceremonies usual in such cases. Equivalent canonization occurs when the pope, omitting the judicial process and the eeremomes, orders some servant of God to be venerated in the Universal Church; this happens when such a saint has been from a remote period the object of veneration, when his heroic virtues (or martyrdom) and miracles are related by reliable historians, and the fame of his miraculous intercession is uninterrupted. Many examples of such canonization are to be found in Benedict XIV: e. g. Saints Romuald, Norbert, Bruno, Peter Nolasco, Raymond Nonnatus, John of Matha, Felix of Valois, Queen Margaret of Scotland, King Stephen of Hungary, Wenceslaus Duke of Bohemia, and Gregory VII. Such instances afford a good proof of the caution with which the Roman Church proceeds in these equivalent canonizations. St. Romuald was not canonized until 439 years after his death, and the honor came to him sooner than to any of the others mentioned.

A cause can be recent or ancient; it is called recent if the martyrdom or virtues of the Servant of God can be proved through the oral depositions of eye witnesses; it is ancient, however, when the proofs for martyrdom or virtues can be brought to light only from written sources. In recent causes, the petition must be presented no sooner than five years after the death of the Servant of God.

The canonization of confessors or martyrs may be taken up as soon as two miracles are reported to have been worked at their intercession, after the pontifical permission of public veneration. The evidence for the causes is collected and studied to evaluate whether the candidates to the honors of the altar truly enjoy a firm and widespread fame of holiness and miracles or martyrdom. Since ancient times, the process for arriving at canonization passes through the proof of virtues and miracles, attributed to the intercession of the candidate to the honours of the altar.

As well as reassurance that the Servant of God lives in Heaven in communion with God, miracles constitute the divine confirmation of the judgment expressed by the ecclesiastical authority on his/her virtuous life. The inquiry on miracles is to be instructed separately from the inquiry on virtues or martyrdom. In the case of a cure from some disease, the Bishop or his delegate is to seek help from a physician, who is to propose questions to the witnesses in order to clarify matters according to necessity and circumstances. If the person healed is still alive, he is to be examined by experts so that the duration of the healing can be ascertained. In the examination of events claimed to be miraculous the competence of scholars and theologians converges, although the last word is given to theology, the only discipline that can give a miracle an interpretation of faith.

Sanctification gave to the " Christian heroes," as M. Chantrel styles them, a right to seven different honors: -

  • 1. Their names are inscribed in the ecclesiastical calendar, in the martyrologies, the litanies, and in all the sacred catalogues ;
  • 2. They are invoked in the prayers and the solemn offices of the Church ;
  • 3. Temples and altars are dedicated to God in their names;
  • 4. Masses are offered in their honor;
  • 5. They have a special " feast-day," a natalitia, which is usually the anniversary of their death ;
  • 6. Their images are exhibited in the Church, and around their heads is fixed the aureole, sign of their heavenly glory ; and
  • 7. Their relics may be shown in shrines, offered to the worship of the people, and borne in the processions.

These are the earthly privileges of the saints, and to these they have a right in all parts of the Catholic world. A canonized saint belongs to no country, though all his natural life were confined to one city or one convent. It is to be presumed, moreover, that all the Beati are fit to become Sancti, and will become so in God's time and the Pope's time.

Canonization is a very ancient custom of the Church, and was much more common in the earlier than in the later centuries. Catholic writers find traces of it in the letters of Cyprian ; and after the time of Constantino, not only the martyrs, but many others of the pious and wise who had died in peace, were commended to the reverence of the faithful. The practice of the Popes has not been uniform. Some have admitted large numbers into the sacred company, while others have canonized sparingly, and some have refrained wholly from the act. Since the canonization of Ulric of Augsburg by Pope John XVI in 993, only 189 ceremonies of canonization were counted prior to the 19th Century, which is an average of somewhat more than twenty in a century. Since the Reformation this average was found to be much too high. It was not desirable to have the impression of this grand ceremony weakened by too frequent repetition. Once in a generation was found to be often enough for the festival; and the effect is heightened, and the balance preserved, by multiplying the number of the individuals canonized. The saints are summoned in companies, and the gateway was widened to admit a score at once. Heaven shall not be defrauded of its rightful increase, though its doors are rarely opened.

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