PopeWatch: Saint Maker

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One of the distinguishing features of the papacy since Vatican II has been an enthusiasm for proclaiming saints.  Sandro Magister at his blog Chiesa explains how Pope Francis has been exercising this power:


He explained, in fact, that Anchieta will be inscribed in the list of saints together with two blesseds born in France who played a leading role in the evangelization of Canada: the missionary mystic Marie of the Incarnation (née Marie Guyart, 1599-1672), and Bishop François de Montmorency-Laval (1623-1708).

The three were beatified by John Paul II on June 22, 1980, together with two other venerables who had lived in the Americas, who in the meantime had already been canonized according to the ordinary procedure: Peter of Saint Joseph Betancur (1626-1667) and the young Native American virgin Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1980), proclaimed saints, respectively, by John Paul II on July 30, 2002 and by Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012.

Everything by the book? No. The bishop of Tenerife has revealed that the three blesseds will be proclaimed saints not according to the ordinary procedure, which demands the canonical recognition of a miracle attributed to their intercession, but through a historically extraordinary channel called the “canonization equivalent.”

The nature of this special procedure, which “has always been present in the Church and has been employed regularly, if not frequently,” was illustrated in “L’Osservatore Romano” on October 12, 2013 by Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the congregation for the causes of saints.

The cardinal explains:

“For such a canonization, according to the teaching of Benedict XIV, three elements are required: an ancient tradition of devotion, the constant and common attestation of trustworthy historians on the virtues or martyrdom, and the uninterrupted fame of miracles.”

Cardinal Amato continues:

“If these conditions are satisfied – again according to the teaching of pope Prospero Lambertini – the supreme pontiff, by his authority, can proceed with the ‘canonization equivalent,’ meaning the extension to the universal Church of the recitation of the divine office and the celebration of the Mass [in honor of the new saint], ‘without any definitive formal sentence, without any preliminary juridical process, without having carried out the usual ceremonies.'”

In effect, pope Lambertini himself – in one tome of his monumental work “De servorum Dei beatificatione et beatorum canonizatione” now available in Italian from Libreria Editrice Vaticana – enumerates twelve cases of saints canonized in this way before his pontificate (1740-1758).

They are: Romuald (canonized in 1595), Norbert (1621), Bruno (1623), Peter Nolasco (1655), Raymond Nonnatus (1681), Stephen of Hungary (1686), Margaret of Scotland (1691), John of Matha and Felix of Valois (1694), Gregory VII (1728), Wenceslaus of Bohemia (1729), Gertrude of Helfta (1738).

Also in “L’Osservatore Romano” of last October 12, Cardinal Amato then enumerates the “canonization equivalents” after Benedict XIV: Peter Damian and the martyr Boniface (canonized in 1828); Cyril and Methodius of Thessalonica (1880); Cyril of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, Justin Martyr and Augustine of Canterbury (1882); John Damascene and the abbot Sylvester (1890); Bede the venerable (1899); Ephrem the Syrian (1920); Albert the Great (1931); Margaret of Hungary (1943); Gregorio Barbarigo (1960); John of Avila and Nicola Taveli? and three companion martyrs (1970); Marko Krizin, István Pongrácz, and Melchior Grodziecki (1995).

As can be noted, John Paul II, although he proclaimed more saints and blesseds than all his predecessors put together – since the popes have reserved this power to themselves – used only once the procedure of the “canonization equivalent.”

Benedict XVI also used it only once, with Hildegard of Bingen, whom he proclaimed a saint on May 10, 2012.

Pope Francis, however, has already used this exceptional procedure twice. On October 9, 2013 with Angela da Foligno (1248-1309) and the following December 17 with the Jesuit Peter Faber (1506-1546).

And he will use it a third time, proclaiming three new saints, next April 2, with the Jesuit Anchieta, Sister Marie Guyart, and Bishop François de Montmorency-Laval.

In practice the current pontiff, in just one year of pontificate, has had recourse to this special means more times than anyone other than Leo XIII, who used it a bit more, although this was over a span of twenty years (between 1880 and 1899) and was applied to persons of the first millennium of the Christian era, with the sole exception of the abbot Sylvester, who however lived in the remote 14th century.

Go here to read the rest.  When it comes to proclaiming new saints, PopeWatch would prefer a more sedate approach.  Saints have always had a special role in the life of the Catholic Church.  Sometimes events require that a Saint be “fast-tracked”.  The canonizations of Saint Thomas Becket and Saint Francis of Assisi come to mind.  Saints of course are experiencing the Beatific Vision and earthly acclaim, presumably, is of no consequence to them.  Recognizing someone as a saint is not a reward, but rather a saint is acclaimed because of a need perceived by the Church that will be met by a particular canonization.  What particular need justifies the avalanche of new saints over the past 40 years, PopeWatch will leave to sharper intellects to puzzle out.

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  1. … the young Native American virgin Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1980)… That’s pretty old! 😀

    Personally, I am all for declaring more saints because it means there are more intercessors for us to call upon.

  2. They are there in Heaven whether they are proclaimed on Earth or not Kyle, and I am sure they are interceding for us in any case. The change in the past century in regard to canonizations is striking. Pio Nono during his 31 year reign canonized 52 saints. During his 26 year reign Pope John Paul II canonized 483.

  3. As a history buff, I treasure the saints as reminders of what the Church is throughout history. So I don’t like rushed canonizations. It focuses us too much, I think, on the now or the recent past. I also think that John Paul disturbed the sense of continuity by canonizing so many. I have no problem with this alternative method of canonization, though. And if I’ve heard the story correctly, Benedict wanted to declare Hildegard a Doctor of the Church, but she wasn’t a saint yet, so he took a short cut.

    A long side story:

    I remember when John Paul added the new mysteries of the Rosary, and when he changed the traditional seven pilgrimage churches of Rome, I felt like he shouldn’t be doing those things. I love the continuity of the Faith. Fast forward to a few months ago, when I’m visiting Rome for the first time. I got lost in a pretty bad part of town. I ran across a beautiful old church next to a large cemetery, and I remember thinking, “you know, I can understand sometimes tearing churches down”. I usually bristle at that kind of thing, as I had when I was reading about different sites I was going to visit which had been rebuilt repeatedly over the centuries. But I saw this church, and the group of young people out front distributing some kind of white powder amongst themselves, and the general decay of the cemetery, and I could sympathize with the idea that not every church grounds can be maintained for centuries.

    I later used Google Maps to try to retrace my steps from when I got lost, and I found out that church was the Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls, the pilgrimage site that John Paul had dropped from the old list. So maybe my attachments are ungrounded sometimes.

  4. Pinky: “I later used Google Maps to try to retrace my steps from when I got lost, and I found out that church was the Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls, the pilgrimage site that John Paul had dropped from the old list. So maybe my attachments are ungrounded sometimes.”
    Perhaps if Pope John Paul II had not dropped the Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls, it would not have fallen into disrepair and become a hang out. Cemeteries are to show their antiquity.

  5. The 483 canonizations by John Paul 2, what was it all for?
    And now John Paul 2 is benefiting from the liberalization of the canonization procedures which he engineered himself. What is this?
    Post-humous sycophancy and pandering?
    How and when did the RCC lose its spiritual sobriety and discipline?

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