Fr John Flader: Saint-making an exhaustive job

06 Aug 2008

By The Record

Can you please tell me the difference between a “Blessed”, such as Blessed Mary MacKillop or Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassatti, and a “Saint”? What is necessary for someone to be called “Blessed” or “Saint”?

Pope Benedict XVI with the head of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, which Mary MacKillop founded. The Australian blessed needs one more miracle proven to be confirmed a saint, which the pontiff promised she would be, eventually. Photo: WYD08

It may be helpful to go back to the beginning of the process of beatification and canonisation in order to consider the various stages along the way that lead to the declaration of someone as “Blessed” and eventually “Saint”.
The norms that govern the process are contained in Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister, of the 25th January 1983, and the norms issued by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints on the 7th February 1983 for the implementation of that document at diocesan level.
Before commencing the cause of someone who died with a reputation for holiness, it is ordinarily necessary for at least five years to have passed since the death of the person. This allows for greater balance and objectivity in evaluating the case. As is well known, in the case of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II, this requirement was waived.
The bishop of the diocese in which the candidate lived and died is responsible for beginning the investigation. A postulator is appointed, who gathers all possible information about the person. With the permission of the Holy See, the bishop forms a tribunal and calls witnesses to testify regarding the life and particularly the exercise of the virtues by the person. Once the Holy See has approved the beginning of the process at diocesan level the person may be called “Servant of God”.
Meanwhile theologians examine the person’s writings, including unpublished works such as letters and diaries, which must be found to contain nothing contrary to faith or morals. And it must be verified that, in keeping with a decree of Pope Urban VIII, there has been no public veneration of the person. Private veneration and devotion, making use of a prayer card of the person, is of course permitted.
When the diocesan investigation has concluded, all the documentation is forwarded to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. There a Relator is named to oversee the cause and to prepare the Positio, a summary of all the documentation. This includes a biography of the person and the evidence for the heroic exercise of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, and related virtues such as humility, chastity, etc.
The Positio is examined by theologians appointed by the Congregation who give their judgment, and if the majority is favourable, it is then examined by cardinals and bishops who are members of the Congregation.
If their judgment is favourable the Prefect of the Congregation presents the results of the entire process to the Holy Father, who gives his approval and authorises the Congregation to draft a Decree of Heroic Virtues. When the Decree has been made public, or promulgated, the person is called “Venerable”. In the case of a martyr, a decree on the fact of martyrdom replaces the need to investigate the exercise of heroic virtues.
In order to proceed to beatification, it must be verified that a miracle attributed to the intercession of the person has taken place. Miracles, which are often naturally inexplicable medical cures, are examined thoroughly by medical experts in the relevant field and by theologians appointed by the Congregation.
In a sense, the human judgment of the holiness of the person is made by the study leading to the decree on heroic virtues, and then the divine confirmation of this judgment may be said to be given through the verification of the miracle.
When a decree on the miracle has been promulgated, the Holy Father decides on a date and place for the ceremony of beatification. With beatification, the person is now called “Blessed” and public veneration, usually limited to a particular place or to the houses of the religious institute to which the person belonged is now permitted. A feast day is assigned and texts for the Mass and Divine Office are approved.
For canonisation another miracle, which has taken place after the Beatification, must be verified. Once the study of the second miracle has been approved by the Congregation, the Holy Father approves the whole cause and sets a date for the canonisation. This judgment of sanctity involves the exercise of papal infallibility.
With the canonisation, usually conducted by the Holy Father himself, the person is included in the list of the saints and acquires the title of “Saint”. The new saint may be venerated publicly in the universal Church and parishes and churches may be dedicated to him or her.