The process of beatification and canonization as observed in the Catholic Church
JERUSALEM – May 2015: Repeated beatifications and canonizations took place in the Catholic Church, especially since the protracted Pontificate of St John Paul II. Few days ago, the Holy Land celebrated the canonization of two Palestinian nuns, Sr Mariam of Jesus Crucified Bawardi and Mother Marie Alphonsine Ghattas. It is during a Eucharistic celebration that Church proclaims the sainthood of a Christian. Such a proclamation is generally preceded by a lengthy, multi-phased procedure, which may last for years, and sometimes even centuries!
These procedures had been worked out over the course of centuries before getting to us in their present format. They are of canonic and disciplinary nature, and are therefore different from the irrevocable Dogma, or Deposit of Faith. They are worked out by the Church which has the power, given to her by the Lord, to lead, to teach and to sanctify the people of God, while a Dogmas is a God-revealed Truth, both in Scriptures and Tradition, which the Church receives, contemplates and deepens with the duty of conveying it in all truthfulness on to people, not as some sort of “ideology”, but as a living Truth which lights up the path of men in their research for God and the salvation of their souls. “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path” (Ps 119:105).
- “God’s Servant”
It is the first step towards canonization. In the Catholic Church, in ancient times and until a very recent date, God’s servant was a non regulated title, which could be attributed to any person with special devotion. However since 2007 this title bears a special significance, and the bishop would confer it to the candidate for beatification first and then canonization.
Is called Venerable “God’s Servant” whose ‘heroic virtuous acts” were recognized by Church. The Bishop would appoint a Canonic commission (including historians, theologians, Vatican experts) entrusted to perform a critical study of its writings and to pile them within a set of documents transmitted to Rome, to the Congregation for the Cause of Saints” which performs the final study. Should the Congregation accept the file, it would appoint a rapporteur whose mission is to write a synthesis (called Positio) on all documents (biography, virtues, and miracle). A college of cardinals and bishops would study the Positio and give its standpoint on the heroic virtuous acts (faith, hope, charity, etc). The bull of heroic virtuous acts makes of God’s Servant a venerable (1).
Beatification stands for the solemn act by which the Pope declares that a public worship could be granted to a God’s Servant. As of Paul V (1605-1621), beatification was conceded as a forerunner of a pre-planned canonization.
At first a simple decree, the declaration of beatification was linked to a ritual taking more and more magnitude. Since 1971, beatification ceremony was chaired by the Pope himself and henceforth does not outwardly differ from canonization. Since the reforms of Paul VI in 1969 and of John Paul in 1983, the process ahead of beatification was considerably eased off.
The miracles are examined during three meetings at different levels: that of experts (or group of doctors, in case of cure), of theologians and of cardinals-bishops members of the Congregation. A single miracle is required for a beatification, except for a martyr who is dispensed. Sometimes the miracle may not involve a cure. We find examples in modern history of the Church.
It stands for the solemn act by which the Pope orders that a God’s Servant, counted among the blessed, should be added on the catalogue of saints (meaning the Roman martyrologist) and venerated in the Universal Church (Latin). We see immediately the difference between beatification and canonization. With the former, the worship of a new blessed is conceded to a city, a diocese, an area or a religious family. With canonization the verdict is final, and the hero-worship is extended to the whole Church. As such, canonization is the final stage of a longstanding history.
Among the requisites for a canonization lies the study of a new miracle after beatification and that also in the cause of martyrdom. Study of miracles for a canonization is performed along the same rules for a beatification. In most of the cases, the alleged miracle is one of healing. But it may happen that the miracle does not involve healing.
A special case
Beside the solemn canonization, there is another form of canonization called “equipollent”, and yet more rare: two cases were recorded since 1588. It is the case of ancient people, known for a local, broad hero-worship, the study of which is entrusted to the historical department of the concerned Congregation. No miracle is required, but what counts is the reputation of miracles performed before or after the death of the person, reported by trustworthy sources. In such cases, Canonization is done through publishing a bull, without any other ritual, with however the effects of a genuine canonization.
Article adapted by Firas Abedrabbo
- Gate to Catholic Liturgy (Conference of Bishops of France)
- Articles by Fr Jean Evenou, Lexicon of Miracles and Christian Extraordinary, Fayard, 2002
- Decree of heroic virtuous acts is not necessary for a martyr ; it is replaced by another decree concluding the martyrdom of God’s servant