The Congregation for the Causes of Saints
by Luca de Mata
Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) – To dedicate a dossier to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints is to draw closer to the department of the Roman Curia which examines in detail the lives of those who down through the centuries have made the Catholic Church shine more brightly: the Saints, precisely. Men and women like everyone else, but men and women who distinguished themselves for a love for the Gospel and the Church which, with God's grace, led them to be inscribed in the register of those whom the Church holds up for all the faithful and all men and women to see.
How one becomes a Saint is explained clearly in this dossier by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. "Holiness — he told Fides — is possible in every epoch and in every socio-cultural context. Therefore it is possible also in society today. Holiness is by nature a meta-historic reality, always relevant, in whatever epoch one lives. The means for reaching Christian saintliness can be restricted to one fundamental path: living the Gospel in profundity, with all its consequences, and making it the measure of personal decisions. This is true for all Christians, whatever the situation in which they live or work, whatever their social class. The flower of holiness can and must bloom everywhere and at every level of human society. The world today, in which we watch progressive “amnesia of God ”, has especially need of saints. John Paul II frequently reminded us of this: “Holiness is not a historic ideal, it is a path to walk as disciples of Christ, a particular urgency of our times”. Particularly significant are the words of Simon Weil on the subject: "It is not enough to be holy, it must be the holiness demanded by the present day: a new holiness, unprecedented. The world needs saints with genius, like a city infested with the plague, needs doctors".
Pope Benedict XVI has many times insisted on the need to contemplate the shining example of the saints. On All Saints Day, 1 November 2007, the Holy Father recalled "at the beginning of Christianity, the members of the Church were also called "saints". In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul addresses "those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor 1:2).". Benedict XVI continued "Indeed, Christians are already saints because Baptism unites them to Jesus and to his Paschal Mystery, but at the same time they must become so by conforming themselves every more closely to him. Sometimes, people think that holiness is a privileged condition reserved for a few elect. Actually, becoming holy is every Christian's task, indeed, we could say, every person's! The Apostle writes that God has always blessed us and has chosen us in Christ "that we should be holy and blameless before him... in love" (Eph 1:3-5). All human beings are therefore called to holiness, which ultimately consists in living as children of God, in that "likeness" with him in accordance with which they were created. All human beings are children of God and allmust become what they are by means of the demanding process of freedom. God invites everyone to belong to his holy people. The "Way" is Christ, the Son, the Holy One of God: "no one comes to the Father but by me [Jesus] (cf. Jn 14:6)".
The Pope also recalled the connection between All Saints and All Souls, the Commemoration of the dead, the following day. The Holy Father said: "Our prayer of praise to God and veneration of the blessed spirits which today's liturgy presents to us as "a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues" (Rev 7:9), is united with prayers of suffrage for all who have preceded us in passing from this world to eternal life. Tomorrow, we shall be dedicating our prayers to them in a special way and we will celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice for them. To tell the truth, the Church invites us to pray for them every day, also offering our daily sufferings and efforts so that, completely purified, they may be admitted to the eternal joy of light and peace in the Lord".
It was Cardinal José Saraiva Martins during the interview with Fides who supplied figures of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. He told us that for its work of examining the heroic virtues the Congregation has the assistance of 72 theological consultors, and that the study of presumed miracles has an album of 60 doctors specialised in various sectors of modern medicine. With regard to causes in process at the Congregation, there are 2,200. No distinction is made between causes for beatification and those for canonisation because all causes concern beatification and canonisation.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints (Congregatio de Causis Sanctorum) is one of the nine Congregations in the Roman Curia.
This department is responsible for everything which concerns the procedure leading to the beatification and canonisation of Servants of God: moreover, after having asked the opinion of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it obtains permission from the Pope to attribute to certain saints the title of Doctor of the Church; and it also certifies the authenticity of relics.
The norms for the canonisation of saints were thoroughly reformed under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II with the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister dated 25 January 1983.
The Congregation was instituted by Pope Paul VI with the Apostolic Constitution Sacra Rituum Congregatio 8 May 1969, with which it was detached from the Congregation for Rites (instituted 22 January 1588 by Pope Sixtus V with the Constitution Immensa Aeterni Dei) which previously exercised the functions which today belong to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
With the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, promulgated 28 June 1988 by John Paul II, the department assumed its present arrangement.
The Congregation is formed of 34 members, cardinals, archbishops or bishops who are assisted by two colleges of consultors (one of historians the other of theologians). The Prefect, appointed 30 May 1998 by Pope John Paul II, is Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins. The Secretary is Archbishop Michele di Ruberto (appointed 5 May 2007) and the under Secretary is Mgr. Marcello Bartolucci.
In February 2008 the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Josè Saraiva Martins, illustrated the new norms issued by Pope Benedict XVI for causes of beatification. Bishops are asked to give greater attention to the opening of a cause of beatification for a servant of God, and to ensure greater clarity with regard to the procedure to confirm reported miracles.
The document “Instruction Sanctorum Mater for conducting diocesan or eparchial Inquiries in the causes of saints” was approved by the Pope on 23 February 2007. Cardinal Josè Saraiva Martins had anticipated its basic contents to the Osservatore Romano, explaining that the new norms derive from the fact that among the first decisions of his pontificate Pope Benedict XVI included that of restoring the custom for rites of beatification to be celebrated in the home country of the Blessed person. From this is derived the greater responsibility which bishops have for the various stages of diocesan causes. The document, we read in the introduction, "deals with the diocesan or eparchial Inquiries concerning the heroic virtues and martyrdom of Servants of God. Before deciding to start the cause, the bishop has to carry out certain investigations essential for his decision.".
"After deciding to start the cause — the document continues —, he will open the actual and proper Inquiry, ordering the collection of documentary evidences for the cause. If no insurmountable difficulties are detected, he will proceed with the hearing of the witnesses, the closure of the Inquiry and submission of the documents to the Congregation, where the Roman phase of the cause will begin, that is the stage of the study of and the final verdict on the same case.".
Then the document makes explicit mention of the subject of miracles: "With regard to Inquiries on alleged miracles, the Instruction highlights some elements of the procedure which, in these last two decades, have been found problematic in the application of the norms regarding Inquiries on miracles. ".
The publication of the document — Cardinal Saraiva Martins said — became necessary following certain new norms introduced by Benedict XVI in the procedure of the rite of beatification, the most important being, — said the Cardinal in an interview with the Osservatore Romano — to celebrate the rite in the home country of the new Blessed. This is an important innovation which brings people of that nation still closer to the universal Church. Precisely for this reason the local bishops, while examining requests for new causes, must follow the new norms and "proceed with greater caution and more accuracy".
The Instruction, about twenty pages long, asks bishops to use "more sobriety and rigour in accepting a request for the opening of a diocesan process for beatification and canonisation" the Cardinal said.
The document was presented at the Holy See Press Office "because it deserves wide diffusion — said Cardinal Martins — but also because we wish postulators to give special attention to the document. I am considering a Study Day for Postulators, precisely to present the document in detail. I am convinced in fact that they should be the first to be fully aware of what diocesan bishops are requested to do".
"It should be said — he added — that these are important innovations, which will underline effectively the theological capacities of the local Church as the Second Vatican Council so strongly insisted The beatification of a servant of God in the local Church to which he or she belongs is something which is lived by the community as a whole, in a spirit of faith which becomes ecclesial rejoicing and celebration for the fact that one of their community has been elevated to the honour of the altars. But precisely in view of this new value and of the ulterior fervour which marks such events, it is necessary to proceed with ever greater caution and accuracy".
The figures given below were taken from the volume: Congregatio de Causis Sanctorum, “Index ac Status Causarum”, Vatican City, 1999. The book is a register of the saints, blessed, servants of God and venerable proclaimed such since the end of the 16th century in chronological order. Here are the numbers of saints canonised by the Pope's in the 20th century:
Pius X (1903-14): 4
Benedict XV (1914-22): 3
Pius XI (1922-39): 34
Pius XII (1939-58): 33
John XXIII (1958-63): 10
Paul VI (1963-78): 84
John Paul I (1978); 0
John Paul II (1978-...) 482
As we see from the figures above John Paul II — probably mainly due to his long pontificate — has the highest number of new saints. However already in the second half of the 19th century there was something similar. Pius IX was the first to introduce collection beatification of large groups of martyrs. He also canonised some of them: the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki in Japan, late 16th century, and the 19 martyrs of the religious wars in Holland, also in the 16th century.
Before Pius IX, from the Council of Trent onwards each of the Pontiffs canonised no more than an average two or three saints. Some of great importance, such as Gregory XV who canonised Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Philip Neri and Teresa of Avila, but still only a few. At the beginning of the 20th century, Pius X and Benedict XV came closer to the traditional averages. Pius XI restored collective beatification and opened the way, with regard to numbers, for the new saints inscribed by John Paul II.
On 2 May 1999 the Holy Father John Paul II, in the presence of immense crowds of people from all over Italy and all over the world gathered in St Peter's Square, beatified Capuchin Padre Pio da Pietrelcina. A “Saint of the 20th century” who, for the extraordinary nature of his life, remains a "timeless" example for the faithful. The same John Paul II had canonised Blessed Padre Pio in 2002.
On the occasion of the beatification, John Paul II said "with his life given wholly to prayer and to listening to his brothers and sisters, this humble Capuchin friar astonished the world.". The Pope said that as a student in Rome he himself had the opportunity to meet the friar personally: "and I thank God for allowing me today to enter Padre Pio's name in the book of the blessed.".
John Paul traced the life Padre Pio. He recalled "trials he had to endure". The Pope said "It happens at times in the history of holiness that, by God's special permission, the one chosen is misunderstood. In that case, obedience becomes for him a crucible of purification, a path of gradual assimilation to Christ, a strengthening of true holiness. In this regard, Blessed Pio wrote to one of his superiors: “I strive only to obey you, the good God having made known to me the one thing most acceptable to him and the one way for me to hope for salvation and to sing of victory” (Letter I, p. 807).".
And again: "When the “storm” broke upon him, he took as his rule of life the exhortation of the First Letter of Peter, that we have just heard: Come to Christ, a living stone (cf. 1 Pt 2:4). He himself thus became a “living stone” for the building of that spiritual house which is the Church. For this we today give thanks to the Lord.".
The Pope then spoke of the many charity activities started by Padre Pio. And then of "the echo stirred by this beatification in Italy and throughout the world ", echo "which shows that the fame of Padre Pio, a son of Italy and of Francis of Assisi, has gone forth to embrace all the continents". Here are the closing words of the homily during the beatification: "Let me conclude with the words of the Gospel of this Mass: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God”. There is a reference to this exhortation of Christ in the advice which the new blessed never tired of giving to the faithful: “Abandon yourselves fully to the divine heart of Jesus, like a child in the arms of his mother”. May these words of encouragement fill our hearts too and become a source of peace, serenity and joy. Why should we fear, if Christ for us is the Way, and the Truth and the Life? Why should we not trust in God who is the Father, our Father? May “Our Lady of Graces”, whom the humble Capuchin of Pietrelcina invoked with constant and tender devotion, help us to keep our gaze fixed on God. May she take us by the hand and lead us to seek wholeheartedly that supernatural charity flowing forth from the wounded side of the Crucified One. And you, Blessed Padre Pio, look down from heaven upon us assembled in this square and upon all gathered in prayer before the Basilica of St John Lateran and in San Giovanni Rotondo. Intercede for all those who, in every part of the world, are spiritually united with this event and raise their prayers to you. Come to the help of everyone; give peace and consolation to every heart. Amen!".
Many are the words of Pope Benedict XVI about the Saints. Among them we recall those pronounced on the occasion of All Saints Day November 1st 2005, 2006 and 2007. And those on Trinity Sunday 2007, when the Holy Father proclaimed four new Saints. The solemn Mass was celebrated in pouring rain in St Peter's Square overflowing with thousands of faithful sheltering under umbrellas. Present for the occasion heads of state of the Philippines, Ireland, Malta and Poland, as well as official delegations from Mexico, France and Holland. Among the personalities present, Anglican Archbishop Peter Carnley, from Australia. The Blessed canonised were all European: Maltese George Preca, Polish Simon of Lipnica, French Maria Eugenie of Jesus, Dutch Charles of St Andrew. "three more “elder brothers and one sister": we must look at these "exemplary witnesses of the Gospel", - Benedict XVI told the faithful - "admire God's glory which is reflected in the lives of the saints". And again: "Every individual saint shares in the riches of Christ taken by the Father and communicated in due time. Jesus' holiness is always the same; it is always he, the "Holy One", whom the Spirit models in "holy souls", thereby forming friends of Jesus and witnesses of his holiness. And Jesus also wants to make us his friends.". George Preca, the Pope said, was "a friend of Jesus and a witness to the holiness that derives from him", a "profoundly priestly and mystic soul", born in 1880 at La Valletta on the island of Malta. "totally dedicated to evangelization: by his preaching, his writings, his spiritual direction and the administration of the sacraments and, first and foremost, by the example of his life. The Johannine expression, "Verbum caro factum est" always directed his soul and his work and thus the Lord could make use of him to give life to a praiseworthy institution, the "Society of Christian Doctrine", whose purpose is to guarantee parishes the qualified service of properly trained and generous catechists". He died at the age of 82 and was beatified in 2001. "May St George Preca help the Church, in Malta and throughout the world, to be always a faithful echo of the voice of Christ, the Incarnate Word.".
The Pope then dwelt on the "great son of Poland", Simon of Lipnica, "a witness of Christ and a follower of the spirituality of St Francis of Assisi, lived in a distant age but precisely today is held up to the Church as a timely model of a Christian who — enlivened by the spirit of the Gospel — was ready to dedicate his life to his brethren — said Benedict XVI. "Thus, filled with the mercy he drew from the Eucharist, he did not hesitate to help the sick who were struck by the plague, and he himself contracted this disease which led to his death. Today in particular, let us entrust to his protection those who are suffering from poverty, illness, loneliness and social injustice. Let us ask through his intercession for the grace of persevering and active love, for Christ and for our brothers and sisters".
"Passionist priest Charles of St Andrew Houben was greatly loved in the years of his priestly ministry in England and Ireland in the 19th century. People flocked to "to seek out his wise counsel, his compassionate care and his healing touch.". Beatified in 1988, "in the sick and the suffering he recognized the face of the Crucified Christ, to whom he had a lifelong devotion.". Lastly Benedict paid homage to French Blessed Maria Eugenie of Jesus, foundress after the French Revolution of the Assumption Sisters, beatified in 1975. "She realized how important it was to pass on to the young generations, especially young girls, an intellectual, moral and spiritual training that would make them adults capable of taking charge of their family life and of making their contribution to the Church and society". "May the example of St Marie Eugenie invite men and women today to pass on to young people values that will help them to become strong adults and joyful witnesses of the Risen One". A few months before this Celebration, in October 2006, four other Blessed were canonised by Benedict XVI exactly a year after the first canonisation of his pontificate: Mexican Bishop Rafael Guizar Valencia (1878-1938); French nun Theodore Guerin, (Anne-Therese 1798-1856), foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence of Santa Maria ‘ad Nemus’; Italian priest Filippo Smaldone (1848-1923), who spent his life caring for persons with hearing and speech defects and Rosa Venerini (1656-1728), foundress of the Maestre Pie Venerini, who opened Italy's first school for girls. During the Canonisation the Pope recalled that the names of the saints "will be remembered for ever".
Your Eminence, you are responsible for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. What are your duties? What is the role of the Congregation in the Roman Curia?
My duties as Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints are to govern and direct the department, oversee its delicate and complex activity and represent it at every level and in every aspect. In particular, the Prefect presides plenary and ordinary sessions after which he reports to the Supreme Pontiff; he prepares the list of causes to be examined by the consultors and the Congregation's ordinary session, taking into account the date on which the relative “Positio” is presented to the Congregation; in special cases we can bring forward the examination of causes presented by particular Churches who have no national Blessed or Saints (cfr. Regulations, chapter 3, art. 70); lastly it falls to the Prefect to take on personnel or at the higher level, with a Nulla osta from the Secretary of State, appoint officers and other staff. To explain the role of the Congregation within the Roman Curia it should be remembered that the department collaborates with the Holy Father to identify examples of Christian holiness to hold up to the faithful and in this way help them attain “the high level of Christian life ” to which all are called by virtue of Baptism, which is essentially a call to holiness.
You became responsible for the Congregation of the Causes of Saints with John Paul II. What did the Pope say when he told you he intended to appoint you Prefect of the Congregation? What did John Paul II expect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints?
He wished me all the best for my work as head of a department which he considered of extreme importance in the life of the Church. Holiness in fact as Pope Wojtyla often said, is a fundamental and constitutive element of the Church. It is part of her DNA, her genetic code. The Church is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic". With regard to your second question I would say that the Pope who “had come from afar” had the same expectations as other successors of Peter; that the Congregation would fulfil the duties for which it was founded by Sixtus V long ago in 1588: the duties mentioned above.
Recently you presented an Instruction on norms for the diocesan causes of beatification. The Media saw this as a need to give more rigour to these causes. Is this so? And: is it true that with Benedict XVI there is a decision to give more rigour to causes of beatification?
This is not quite the case. The Sanctorum Mater Instruction issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and recently presented to the press, should not be seen as a more vigorous norm than the one in force at present. It is intended only to clarify the dispositions of the norms in force for the Causes of Saints, to facilitate their application and indicate the procedure for more recent or earlier causes. This serves to ensure seriousness of investigation in Inquiries, diocesan (and eparchal), into the virtues of the servants of God or cases of asserted martyrdom or possible miracles. Causes, in fact, as Pope Benedict XVI has said, "must be undertaken and examined with extreme care, while diligently seeking the historical truth". These words express the thought of the present Pontiff with regard to “greater rigour” in the application of the norms in the diocesan stage of causes of beatification. And it is in this context that the Congregation's Instruction Sanctorum Mater should be read and understood”.
Countless missionaries all over the world dedicate their lives to proclaiming the Gospel. What is the secret for their activity to truly be the work of “holy men and women”?
There are no “secrets”. These is simply one requisite: that their activity be in full harmony with the Good News which they announce, that their conduct be always inspired by the values of the Gospel message which they proclaim with great courage and often sacrifice. Missionary activity by nature is a special and most effective means of sanctification. In fact only if we live the holiness of the Gospel at the personal level can we proclaim the Gospel of holiness to others.
Is it possible to become a saint today? How does one actually become a saint?
Holiness is possible in every epoch and socio-cultural context. Therefore it is possible also in society of today. Holiness is by nature a meta-historical reality, ever relevant, in whatever epoch it is lived. The means for reaching Christian saintliness can be restricted to one fundamental path: living the Gospel in profundity, with all its consequences, and making it the measure of personal decisions. This is true for all Christians, whatever the situation in which they live or work, whatever their social class. The flower of holiness can and must bloom everywhere and at every level of human society. The world today, in which we watch progressive “amnesia of God ”, has especially need of saints. John Paul II frequently reminded us of this: “Holiness is not a historic ideal, it is a path to walk as disciples of Christ, a particular urgency of our times”. Particularly significant are the words of Simon Weil on the subject: "It is not enough to be holy, it must be the holiness demanded by the present day: a new holiness, unprecedented. The world needs saints with genius, like a city infested with the plague, needs doctors".".
Could you give us some information about the Congregation? How many causes are being examined at the moment? How many for beatification and how many for canonisation?
The Congregation was founded in 1588 by Pope Sixtus V. It works in two basic sectors: the sector of the heroic virtues and that of the alleged miracles presented to the Congregation by the promoters of the specific Cause. It must be said that the proclamation of the heroic virtues is the indispensable presupposition, clearly, for a candidate to the altars to be beatified and that, according to the norms in force, a one miracle is necessary for beatification and another one for canonisation. To examine the heroic virtues the Congregation has the assistance by 72 theological consultors, and to examine the alleged miracles it has a team of 60 doctors specialists in various areas of modern medicine. With regard to Causes underway, there are 2,200. No distinction is made between causes for beatification and those for canonisation because it is all one and the same process.
Dossier by P.L.R. - Agenzia Fides 29 March 2008; Editor Luca de Mata
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