Lecture No. 43 – April 2017


It was the evening of St. Patrick’s Day, And after arriving home from that night’s fish fry, I settled back into my easy chair to partake of a little frozen refreshment and watch the news. I had an interest in Saturday’s weather as I had plans to do some yard work unless my wife had other plans for my day. One of the news stories dealt with the various St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. And as I listened, the Channel 4 anchor man commented that St. Patrick is “a saint in name only because he was never canonized.”

That was a bit of a shock to my Irish roots. Never canonized? And just who “canonized” St. Peter or St. Paul? What about St. Matthew, or St. John and St. Joseph? Are they also “saints in name only?” What makes a person a saint?

The definition I found on the net is “a person acknowledged as holy or virtuous and typically regarded as being in heaven after death.” Wikipedia’s definition is a little different but essentially the same. “A Saint, also historically known as a hallow, is a term used for a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness to God.” I hope we can agree that both are reasonably accurate. Neither definition mentions “canonization” as a prerequisite.

So what is “canonization”? This is a little more involved. First, it is not similar to a sacrament. There is no laying on of hands. That could be a bit uncomfortable since the candidate has usually been deceased for a number of years.

Canonization is the act by which the Catholic Church and Anglican Communion declare that a person who has died was a saint, upon which declaration the person is included in the canon, or list, of recognized saints. Originally, people were recognized as saints without any formal process. Communities recognized a deceased person as a “saint.”

So, when did this process begin? The first recognized canonization by a Pope took place in possibly 804, when Pope Leo III canonized St. Swibert. The canonization of Saint Udalric, Bishop of Augsburg, by Pope John XV in 993 is the first undoubted example of a papal canonization of a saint from outside Rome.

Today, the canonization process is a bit more involved and usually quite lengthy. It usually begins when a bishop opens an investigation in response to a petition of the faithful into the life of the candidate. When sufficient information has been gathered, the candidate is identified as a “Servant of God,” and the report is presented to the Roman Curia. The petition is assigned a “postulator,” whose task is to gather more information about the life of the candidate.

At some point, permission is then granted for the body of the Servant of God to be exhumed and examined. A certification (“non cultus”) is made that no superstitious or heretical worship or improper cult has grown up around the servant or his or her tomb, and at that time relics are taken.

When enough information has been gathered, the congregation will recommend to the Pope that he make a proclamation of the Servant of God’s heroic virtue (that is, that the servant exhibited the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, to a heroic degree). From this point, the one said to be “heroic in virtue” is referred to by the title “Venerable.”

There are two paths to sainthood. The first path is martyrdom, and we all understand that path. The second path is being a confessor. A confessor has demonstrated through his lifetime his devotion to God. Beatification is a statement by the church that the person is in heaven, having come to salvation and is “worthy of belief.” This step depends on whether the Venerable is a martyr or a “confessor.”

For a martyr, the church must announce that the “Venerable” gave his or her life voluntarily as a witness for the faith and/or in an act of heroic charity for others.

If the Venerable was not a martyr — all non-martyrs are “confessors” as they “confessed” or bore witness to their faith by how they lived their lives — it must be proven that a miracle has taken place by his or her intercession: that is, that God has shown a sign that the person is enjoying the Beatific Vision by God performing a miracle in response to the Blessed’s prayers.

Today, these miracles are almost always miraculous cures, as these are the easiest to establish based on the Catholic Church’s requirements for a “miracle.” (The patient was sick, there was no known cure for the ailment, prayers were directed to the Venerable, the patient was cured, the cure was spontaneous, instantaneous, complete and lasting, and doctors cannot find any natural explanation.)

To be canonized a saint, at least two miracles normally must have been performed through the saint’s intercession after his or her death. For potential saints who were declared martyrs, only one miracle is needed. For “confessors,” normally two miracles are required with the second occurring after the granting of beatification. Canonization is a statement by the church that the person certainly enjoys the Beatific Vision. The saint is assigned a feast day, which may be celebrated anywhere within the Catholic Church. Although it may or may not appear on the general calendar or local calendars as an obligatory feast, parish churches may be built in his or her honor, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honor the saint.

We all know that the Pope can circumvent any portion or even the entire Beautification and canonization process.

So, what about the people we honor with the title of Saint who never underwent the canonization process? Popes have several times extended to the whole Church, without carrying out the ordinary judicial process of canonization described above, the veneration of a person as a saint. This process is referred to as the “cultus.” It is the recognition that a cult has developed and the person has been long venerated locally as a Saint. This action by a Pope is known as equipollent (or equivalent) canonization or “confirmation of cultus.”

Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini was born March 31, 1675 and died May 3, 1758. He was elected Pope, Aug. 17, 1740, taking the name Benedict XIV. According to the rules laid down by Pope Benedict XIV, there are three conditions for such a canonization: (1) an ancient cultus, recognition of the individual by the church community as a person worthy of Sainthood; (2) a general constant attestation by trustworthy historians as to the virtues or martyrdom of the person: or (3) an uninterrupted fame as a worker of miracles.

Obviously, the Channel 4 newsman lacks an understanding of the process of recognizing a person as a Saint. Is St. Patrick a saint in name only? I don’t think so. I believe he meets all three of the conditions established by Pope Benedict XIV.