.- As the world watches the Catholic Church in its process for the beatification of John Paul II, the Vatican has released a message from Pope Benedict to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which just finished its plenary assembly. In it, the Pope clarifies the Church’s stance and means for assessing sainthood.
The message, released today, was addressed specifically to Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins C.M.F., prefect of the Congregation.
The Holy Father wrote that ''From her beginnings, the Church has dedicated great attention to the procedures that elevate Servants of God to the glory of the altars. The causes of saints are considered 'major causes' because of their noble and material impact on the lives of the people of God."
Benedict then recalled many of his predecessors--including John Paul II--who sought to improve the Church’s ways of studying and celebrating the lives of saints, including the 1983 Apostolic Constitution ‘Divinus Perfectionis Magister and the ‘Normae servandae in inquisitionibus ab Episcopis faciendis in Causis Sanctorum.’
He wrote that "The experience of more than 20 years since this text was published has prompted this congregation to publish an 'Instruction for the procedure of diocesan inquiries into the causes of saints,' which is chiefly addressed to diocesan bishops and constitutes the first theme examined by the plenary."
The new instruction, he said, "attempts to facilitate the application of the 'Normae servandae' in order to safeguard the seriousness of investigations", into virtues, causes of martyrdom or possible miracles.
The Pope went on, saying that "It is clear that a cause of beatification or canonization cannot be initiated in the absence of a proven reputation for holiness, even when dealing with people who have been distinguished for their evangelical coherence and for particular ecclesial or social merits."
He then addressed the second theme of the plenary session--"the miracle in the causes of saints"--explaining that "miracles constitute divine confirmation of a judgment expressed by the ecclesial authorities on [a person's] virtuous life.”
“I hope”, he added, “that the plenary will study this subject deeply in the light of the tradition of the Church, of modern theology, and of the most accredited discoveries of science.”
He likewise cautioned that “in examining purportedly miraculous events, the competency of scientists and theologians comes together, although the decisive judgment falls to theology which alone is capable of interpreting miracles in the light of the faith.”
“It should also be clearly borne in mind”, he wrote, “that unbroken Church practice establishes the need for a physical miracle, a moral miracle is not enough."
Moving to the subject of martyrdom, the Pope said that in its truest sense, the source and motive of martyrdom must be modeled in Christ, not done for what he called “fake different reasons” like “political or social ones.”
“It is of course necessary”, he said, “to find incontrovertible proof of willingness to suffer martyrdom, ... and of the victim's acceptance thereof. But it is equally necessary that, directly or indirectly but always in a morally certain fashion, the 'odium Fidei' of the persecutor should be apparent.”
“If this element is lacking,” Benedict explained, “there is no real martyrdom in accordance with the perennial theological and juridical doctrine of the Church."
The pontiff concluded his message by again referring to the late John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution "Divinus Perfectionis Magister" which deals with the need to associate bishops with the Holy See in dealing with the causes of saints.
Based on that document, the Pope said, "I have implemented the widespread desire that the substantial difference between the celebration of beatification and that of canonization should be more deeply underlined.”
Namely, he stressed that “particular Churches should be more visibly involved in the rite of beatification, it being understood that only the Roman Pontiff may concede veneration to a Servant of God."