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Q. How is the cause of canonization for someone first brought about? Can anyone petition Rome to start the process?
C.P., Gainesville, Fla.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Fr. Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.:
The procedure for investigating the causes of potential saints is prescribed in Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister, issued January 25, 1983. A candidate must have been dead for at least five years before a cause can be instituted. The Pope can make an exception to this rule, however, as he did with Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
The group promoting the cause (the actor causae) could be a diocese, a religious congregation, a parish or an association. An individual wanting to promote a particular cause would have to work through one of these structures.
The process begins when the promoting group takes the cause to the local bishop. With permission from the Holy See to allow this process to continue, the bishop appoints a tribunal, which calls for witnesses. They testify to concrete instances in which the candidate has heroically demonstrated the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love, as well as the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude.
The tribunal also gathers documents on the candidate’s life. At this stage, the candidate can be called by the title “Servant of God.”
When the diocesan tribunal finishes its investigation, it passes on all documentation to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (at the Vatican). There the advocate of the cause, the postulator, keeps in touch with the preparation of the Positio, a summary of all the documentation. A body of nine theologians examines the Positio. If a majority favor the cause, it is handed over to study by bishops and cardinals who are members of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
If this group approves, the entire documentation is presented to the Holy Father. Normally he would give his approval and authorize the drafting and public promulgation of the relative decree by the Congregation.
For beatification of a Servant of God, there must be a posthumous miracle attributed to him or her. The canonical investigation of the miracle is similar to that of testing for heroic virtues of the candidate.
If testing of the miracle is favorable, a relative decree to that effect is issued. Then the Holy Father makes the final determination of beatification, after which the candidate is given the title “Blessed.” (In the case of those who are determined by the Church to have been martyrs for the Faith, no verification of a miracle is required at this point.)
Canonization requires that another miracle due to the Blessed’s intercession, after his or her beatification, be authenticated. The testing of the proposed miracle follows the same procedure used in beatification. If the testing is positive, the Holy Father declares the Blessed to possess the title of “Saint,” to be acknowledged in the worship of the universal Church.
A few details of the process (such as where the beatification ceremonies normally take place) were changed by Pope Benedict XVI.
History of Teaching on Abortion?
Q. Recent statements by two members of the U.S. Congress regarding the Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion have stirred up a hornet’s nest. Is it really true that the Catholic Church has not always been opposed to abortion?
G.H., Washington, D.C.
A. The short answer is no, it’s not true. Here are the facts.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes the matter: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (no. 2271).
From the earliest times, Christians have firmly rejected abortion and infanticide. Note, for example, the ancient books known as the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas. In the first and second centuries, these were two of the most widely used documents for Christian teaching and practice after the New Testament. Both texts explicitly condemned abortion and infanticide. Early Church councils did the same.
Admittedly, until modern times little was known about human embryology. Such limited knowledge caused some theologians of the past to speculate about when, in the womb, the individual soul was created by God and joined to the body. But even those who (mistakenly) thought that such “ensoulment” took place sometime after conception nevertheless affirmed that abortion at any stage is a grave sin.
For a more complete and detailed response, read the fact sheet recently issued by the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), available here.
Q. Here in Pittsburgh, our diocesan coat of arms includes what looks like a blue-and-silver checkerboard. I can understand why other symbols in the arms appear, such as the sword and crosses, but can you tell me why it has a checkerboard?
J.J., Pittsburgh, Pa.
A. According to information on the diocesan website, what looks to you like a “checkerboard” is actually called in heraldry a chequy bar, which in this case represents a counting board. (In earlier times, a counting board was a portable, flat surface, usually made of wood or stone, on which was placed objects such as pebbles or beads in order to maintain a count of something. Its use eventually led to the creation of the abacus.)
This particular symbol comes from the coat of arms granted to William Pitt, the chancellor of the Exchequer of England, for whom the city of Pittsburgh is named. (The Exchequer is the governmental department in charge of public revenues.)
For more information about your bishop’s striking and fascinating coat of arms, which includes the diocesan arms, click here.
Alternate Friday Penance?
Q. I’ve been told that when the Church began allowing us to eat meat on Fridays outside of Lent, we were nevertheless still obliged to observe some alternate penance on every Friday we chose to eat meat. Is that true? If so, is failing to observe either abstinence from meat or an alternate penance on a Friday a grave sin?
J.F., Chicago, Ill.
A. Here’s a reply from TCA columnist Fr. Francis Hoffman, J.C.D.:
You’re right. Fridays are to have a penitential flavor for Catholics. Today we’re allowed to eat meat on Fridays, except during Lent. On all other Fridays, however, if we do not abstain from eating meat (and interestingly enough, abstinence from meat is still the preferred penance on a Friday, according to the USCCB Complementary Norms of November 18, 1966), we are to substitute “other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety” (canon 1253).
Failure to observe some penance on a Friday would not be a mortal sin unless such a failure was done out of spite for Church teaching on that subject.
In addition to Fridays and the season of Lent, in the United States we are called to do penance on January 22 (or January 23, when January 22 falls on a Sunday) “for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion” (see GIRM, 373)
Psalms Always in the Liturgy?
Q. Why is a selection from the Book of Psalms always included in the Mass? No other biblical book is read from in every Mass, since the selections are rotated among the other books.
K.R., Dawsonville, Ga.
A. The lectionary reading in Mass designated as the “Responsorial Psalm” is most often from the Book of Psalms, but not always. It may be a psalm-like passage from another biblical book. For example, one of the designated options for the “Responsorial Psalm” for the Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart (when occurring during the Easter season) is taken from the twelfth chapter of the prophet Isaiah.
Even so, the custom of including a “psalm” of some sort in every Mass goes back to the Jewish roots of Christian worship. Since ancient times, the Psalms have been the principal “hymnbook” of the Jewish people, an indispensable part of their liturgy. Not surprisingly, then, since the earliest times of the Church, this most beautiful of biblical books has been an essential part of Christian worship.
Both the Jewish and the Christian traditions include the custom of responsorial reading of psalms.
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