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from issue no. 06/07 - 2006

The name for sanctity must be spontaneous, not procured deliberately

Cardinal Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, comments on the Pope’s message to the recent plenary assembly of his ministry at which miracles and martyrdom were also discussed

Interview with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins by Gianni Cardinale

A crowd in Saint Peter’s Square

A crowd in Saint Peter’s Square

The drafting of an Instruction for Procedure at Diocesan Inquiries into the Causes of the Saints, “The miracle in the causes of the saints”, “Martyrdom, gift of the Spirit and patrimony of the Church in every age”. These were the three themes dealt with at the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints held in the Vatican from the 24 to 26 April last. On the occasion the Pope sent the participants an important message in his own hand, dated 24 April. About the contents of this message and about the conclusion of the plenary assembly 30Days put some questions to Portuguese Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the department since 1998. «With this message», the cardinal tells us, «the Holy Father Benedict XVI wanted to address himself to the cardinals, archbishops and bishops who were taking part in the assembly, to greet them and wish them good and fruitful work. It is an extremely important text given its rich content and, in particular, the indications offered in it by the Holy Father which illuminated the thinking of the fathers on various aspects of the diverse matters submitted to their scrutiny. And they were matters of great importance, since they closely concern the life and the complex activity of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, in the present ecclesial, social and cultural context ».

In his message the Pope first of all complimented the work done by the Congregation…
JOSÉ SARAIVA MARTINS: The Pope expressed his feelings of appreciation and gratitude to the department I have the honor of presiding for the service it performs for the Church, encouraging the causes of the saints, who «are the real lightbearers within history, because they are men and women of faith, of hope and of love», as he himself wrote in his first encyclical Deus caritas est (n. 40). For that very reason the Supreme Pontiff added that from the beginning the Church has preserved their memory and their cult in great honor, devoting, in the course of the centuries, particular attention to the procedures that bring the servants of God to the honors of the altars.
The first theme dealt with was that of the role of bishops in the carrying out of the diocesan inquiry into the heroic nature of the virtues of servants of God candidated for the honors of the altars, or in cases of alleged martyrdom or eventual miracles…
SARAIVA MARTINS: The diocesan pastors are, in fact, called to decide coram Deo, [before God], which causes deserve to be opened. They must appraise, for that purpose, especially if the candidates for beatification and canonization really enjoy, among believers, a true and widespread name for sanctity and miracles or for martyrdom; whether, that is, they deserve to be set on the candelabrum «to give light to all those in the house» (Mt 5,15). And it was precisely to encourage this scrutiny that the Pope asked us to draft an opportune Instruction for Procedure in Diocesan Inquiry into the Causes of Saints.
It would seem to suggest that the dioceses are tempted to be increasingly expansive in opening new causes for beatification…
SARAIVA MARTINS: The Pope recalled a felicitous phrase whereby the old Pius X - Benedict XVth Code of Canon Law of 1917 required that the alleged name for sanctity be «spontanea, non arte aut diligentia procurata, orta ab honestis et gravibus personis, continua, in dies aucta et vigens in praesenti apud maiorem partem populi» (can. 2050. §2). [spontaneous, not procured deliberately or by zeal, issuing from dignified and authoritative people, continuous, growing with the passage of time and really living among the majority of the people]. Not only that. The Pope also detailed in clear and unambiguous terms that «no cause for beatification and canonization may be opened without a vouched for name for sanctity, even where it regards people who have distinguished themselves for evangelical consistency and for particular ecclesial and social merits».
When do you think that the Instruction the Pope has asked for will be ready?
SARAIVA MARTINS: We hope to make it for the end of this year. It will be – I believe – not a long text, forty or so pages, and properly structured. I believe it will be of great help to dioceses. It will help them work faster and better.
The second topic submitted to the plenary assembly was that of the “miracle in the causes of the saints”.
SARAIVA MARTINS: The Holy Father reiterated in that regard that from antiquity the iter [the course] for reaching canonization passes not only through the proof of the virtues, but also through the miracles attributed to the intercession of the candidate to the honors of the altars. In fact, as well as providing reassurance that the servant of God lives in heaven in communion with God, miracles constitute the divine confirmation of the judgment expressed by the ecclesiastical authorities on the heroic nature of his righteous life. Miracles are, in other words, the seal that God sets on the person candidated for the altars, whereby his/her sanctity is guaranteed.
At the closure of the ceremony of beatification for Charles De Foucauld, Maria Pia Mastena and Maria Crocifissa Curcio, presided over by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Benedict XVI incenses the relics of the new blesseds, 13 November 2005

At the closure of the ceremony of beatification for Charles De Foucauld, Maria Pia Mastena and Maria Crocifissa Curcio, presided over by Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Benedict XVI incenses the relics of the new blesseds, 13 November 2005

And as regards the possibility that as well as physical miracles, moral ones may also be taken into consideration?
SARAIVA MARTINS: The Pope has given precise indications on that point: «It is then to be kept clearly in mind that the unbroken praxis of the Church establishes the necessity of a physical miracle, a moral miracle being insufficient».
The third topic, submitted to the thinking of the members of the plenary assembly of the department, was that of “martyrdom, gift of the Spirit and patrimony of the Church in every age (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 42)”.
SARAIVA MARTINS: The Church has never, in its history, stripped itself of the red tunic of martyrdom. The Pope very relevantly remarks on the subject that «while the reason that impels to martyrdom remains unchanged, having its font and model in Christ, the cultural context of martyrdom has instead changed and the “ex parte persecutoris” [on the part of the persecutor] strategies that seek ever less to bring out in an explicit way an aversion to the Christian faith and behavior connected with the Christian virtues, but feign different reasons, for example those of a political or social nature». To be able to speak of real martyrdom, the Pope concludes, it is always necessary that «the odium fidei [hatred of the faith] of the persecutor appears on the surface directly or indirectly, though always in a morally certain way. If this element is lacking, it will not be a true martyrdom according to the perennial theological and juridical doctrine of the Church. The concept of martyrdom, related to saints and to blesseds, is to be understood, in line with the teaching of Benedict XIV, as: “Voluntaria mortis perpessio sive tolerantia propter Fidem Christi, vel alium virtutis actum in Deum relatum” [the voluntary endurance of death or its acceptance because of the Faith in Christ, or another act of virtue referred to God]. And that is the abiding teaching of the Church».
Does this mean that there is no room for the theological opinion that would like to introduce the concept of “martyrdom by charity”?
SARAIVA MARTINS: It seem clear to me that is how it is.
In his message Benedict XVI also refers to the new procedure relating to ceremonies of beatification.
SARAIVA MARTINS: Toward the end of his message the Pope refers to the new praxis concerning the celebration of ceremonies of beatification. This was a highly important innovation introduced by the present Supreme Pontiff immediately from the start of his pontificate. Its purpose, of great ecclesiological and pastoral import, is that of «giving greater emphasis, in celebratory formalities, to the essential difference between beatification and canonization and of involving the particular Churches more visibly, it remaining canonical that only the Roman Pontiff has the jurisdiction to grant a cult to a servant of God». As a rule, as is known, the person to represent the Holy Father in ceremonies of beatification is the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

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