By Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis has approved a fourth
pathway to possible sainthood — giving one’s life in a heroic act of loving service
In a new apostolic letter, the pope approved new norms
allowing for candidates to be considered for sainthood because of the heroic
way they freely risked their lives and died prematurely because of “an
extreme act of charity.”
The document, given “motu proprio” (on his own
initiative) went into effect the same day of its publication July 11, with the
title “Maiorem hac dilectionem,” which comes from the Gospel
according to St. John (15:13): “No one has greater love than this, to lay
down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, secretary of the Vatican
Congregation for Saints’ Causes, said the addition is meant “to promote
heroic Christian testimony, (that has been) up to now without a specific
process, precisely because it did not completely fit within the case of martyrdom
or heroic virtues.”
For centuries, consideration for the sainthood process
required that a Servant of God heroically lived a life of Christian virtues or had
been martyred for the faith. The third, less common way, is called an equivalent
or equipollent canonization: when there is evidence of strong devotion among
the faithful to a holy man or woman, the pope can waive a lengthy formal
canonical investigation and can authorize their veneration as saints.
While these three roads to sainthood remain unchanged,
they were not adequate “for interpreting all possible cases” of holiness,
the archbishop wrote in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, July 11.
According to the apostolic letter, any causes for beatification
according to the new pathway of “offering of life” would have to meet
the following criteria:
— Free and willing offer of one’s life and a heroic
acceptance, out of love, of a certain and early death; the heroic act of
charity and the premature death are connected.
— Evidence of having lived out the Christian virtues —
at least in an ordinary, and not necessarily heroic, way — before having
offered one’s life to others and until one’s death.
— Evidence of a reputation for holiness, at least after
— A miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession
is needed for beatification.
Archbishop Bartolucci wrote that the new norms arise from
the sainthood congregation wanting to look into the question of whether men and
women who, “inspired by Christ’s example, freely and willingly offered and
sacrificed their life” for others “in a supreme act of charity, which
was the direct cause of death,” were worthy of beatification. For example,
throughout history there have been Christians who willingly put themselves at
risk and died of infection or disease because of aiding and serving others, he
Pope Francis approved the congregation carrying out an in-depth
study of the new proposal in early 2014, the archbishop wrote. After extensive input,
discussion and the work of experts, the cardinal and bishop members of the
Congregation for Saints’ Causes approved in 2016 “a new pathway for
beatification of those who offered their lives with explicit and recognized
Archbishop Bartolucci wrote that the new provisions do
nothing to alter church doctrine concerning Christian holiness leading to
sainthood and the traditional procedure for beatification.
Rather, the addition offers an enrichment, he wrote, with
“new horizons and opportunities for the edification of the people of God,
who, in their saints, see the face of Christ, the presence of God in history
and the exemplary implementation of the Gospel.”
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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.
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