‘Venerable’ Does Not Mean ‘Old’

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When Father Michael McGivney was declared “Venerable” in March 2008, many asked what exactly that means. We know the title “Blessed” or “Saint,” but “Venerable” sounds like a waystation for old souls, sort of a limbo for those hoping for canonization. Nothing could be further from the truth; so we need to look at the title a little more closely.

We don’t use the word “venerable” often in daily speech, and when we do it is usually in reference to a practice that is kept more for its age than its relevance, as in “venerable tradition,” or a “venerable old man” who is respected more for longevity than activity.

Yet these dusty concepts are not what the Church means when it uses the title “Venerable” for Servants of God. In the Catholic context, Venerable means not something antiquated or past its prime, but something bold and dynamic, and worthy of respect and even veneration. Far from the notions of “old and dated,” Venerable denotes “heroic and virtuous.” When a Servant of God, whose cause for sainthood is being studied by the Vatican, is given the title “Venerable” it means that the candidate’s “heroic virtue” has been recognized by the Holy Father, based on the best information on the person’s life and reputation. The Venerable person has lived a life of virtue above and beyond the normal Christian calling, and is a model for others today, with a way of life that should be studied and emulated by all, and in a special way by the young.

Far from old and stodgy, Venerable Michael McGivney is a man for our times, a priest worthy of imitation, and a visionary ahead of his time in terms of empowering the laity to take leadership positions in the Church.

Here is what the Congregation for the Causes of Saints declared about Father McGivney:

“Concerning the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Love both toward God and neighbor, as well as the cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Temperance and Fortitude, and those others joined to them, they existed to a heroic degree in the Servant of God Michael McGivney, Diocesan Priest and founder of the Fraternal Order the Knights of Columbus.”

“Decree Concerning His Virtues” upon the declaration of Father Michael McGivney as Venerable Servant of God by Pope Benedict XVI
March 15, 2008