Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently asked questions about the Vatican's process for making saints.
What is a postulator?
A postulator, according to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition, oversees the investigations into the life, work and holiness of the candidate for sainthood. He also provides the local bishop with evidence of the authenticity of the candidate’s cause for canonization and its importance to the Church. The postulator is usually appointed, with the bishop's approval, by the person or group presenting the cause. After the diocesan phase of the investigation into the Servant of God's life, the postulator moves to Rome to collaborate with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in creating the positio. In order to make this possible, the Knights of Columbus, the chief sponsor of the cause of Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney, appointed a new postulator who lives in Rome, Dr. Andrea Ambrosi. Father Gabriel B. O’Donnell will become the vice-postulator in the United States.What is the positio?
The positio is a printed volume stating the formal argument for the servant of God's canonization. It includes a clear and systematic exposition of the individual's life. It also summarizes what any witnesses said during the diocesan phase of the investigation into the individual's life. Father O'Donnell completed a two-volume positio that runs to nearly 1,000 pages. It includes both a biography and an essay on Father McGivney's spirituality. The volume on Father McGivney's spirituality is organized around his life of virtue — the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity; and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Each brief chapter is followed by documents pertaining to Father McGivney's heroic virtue.
What are relics and what is their place in Catholic doctrine?
The word itself comes from the Latin for "remains", or “reliquia”. Nowadays, relics fall into three categories.
• First class: A part of the body of a saint, a blessed, or a candidate for sainthood. Father McGivney falls into the latter category, but unfortunately, there are no available first-class relics of Father McGivney.
• Second class: An item or piece of an item worn or used by a holy person during his or her lifetime. For example, a pair of sandals, rosary or pencil would be classified as second class relics. The Father McGivney Gallery at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven displays the cassock in which Father McGivney was buried. When his remains were moved from the family plot in Waterbury, Conn., to St. Mary's Church in 1982, the cassock was removed and restored, and his body was clothed in new vestments. A prayer card distributed by the Father McGivney Guild includes a small thread from Father McGivney's burial cassock.
• Third class: An item that has been touched to a first-class relic. Usually, a third-class relic is a bit of cloth.
How did veneration of relics get started?
Scripture scholars say there is no "cult of relics"— devotion shown to relics — in the Old Testament. Such items are mentioned in the New Testament but are not given too much attention (Acts 19:12).
Church historians say the writings about St. Polycarp (c. 69-155) show Christians in the city of Smyrna, in what is now Turkey, were the first to openly venerate the relics of a saint — their beloved Bishop Polycarp. On the anniversary of his death, members would gather at his grave and pray for his intercession.
This was a public and explicit form of devotion. The Christians in Smyrna let everyone know they had a particular attachment to the remains of their friend. And once they had done that, they needed to justify what they were doing.
The community stressed the "subordinate character" of the veneration of martyrs. These holy men and women weren't on a par with Christ. And the respect shown to their relics didn't match — shouldn't match, couldn't match — that shown to God. Rather, St. Polycarp was honored because this holy person had been a disciple and imitator of Christ.
In the middle of the third century, St. Cyprian of Carthage, a bishop, said venerating the instruments used to torture and kill the martyrs was an acceptable practice because their bodies had made those items holy. In the fourth century, St. Basil, a doctor of the Church, wrote in detail about the official ceremonies held on an anniversary.
Over the next few hundred years, venerating martyrs' relics grew as a liturgical practice, and theologians looked at what was happening and said it made sense. Tombs were opened and items were touched to the body or bones. Then these relics — called brandea — were distributed throughout the community. People kept brandea, the equivalent of today's third-class relics, in little cases hung around their necks.
What is Church teaching regarding relics?
The Second Vatican Council mentions relics in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: "The saints have been traditionally honored in the Church and their authentic relics and images held in veneration" (111).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, "Besides sacramental liturgy and sacramentals, catechesis [teaching] must take into account the forms of piety and popular devotions among the faithful. The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church's sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, visits to sanctuaries, pilgrimages, processions, the Stations of the Cross, religious dances, the rosary, medals, etc." (1674).
What are the norms of the Church regarding prayer to Father McGivney?
Several members of the Father McGivney Guild have asked about the possibility of developing a Father McGivney holy hour that could be celebrated before the exposed Blessed Sacrament.
The norms of the Church in this matter are very clear. Eucharistic holy hours are to be encouraged but, when praying before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance, all prayers should be directed to Christ, who is present in the sacred host. The Church does not permit us to pray to Father McGivney in our public worship.
You will note that all the prayer cards you receive from the Guild are directed to God, not to Father McGivney. We are humbly asking God to hear our petition for the canonization of Father McGivney. Only at a later stage, with the permission of the Church, can we publicly address Father McGivney in prayer.
A holy hour celebrated for the intention of Father McGivney's cause is well in order, but directing public prayer to him is not permissible and would violate the very norms that the Father McGivney Guild is following so faithfully.
Why is the title "Venerable Servant of God " often used before Father McGivney's name?
The title “Servant of God” is permitted to be used once a formal cause for canonization is under way. This title was given to McGivney in 1997, when the Vatican granted nihil obstat, meaning that it had found no objection to the advance of the formal cause for canonization. In 2008, after the Congregation for the Causes of Saints made a positive judgment on the positio, Pope Benedict XVI declared Father McGivney’s heroic virtue as a prelude to possible beatification and Father McGivney was given the title, “Venerable Servant of God.”
What is beatification?
Through beatification, the pope declares that, for the good of the Church, a person is worthy of emulation and can enjoy a public devotion of praise within a diocese, region or religious family. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints must verify a miracle before an individual can be beatified. Those who are beatified are referred to with the title "Blessed." According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition, beatification is required before a non-martyr can be declared a saint through canonization. Once a decision for beatification is announced, the postulator will supervise an opening of the individual's tomb and will take a portion of the individual's remains. This will be presented to the pope as a relic of the newly beatified during a pontifical Mass celebrating the beatification. At this time the pope will assign a date for the blessed's annual feast day.
What is canonization?
Canonization is the goal of all causes. According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition, by canonization, the Church declares that a saint is in heaven with God and extends the cult of his praise through the universal Church. The encyclopedia also states that the Bull of Canonization infallibly declares the individual’s life as exemplary and recognizes his role as a heavenly intercessor. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints must verify a second miracle before a canonization can move forward.
What is a miracle?
The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition says that in theological usage, a miracle is an extraordinary event, perceptible to the senses and produced by God in a religious context as a sign of the supernatural. That simple definition, however, is followed by a five-page summary of two millennia of study on miracles and their meaning. The entries include a variety of views on the nature and recognition of miracles expressed by theologians over time. The First Vatican Council, according to the encyclopedia, declared that: "In order that the 'service' of our faith be 'in accord with reason' [cf. Rom 12:1], God willed that to the internal help of the Holy Spirit there be joined external proofs of His revelation, i.e. divine deeds, and principally miracles and prophecies. Since these clearly show forth God's omnipotence and infinite knowledge, they are signs of revelation that are most certain and suited to the intelligence of all men." Therefore, the council condemned as erroneous the view that miracles are impossible.
According to the encyclopedia, when the Church discerns the holiness of a servant of God, the decision to beatify or canonize a non-martyr requires a confirmation on the part of God. Divine intervention in a miracle points out the authenticity of the holiness of the servant of God. The Holy Father makes the ultimate decision regarding these matters and he relies on the aid of the Holy Spirit, via miracles, in moving ahead to beatify or canonize any servant of God.
How many miracles are required for the making of a saint?
One miracle is required for beatification, in which case the Servant of God is given the title "Blessed." A second miracle after beatification is required for sainthood. Many have the notion that the Church is looking for miracles from the servant of God's life. That is not the case. The miracles required for canonization must take place after the death of the candidate for sainthood.