The term martyr comes from the Greek word martuV
which means "witness". Martyrdom is the supreme
witness given to the truth of the faith: it means bearing witness
even unto death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and
rose, to whom he is united by charity. He bears witness to the truth
of the faith and of Christian doctrine. He endures death through
an act of fortitude.
The faithful of the primitive Church believed that
martyrs were perfect Christians and saints since they had shown
the supreme proof of love by giving their lives for Christ; by their
sufferings, they had attained eternal life and were indefectibly
united to Christ, the Head of the Mystical Body. These reasons induced
the Christians, still oppressed by persecution, to invoke the intercession
of the martyrs. They begged them to intercede before God to obtain
for the faithful on earth the grace to imitate the martyrs in the
unquestioning and complete profession of faith.
Beatification is the act by which the Church, through a papal decree,
permits a specified diocese, region, nation, or religious institute,
to honor with public cult under the title Blessed a
Christian person who has died with a reputation for holiness. The
cult usually consists of a Mass and Divine Office (liturgical prayers)
in the persons honor.
Formal beatification is a positive declaration, following
a canonical process, that a person did practice heroic Christian
virtue, or suffered a true martyrdom, and after death worked authentic
miracles upon being invoked in prayer. Besides witnesses testimony
to his virtues, evidence of two first-class miracles is required,
though this requirement may be waived in the case of a martyr, the
martyrdom being itself the miracle.
Equivalent beatification is the silent consent of
the Church, aware of, yet not opposing, the public cult given to
one of its children over a long period of time.
In proclaiming a person Blessed, the Pope
does not exercise his infallibility but his magisterial authority,
for he does not declare definitively that the person is in glory.
Beatification, then, does not demand faith yet gives moral certainty
of its truth, and to deny it would be temerarious.
Canonization is the solemn act by which the Pope, with definitive
sentence, inscribes in the catalogue of saints a Christian person
who has previously been beatified. By this act he declares that
the person placed on the altar now reigns in eternal glory and decrees
that the Universal Church show him the honor due to a saint. The
solemn canonization of a saint is an infallible and irrevocable
decision of the Pope.
The purpose of Beatification and Canonization
The principal scope of beatification and canonization is to propose
as models of Christian life those who knew how to live the Gospel
in definite circumstances and environments. The pastoral reason
why the cult of the Blessed is limited only to certain
sectors of the Church is the existence of those persons whose lives
and virtues may be good for a certain sector of the Church but inopportune
to the others. For instance, the good examples of founders of Religious
communities may only be opportune for the members of their respective
communities and not necessarily for others. There are also some
persons whose fame of holiness is only known in a certain region
and so his or her cult need not be imposed on other
regions. When one is canonized, it can mean that his or her fame
of sanctity is universal and that his or her exemplary life is opportune
to all the members of the Church.
2003 Fr. Ildebrando A. Leyson
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