This week's "Word from Rome"


Lots of good stuff on Levada, Reese, China and Vietnam, the Anglicans and more.

The part that caught my eye is way down towards the bottom. Allen talks about the beatifications tomorrow, which will not be presided over by the Pope.

Aside from the American connection with Cope, the beatifications have attracted attention for another reason: Pope Benedict XVI will not preside at the ceremony, and is not expected to be present. Instead, Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, will lead the ceremony.

In so doing, the Vatican reverts to the tradition that the pope performs canonizations and other officials carry out beatifications, which had been the case until 1971, when Pope Paul VI elected to preside personally at the beatification of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Pope John Paul II, of course, personally presided over the beatifications of 1,338 beati, a record that's as close to unbeatable as such things come in papal annals.

Some have read this shift, not entirely unreasonably, as an indication that Pope Benedict XVI's papacy will be less personal, less theatrical, than that of his immediate predecessor. However that may be, the reasoning for the change is, in the first place, theological. Experts in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and elsewhere have long been concerned that the distinction between beatification and canonization had become blurred, given that both have recently been treated as papal galas, with little ceremonial distinction.

When someone is beatified, the pope allows members of the person's religious order and Catholics in the place the person lived to celebrate the newly beatified person's feast day Mass and hold other public acts of veneration. Canonization, on the other hand, is an official papal declaration that the person -- now recognized as a saint -- is to be venerated throughout the Catholic church. A beatification does not involve the pope's infallibility, whereas a canonization does.

Probably many people who watched the massive beatification ceremony for Mother Teresa in Rome in October 2003, however, came away thinking that she was now officially a saint, and will be puzzled when another ceremony is eventually staged. It's that kind of confusion the Vatican wants to eliminate.

A senior Vatican official told NCR May 10 that in the future, it's likely that beatifications won't be held in Rome at all, but in the diocese where the cause originated, and will be led not by Vatican officials but by the local bishop. In that way, he said, the local character of a beatification will be more clearly visible.

I love this. The concept of "graduated solemnity" comes to mind, and it appears that this Pope's strong devotion to the liturgy reflects this concept particularly well.

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This page contains a single entry by Papa-Lu published on May 14, 2005 9:57 AM.

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