Cardinal Seeks Streamlined Canonizations; ‘Mediatrix’ Also Debated

81st General Congregation
September 16, 1964

Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels, Belgium, appealed to the ecumenical council to streamline and simplify the canonization procedure so that the Church may recognize persons of all classes, nations and callings as saints.

He also suggested that regional conferences of bishops be empowered to beatify holy persons and that canonizations by the Holy See be reserved for saints of international importance.

The cardinal spoke at the third council session’s second working meeting. He was one of three speakers who continued debate on the seventh chapter of the schema on the nature of the Church, despite the previous day’s announcement that all speakers had had their say on that chapter. The chapter deals with eschatology — the last things, such as death, resurrection, immortality and judgment.

Of the 14 council Fathers who spoke on the schema’s eighth chapter — on the Virgin Mary — four said it would be better for various reasons to drop the term “mediatrix” from the council’s treatment of her. Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J., president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, was among them.

Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo, Italy, defended the use of this title and asked only that it be more fully explained.

Some speakers indicated that they were simply resigned to incorporating the former schema on the Blessed Virgin Mary into the schema on the nature of the Church as a simple chapter. They indicated they felt that the undertaking made by council authorities not to diminish the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in this chapter had not been honored.

The 81st general congregation of the Second Vatican Council began with the votive Mass of the Holy Spirit celebrated by Archbishop Hyacinthe Thiandoum of Dakar, Senegal. Madrid’s Archbishop Casimiro Morcillo Gonzalez enthroned the Gospel. Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro of Bologna, Italy, was the day’s moderator.

Archbishop Pericle Felici, council general secretary, announced that all Fathers wishing to address the council on the schema on pastoral duties of bishops had to put their names in on that day (Sept. 16). It was announced that Sept. 18 would be the deadline for registering for debate on the council’s declarations on the Jews and religious liberty.

By an overwhelming majority the council accepted a streamlined voting procedure for the schema on the nature of the Church. The vote was 2,170 to 32. Two ballots were null.

At the end of the session, a vote was taken on chapter one of the schema. The results were not immediately announced.

The day’s meeting included two statements: one by Archbishop Maurice Roy of Quebec on chapter eight and one on the entire schema by Bishop Andre Charue of Namur, Belgium.

Archbishop Roy, who spoke when the final three speakers on chapter seven had finished, said chapter eight has its place in the schema on the Church because of the inner link between the Blessed Virgin and the mystery of Christ and the Church.

The chapter is aimed at presenting a broad view of Our Lady’s role in the Church without entering into controversial points.

The first part of the chapter handles Mary’s role as illuminated both by Scripture and Tradition. The second part speaks of her cooperation with Christ in the work of salvation. The third part applies this teaching to devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and also applies it to preaching.

Archbishop Roy noted that the title “mediatrix” — mediator — which is used in the chapter is not acceptable to all members of the council’s Theological Commission. He asserted however that the chapter explains the title in such a way as to avoid obscuring Christ’s sole mediatorship.

Bishop Charue spoke toward the end of the discussion on Mary. He said his statement had been prepared for delivery at the last session of the council, but had been crowded out by other events.

He asked the Fathers to avoid voting on the schema placet juxta modum, which means voting with specified reservations. Such voting, he said, would considerably slow the work of the revising commission. He assured the Fathers that the commission would take all criticism of the schema into consideration despite the hoped-for absence of placet juxta modum votes.

The speakers on chapter seven were Cardinal Suenens, Auxiliary Bishop Alfred Ancel of Lyons, France, and Bishop Biago D’Agostino of Vallo di Lucania, Italy.

Speakers on chapter eight were Cardinal Ruffini; Cardinal Bea; Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, Primate of Poland; Julius Cardinal Doepfner of Munich and Freising, Germany; Paul Cardinal Leger of Montreal; Raul Cardinal Silva Henriquez of Santiago, Chile; Archbishop Adrianus Djajasepoetra, S.J., of Jakarta, Indonesia; Archbishop Octaviano Marquez Toriz of Puebla, Mexico; Archbishop Corrado Mingo of Monreale, Italy; Bishop Giuseppe Ruotolo of Ugento, Italy; Bishop John Abasolo y Lecue of Vijayapuram, India; Bishop Eduard Necsey of Nitra, Czechoslovakia; Bishop Juan Hervas y Benet of Ciudad Real, Spain; and Bishop Placido Maria Cambiaghi of Novara, Italy.

Cardinal Suenens said that the Church aims at producing saints and that canonizations provide officially recognized examples of sanctity. For effectiveness they should include persons from all nations, classes and callings, he said. But in fact, he added, since canonizations began in the eighth century, Religious have accounted for about 85 percent of all canonizations and three European nations have had 90 percent of them.

The canonization process should be revised for three reasons, he said.

First, they are too slow and thus are deprived of much of their effectiveness, since the person canonized has become a part of history instead of a living memory.

Second, they are too expensive, thus effectively excluding laymen.

Third, they are too centralized, thus causing delays.

The beatification process, Cardinal Suenens said, could be left to local conferences of bishops and the persons to be beatified could thus be honored in their own countries. Canonization, a strict preserve of the Holy See, would be for those with an international reputation for holiness, he added.

The distinction between the saints and the blesseds was vague in the early Church, and the terms canonization and beatification did not come into use until the 12th century. Through the beatification process, which centers on determining the sanctity of a person who has died, the Church declares the person blessed and permits some restricted public veneration of him or her. Beatification is neither an infallible nor an irrevocable process.

Canonization on the other hand is a solemn declaration that the person is listed in the official canon, or roll, of the saints in heaven who are to be venerated on earth. Canonization is held by theologians to be an infallible act which requires — not simply permits, as in the case of beatification — that the saint be accorded public honor by the church.

Bishop Ancel said the text should clarify the fact that the eschatological character of our vocation extends into all activities of our life.

Bishop D’Agostino said the text of the chapter should stress the need for personal holiness and include a reminder of hell.

Cardinal Ruffini said that Mary’s title of “mediatrix” should be explained to make it clear to non-Catholics that it takes nothing away from Christ, the only mediator before God. The text gives insufficient importance to Mary’s association in the redemption, he said, and does not explain why Mary is our mother.

Cardinal Wyszynski, speaking in the name of all 70 bishops of Poland, said the Polish bishops have asked Pope Paul VI to make official acknowledgment of the spiritual motherhood of Mary for all men. They also want the council to call Mary the “Mother of the Church.” The Polish people attribute their tenacity in keeping the Faith to their devotion to Mary, he stated.

Cardinal Leger said that clear and accurate terms should be used in describing Mary’s vocation. He added that the text does not present positive correctives for the abuses it cites.

Cardinal Doepfner spoke in the name of 90 bishops of Germany and Scandinavia. He said the chapter should not say too much about Mary as mediatrix, since this could lead to controversy. He said objections could be anticipated by bolstering the text’s assertions with Scriptural quotations, and urged that the text’s terminology should be modified to show that Mary shared in our redemption but in a more sublime fashion.

Cardinal Silva called on Scripture scholars to re-examine the text. Too much is said of the mediation of Mary and not enough of Christ’s, he said, speaking in the name of Jose Cardinal Quintero of Caracas, Venezuela, and 43 other Latin American bishops.

Cardinal Bea said that criticism of the chapter springs only from a desire to protect the Church’s interests and should not be seen as a reflection on the devotion of the critic. The chapter fails, he stated, to keep the promise not to enter into theological controversies. He added that practical directives about abuses should be given and that the text should be more precise. The use of the word mediatrix causes very serious difficulties for the separated Christians, Cardinal Bea noted. He spoke overtime but asked permission to finish. It took one minute for this.

Archbishop Djajasepoetra pointed out that the text says Mary “appeared significantly in the public life of Christ.” It would be more precise, he continued, to say she disappeared significantly. He said the term “mediatrix” should not be used because, although Catholics may be able to make proper distinctions in the matter, pagans cannot.

Archbishop Marquez declared that although the spiritual motherhood of Mary seems to be the basis for the chapter, it is not mentioned specifically. There should be such a declaration, though not a definition, he said.

Archbishop Mingo said the schema had not only been revised, but had been radically altered. Its omission of Mary’s association in the work of redemption is not understandable, he stated.

Bishop Ruotolo said the chapter should stress the newness of life which devotion to Mary gives.

Bishop Cambiaghi was applauded when he said Cardinal Ruffini and others had made his points, so he would yield.

Bishop Hervas said the chapter should be given its old title “Mary, Mother of the Church.” Despite assurance last year that incorporation of the schema on Mary as a chapter in the schema on the Church would not weaken it, it has been altered, he claimed.

Bishop Abasolo said Mary’s marriage with Joseph should be mentioned since it would offer example to Christian couples.

Bishop Necsey said the chapter should stress that the internal renovation of the Church, which is the aim of the council, can be achieved through devotion to Mary. Such devotion would also be an antidote to nefarious modern trends such as abortion, which murders legions of children yearly, he said.

*          *          *          *

The ecumenical council proposal of Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels that beatification be placed within the competence of local groups of bishops may have been a compromise proposal, according to Father Frederick McManus, American canon law expert.

Speaking at the U.S. bishops’ press panel, Father McManus said that Cardinal Suenens proposed only that the beatification procedure be changed, leaving cases of canonization to the pope. Father Francis J. Connell, C.SS.R., moral theologian, pointed out the difficulty in giving bishops competence in canonizations in the light of the “common teaching of theologians that the declaration of canonization is infallible.”

Father McManus explained that canonizations were formerly the responsibility of individual bishops. Only during the Middle Ages were they reserved to the pope, and in the 16th century the Congregation of Rites took over.

The 1917 Code of Canon Law laid down the procedures to be followed in beatifications and canonizations, which include elaborate procedures on the local level followed by thorough investigation by the Congregation of Rites.

Auxiliary Bishop Philip M. Hannan of Washington explained that the procedure is longer in the Western Church — the Latin rite — because emphasis is placed on virtues and miracles. He said that the Eastern rites’ procedures for canonization place greater stress on the need for the candidates’ bodies to remain uncorrupted.

The panel experts agreed that Cardinal Suenens’ proposal is definitely pastoral in nature, since the local bishops would be more competent to decide which beatifications would best stir the devotion of local populations.

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