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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > B > The Blessed

The Blessed

There are at present two ways in which the Church allows public worship to be paid those who have lived in the fame of sanctity or died as martyrs. Of these some are beatified, others are canonized. (See BEATIFICATION AND CANONIZATION). Beatification is a permission for public worship restricted to certain places and to certain acts. In the more recent discipline of the Church, the pope alone can beatify, though formerly bishops could grant the honour of beatification to those of the faithful who had shed their blood for Christ or lived lives of heroic virtue. All those permissions for public worship which in the early ages of the Church were granted to particular churches and spread thence with the sanction of other bishops to other congregations, to be finally made a matter a precept for the universal Church by the Roman pontiff, constituted beatification and canonization in the exact sense of the word. It was only beatification while the cult, of the martyr for instance, was restricted to the place where he had suffered, but became canonization when it was received in the entire Church. The difference between canonization and beatification lies in the presence or absence of two elements which are found united in canonization and either separate or entirely absent from beatification, though generally only one is lacking. These elements are:

In exceptional cases one or other of these is wanting; sometimes the cult of the beatified is not only permitted but enjoined, though not for the universal Church, and in other instances it is permitted for the whole Church but not enjoined. The case of Bl. Rose of Lima is an instance of the occurrence of both elements, though that did not of itself suffice for her canonization, as one of the elements was not really complete. When Clement X chose her as patron of all America, the Philippines, and the Indies, and by the same act allowed her cultus in the entire Church it was clearly a case where a cultus was enjoined in America and merely allowed for the remainder of the Church.

The nature of beatification makes it evident that the worship of the blessed is restricted to certain places and persons, and may be given only after permission. Such permission is usually granted to those persons or places which have in some way been connected with the blessed. In the case of a religious, it is granted to the members of the order or congregation to which he belonged; if a canon of a church, that church or chapter receives the permission; if a martyr, a bishop, or resident of some place for a long period, the concession is made to the place of his martyrdom or to his see or to the place that he adorned with his virtues. In some cases the place of his birth or burial is included. And in all these instances it may be that the concession is made only to the mother church, or to the church in which his body lies, or it may be extended to the whole city or diocese. With Benedict XIV (De canonizatione de SS., Lib. IV, part. II, cap. i, n. 12) we may add that such grants are affixed to the day on which the blessed died or to some other determined day. When this cultus is allowed to certain persons or places it is still further restricted with respect to the manner in which it is to be given, and not all acts of worship which the customs and discipline of the Church allow to be paid canonized saints may be used in the worship of the beatified. Benedict XIV (loc. cit., c. ii) treats the question at length and with regard to the inquiry as to whether a votive Mass may be said in honour of the blessed in places where the cultus has been granted decides in the negative against Castropalao and Del Bene. His opinion has since been confirmed by the decree of Alexander VII of 27 September, 1659, in which decree the pope settled many questions regarding the worship of the blessed. It may be remarked that ordinarily votive Masses cannot be said in honour of the blessed, though for several centuries they have been said in virtue of special indults. The oldest indult which Benedict XIV quotes in this connection is that granted by Clement VII to the Dominicans of the Convent of Forlì, 25 January, 1526, to celebrate the Mass of Blessed James Salomonio "as often during the year as their devotion may move them to do so". Besides this indult there is another granted by Alexander VII at the request of Ferdinand Gonzaga, Prince of Castiglione, on 22 May, 1662, "to celebrate votive Masses in honour of Blessed Aloysius (Gonzaga) in the collegiate mother church of the town of Castiglione during the year." And this indult, a few months afterwards, was extended so as to allow "votive Masses of the same Blessed Aloysius to be celebrated in the church of the Regular Clerics of the Society of Jesus during the year on days not impeded by the rubrics".

Alexander VII further ordered that images of the blessed should not be exposed in any church, sanctuary, or oratory whatever, and especially in those in which Mass or other Divine services are held, without previous consultation with the Holy See. This rule is of such strict interpretation that in virtue of the granting of this indult it cannot be presumed that permission is had to place the images of the blessed upon the altars. They may be placed upon the walls of the church only. However, an indult permitting a contrary use is not of altogether rare occurrence in the recent discipline of the Church, and it is to be remarked that even in the time of Alexander VII a decree of the Congregation of Rites of 17, April, 1660, declared that the concession of an indult to say the Mass and Office of a blessed implied permission to place his picture or statue upon the altar, though the opposite does not hold. The same pope also decided that the names of the blessed should be entered in no catalogue except those proper to the persons who had received permission to honour then with cultus and a Mass and Office. He ruled too that no prayers should be addressed the blessed in public services except those granted and approved by the Holy See and that their relics should not be carried in procession. It must, however, be observed here in passing that Alexander VII, as he especially declares in his decrees, did not intend to do away with any cultus that had been rendered to the blessed with the common consent of the Church, or from time immemorial, or approved by the writings of the Fathers and the saints, or even one which had been tolerated by the Holy See and the different ordinaries for more than a hundred years. In addition to all this, we have other decrees of the Congregation of Rites, such as : that the names of the blessed are not to be enrolled in the martyrology; that neither altars nor churches may be dedicated to them; that they may not be chosen as local patrons. It must not be forgotten that exceptions may be made by indult even in these cases. Recently, to quote an instance, Pius X at the request of the English bishops, in the matter of the English martyrs whom Leo XIII had beatified, granted that in each diocese an altar might be erected to each of the nine principal martyrs whose names are mentioned in the decree, the churches in which they were to be erected being designated by the bishops. Beatification is an entirely different matter from canonization, and is but a step to it, being in no wise an irreformable decision of ecclesiastical authority. The observation of Benedict XIV then goes without saying, that the blessed are not to be given the title of saints; further that the distinctive signs which ecclesiastical use has made customary in regard to statues and pictures of saints cannot be used in the case of blessed, who are not to be represented with the aureola, but with rays above (op. cit., Lib. I, c, xxxvii).

To conclude, we may observe that in the cultus of the blessed great attention must be given to the indult which in each specific instance determines, according to the wishes of the sovereign pontiff, the restrictions with regard to persons, places, and acts of worship. This matter, and very justly so, has been made the subject of special legislation on the part of the Congregation of Rites which decreed on 5 October, 1652, that no one could go beyond the limits set by the words of the indults of the Holy See in regard to beatification. The solemnities of beatification cannot be compared with those of canonization. They are briefly as follows: On the day on which beatification takes place Mass is said in St. Peter's in presence of the entire Congregation of Rites. After the Gospel, instead of a homily, the secretary of the Congregation reads the pope's decree, on the conclusion of which the painting of the newly beatified, which stands over the altar, is uncovered and the Mass is finished. About the hour of Vespers the Holy Father comes down to the basilica to venerate the new blessed. After the beatification permission is granted to celebrate solemn triduums, and by a special decree Mass and Office are allowed to be said yearly on a fixed day, but with restrictions as to place, and it is permitted to insert the name in the special martyrologies. The expenses of a beatification from the first steps to the conclusion approximate 100,000 lire ($20,000). (See BEATIFICATION AND CANONIZATION).

About this page

APA citation. Beccari, C. (1907). The Blessed. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02597b.htm

MLA citation. Beccari, Camillo. "The Blessed." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02597b.htm>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Janet Grayson.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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