Towards the next Filipino saint

Towards the next Filipino saint

Pope Francis celebrates the canonization Mass of St. Teresa of Kolkata in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in this Sept. 4, 2016 file photo. PAUL HARING/CNS

Pope declares new cause for beatification and canonization: Offer of life
Motu Proprio Maiorem hac dilectionem (11.VII.2017)

A little known apostolic letter

Last 11 July 2017, Pope Francis signed an Apostolic Letter issued motu proprio, entitled Maiorem hac dilectionem, by which he established a new cause for the beatification and eventual canonization of a Christian faithful. This is in addition to the well-known causes of (1) voluntary martyrdom of blood and (2) exercise of the Christian virutes to a heroic degree. Together with the establishment of the new cause, the opportune norms for the required judicial process were also established and opportune modifications in the existing ones made.

With the excitement over the other motu proprio issued in the second semester of the current year—regarding the vernacular translations and adaptations of liturgical rites (to which we dedicated the previous two articles of this column—little attention had been given to this piece of legislation. I would like to remedy this now, as I foresee that these new norms might just usher a new surge of beatifications and canonizations, bringing to the consciousness of the Christian faithful the reality of many men and women of our time who—without dying for the faith in bloody martyrdom or leading visibly heroic lives—nevertheless dedicate their lives, unto premature death, in the service of their fellowmen and the Church.


Statement of the new cause

“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (Jn 15:13).

Worthy of special consideration and honor are those Christians who, following more than closely the footsteps and teachings of the Lord Jesus, have voluntarily and freely offered their life for others and persevered with this determination unto death.

Certainly the heroic offering of life, inspired and sustained by charity, expresses a true, complete and exemplary imitation of Christ, and thus is deserving of that admiration that the community of faithful customarily reserves to those who have voluntarily accepted the martyrdom of blood or have exercised Christian virtues to a heroic degree.

With the support of the favorable opinion expressed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints which, in its Plenary Session on 27 September 2016, carefully studied whether these Christians are deserving of beatification, I establish that the following norms be observed.”

With the above preamble, Pope Francis established the third cause for the beatification and eventual canonization of a Servant of God in the following terms:

“Art.1. The offer of life is a new cause for the beatification and canonization procedure, distinct from the causes based on martyrdom and on the heroism of virtues.”


Criteria for the new cause   

The motu proprio then proceeds to enumerate the criteria for a Servant of God to qualify for this cause for beatification and eventual canonization.

“Art.2. The offer of life, in order that it be valid and effective for the beatification of a Servant of God, must respond to the following criteria:”

  1. a) “A free and voluntary offer of life and heroic acceptance propter caritatemof a certain and untimely death.” This is a subjective and formal component of the cause, stating that in the mind of the servant of God there must exist a certainty of an untimely death as a result of the act of charity that he is undertaking and a heroic acceptance of it. In other words, what makes the offer of life an act of heroic charity befitting of beatification and eventual canonization is the will to accept an untimely death as a consequence of such an offer of ones life.
  2. b) “A nexus between the offer of life and premature death.” This is an objective component, requiring the existence of a real connection between the act of charity being undertaken and the untimely demise of the Servant of God, and not just his subjective perception of such.
  3. c) “The exercise, at least as ordinarily possible, of Christian virtues before the offer of life and, then, unto death.” Herein lies the real practical novelty of this new cause: in effect, the other two causes hitherto available required heroism—either instantaneously by facing a bloody or violent death as an act of charity, or habitually by living all the Christian virtues to a heroic degree—on the part of the Servant of God. This new cause only requires a habitual exercise of ordinary Christian virtues before the offer of life of the Servant of God.
  4. d) “The existence of a reputation of holiness and of signs, at least after death.” This is the ecclesial component of the cause—i.e., that in fact there is a reputation amongst the faithful of a certain holiness and of signs of such (holiness) on the part of the Servant of God. This has always been a pre-condition even for the opening of the cause of beatification, by which a certain faithful becomes a Servant of God.
  5. e) “The necessity of a miracle for beatification, occurring after the death of the Servant of God and through his or her intercession.” This does not present a novelty either, as this has always been the praxis.


Procedural norms for the instruction of the cause

What follows, in the short motu proprio, is a series of procedural norms:

“Art.3. The celebration of the diocesan or eparchial Inquest and the relative Positio are regulated by the Apostolic Constitution Divinus perfectionis Magister of 25 January 1983, in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Vol. LXXV(1983, 349-355), and by the Normae servandae in inquisitionibus ab Episcopis facendis in Causis Sanctorum of 7 February of the same year, in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Vol. LXXV (1983, 396-403), except as follows:

“Art.4. The Positio on the offer of life must respond to the dubium: An constet de heroica oblatione vitae usque ad mortem propter caritatem necnon de virtutibus christianis, saltem in gradu ordinario, in casu et ad effectum de quo agitur.”

In other words, the final judgment of the cause for the beatification on this new ground must answer the question: Whether it is proven with moral certainty that the Servant of God had heroically offered his/her life unto death for the sake of love, and that he/she had lived the Christian virtues at least in ordinary grade, in the case and to the effect under consideration.

Finally, the motu proprio established the opportune modifications in the aforementioned Apostolic Constitution, to align the existing procedures to the present legislation:

“Art.5. The following articles of the said Apostolic Constitution are thus modified:”

Art.1: “It is the right of diocesan Bishops or Bishops of the Eastern Rite and others who have the same powers in law, within the limits of their own jurisdiction, either ex officio or upon the request of individual members of the faithful or of legitimate groups and their representatives, to inquire about the life, virtues, the offer of life or martyrdom and reputation of sanctity, of the offer of life or martyrdom, alleged miracles, as well as, if it be the case, ancient cult of the Servant of God, whose canonization is sought”.

Art.2.5: “The inquiry into alleged miracles is to be conducted separately from the inquiry into virtues, the offer of life or martyrdom”.

Art.7.1: “To study the causes entrusted to them, together with collaborators from outside the Congregation, and to prepare the Positions on virtues, on the offer of life or on martyrdom”.

Art.13.2: “If the meeting judges that the cause was conducted according to the norms of law, it decides to which Relator the cause is to be assigned; the Relator, then, together with a collaborator from outside the Congregation, will prepare the Position on virtues, on the offer of life or on martyrdom according to the rules of critical hagiography”.

“Art. 6. The following Articles of the said Normae servandae in inquisitionibus ab Episcopi facendis in Causis Sanctorum are thus modified:

Art. 7: A cause can be recent or ancient; it is called recent if the martyrdom or virtues or the offer of life of the Servant of God can be proved through the oral depositions of eye witnesses; it is ancient, however, when the proofs for martyrdom or virtues can be brought to light only from written sources”.

Art. 10.1: In both recent and ancient causes, a biography of any historical import of the Servant of God, should such exist, or otherwise an accurate, chronologically arranged report on the life and deeds of the Servant of God, on his virtues or on his offer of life or martyrdom, on his reputation of sanctity and of signs. Nor should anything be omitted which seems to be contrary or less favorable to the cause”.

Art. 10.3: In recent causes only, a list of persons who can help bring to light the truth about the virtues or the offer of life or the martyrdom of the Servant of God, and about his reputation of sanctity or of signs. Those with contrary opinions must also be included”.

Art. 15.a: Once the report has been accepted, the Bishop is to hand over to the promotor of justice or to another expert everything gathered up to that point so that he might formulate the interrogatories most effective in searching out and discovering the truth about the life of the Servant of God, his virtues, his offer of life or martyrdom, his reputation of holiness, of the offer of life or of martyrdom”.

Art. 15.b: In ancient causes, however, the interrogatories are only to consider the reputation of sanctity, of the offer of life or martyrdom existing until the present as well as, if it be the case, the cult given to the Servant of God in more recent times”.

Art. 19: In order to prove the martyrdom or the practice of virtues or the offer of life and the reputation of signs of the Servant of God who belonged to any institute of consecrated life, a significant number of the proposed witnesses must be from outside the Institute unless, on account of the particular life of the Servant of God, this should prove impossible”.

Art. 32: The inquiry on miracles is to be instructed separately from the inquiry on virtues or the offer of life or martyrdom and is to be conducted according to the norms which follow”.

Art. 36: Any solemn celebrations or panegyric speeches about Servants of God whose sanctity of life is still being legitimately examined are prohibited in Churches. Furthermore, one must also refrain, even outside of Church, from any acts which could mislead the faithful into thinking that the inquiry conducted by the Bishop into the life of the Servant of God and his virtues or martyrdom or offer of lifecarries with it the certitude that the Servant of God will be one day canonized”.



Pope Francis, in this motu proprio, seems to be applying an operative principle that he had adopted from the very start of his pontificate: to go to the peripheries. In effect, by adding this new cause for the beatification and eventual canonization, the Holy Father has made it possible for the most ordinary life—offered to the end with heroic charity—to be declared worthy of being included in the roster of Christian Blessed and Saints. I daresay that this should open the doors for the opening of such processes for many men and women of recent memory, who can be shining beacons for our troubled times. They should include many of our own countrymen.