Veneration for a "Venerable"

And More on Eastern Rites

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ROME, OCT. 6, 2009 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: What type of veneration is due to someone who has been declared a venerable? Can there be official liturgical or paraliturgical prayers addressed to that person? Can that person be mentioned during the naming of the saints at Mass? — G.C., Bangalore, India

A: Traditionally a servant of God is called venerable after the promulgation of a decree declaring that he or she practiced the virtues to a heroic degree.

For precision’s sake, however, it must be noted that this title is no longer a stage along the path of beatification and canonization. Thus it is no longer technically correct to say that a person has been declared venerable, since no such declaration is issued.

Nor are there any particular liturgical honors attributed to a person who has been decreed to have practiced heroic virtues, as these must await the conclusion of the process and the (possible) eventual beatification.

Pope John Paul II reformed the basic norms regarding the process of canonization with his 1983 apostolic constitution «Divinus Perfectionis Magister.» The Congregation for Saints’ Causes has published several clarifications and instructions with more precise regulations, such as the 2007 instruction «Sanctorum Mater,» tightening the rules for the initial diocesan phase of the process.

At this stage the law says: «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 carries with it the certitude that the Servant of God will be one day canonized.»

Likewise, before closing the diocesan stage of the process the judges must assure that there has been no public cult offered the candidate. Thus the 2007 instruction states:

«Art. 117 – § 1. In accordance with the dispositions of Pope Urban VIII, it is prohibited for a Servant of God to be an object of public ecclesiastical cult without the previous authorization of the Holy See.

Ǥ 2. Such dispositions do not impede, in any way, private devotion toward the Servant of God and the spontaneous spreading of his reputation of holiness or martyrdom and of intercessory power.

«Art. 118 – § 1. In observance of the above-mentioned dispositions, prior to the close of the Inquiry the Bishop or his Delegate must ensure that the Servant of God is not an object of unlawful cult.

Ǥ 2. For this purpose, the Bishop or his Delegate, the Promotor of Justice and the Notary of the cause, must inspect the tomb of the Servant of God, the room where he lived and/or died, and other possible places where signs of unlawful cult may be found.

Ǥ 3. The Notary is to draw up a report on the outcome of the inspection that is to be inserted into the acts of the Inquiry.

«Art. 119 – § 1. If no abuses of cult are discovered, the Bishop or his Delegate is to proceed to the preparation of the «Declaration on the Absence of Cult», that is, the declaration which attests to the fact that the Decrees of Urban VIII have been observed.

«§ 2. The declaration is to be inserted among the acts of the Inquiry.»

Once the diocesan phase of the process is concluded, the acts go to Rome for the subsequent stages of examination. A special book called the «Positio,» or summary of the documentation that proves the candidate’s heroic virtue, is prepared. This is first examined by nine theologians who give their vote. If the majority vote in favor it is examined by the cardinals and bishops who are members of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes. If these approve the cause, it is finally presented to the Pope for a final decision. Once the cause has received papal approval, the decree of heroic virtues is promulgated.

The next and final stage of the process is the examination of an alleged miracle attributed to the servant of God. This must also be rigorously examined from both the scientific and theological standpoints. If and when this stage is completed, there is another decree and the Holy Father decides on the date for beatification.

Along with beatification comes the concession for public liturgical veneration albeit still limited to particular spheres such as within a religious family, or to the diocese where the new blessed is buried or is associated with in a particular way.

Thus, as said above, there is no public liturgical or paraliturgical cult for a «venerable» since there is as yet no guarantee that the person will eventually be beatified. Some of the restrictions in force during the early stages of the process, such as the prohibition on panegyric speeches regarding the candidate’s sanctity of life, would naturally be lifted as the Church has officially proclaimed that the person lived a holy life.

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Follow-up: Celebrating in an Eastern Rite

In our observations on Eastern priests celebrating in the Roman rite (Sept. 22) we mentioned that the Eastern bishop could give permission for one of his priests to celebrate in this rite. A reader pointed out: «It is not the Syrian bishop who can allow his priests to celebrate Mass in the Latin rite. It is the Latin bishop who can grant such permission.»

Our attentive correspondent is technically correct that this permission would fall under the jurisdiction of the local Roman-rite bishop.

However, in practice it would appear that the habitual permission to celebrate according to the Latin rite is often implied when an Eastern-rite priest has been sent by his bishop to study or engage in pastoral service in a Latin environment. That is, the Eastern priest would ask the local Latin bishop for the usual faculties accorded to priests residing in the diocese and would presume that permission to celebrate according to the Latin rite would be included without seeing the need to make a formal request to celebrate according to this rite. This would be the case of some Eastern priests studying in Roman colleges where most of the residents are Latin rite.

The situation would differ in the case of Eastern priests who are incardinated in an Eastern diocese that overlaps or is coextensive with a Roman diocese. In some Western countries such as the United States, Australia and Canada, the Eastern eparchies often cover large swathes of the country as their faithful are frequently scattered in small communities. In this case a more formal permission would be needed from the local Latin bishop if the priest needed to celebrate frequently in the Roman rite.

Although very rare, there are some cases when an Eastern bishop does give formal permission to celebrate according to the Latin rite. For example, the Syro-Malabar Church, which is mostly based in southern India, has several missionary dioceses in northern India. In this case there is no corresponding Latin bishop as jurisdictions do not overlap. There are, however, popular shrines which are frequented by both Eastern and Latin faithful. In this case the Eastern bishop can grant his priests permission to celebrate according to the Latin rite for the pastoral benefit of the faithful.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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