On the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year the Church reminds us of the Second Coming of Christ, Who will come in glory on the clouds of Heaven accompanied by His saints. Today, for special reasons, we concentrate on the saints, those celestial beings often pictured in shining white garments, carrying palms, or wearing crowns. We may forget that they were once men and women like ourselves, and that they fought the good fight of faith, and won for themselves by God's grace a place in the Heavenly Mansions.
Although all those who go to Heaven are holy and may be called saints, the Church has singled out some of them for our inspiration and instruction, officially designating them as saints through the process of beatification and canonization. The Church has always taken extreme care in the canonization of saints, wishing to present to us only the most holy and worthy models of sainthood, as St. Paul indicates: "Be imitators of me, and mark those who walk after the pattern you have in us" (Phil.3:17).
"If we accept this doctrine of the worship (veneration) of the saints," says the Catholic Encyclopedia, "of which there are innumerable evidences in the writings of the Fathers and the liturgies of the Eastern and Western Churches, we shall not wonder at the loving care with which the Church committed to writing the sufferings of the early martyrs, sent these accounts from one gathering of the faithful to another, and promoted the veneration of the martyrs."
The circular letter from the Church in Smyrna concerning the relics of St. Polycarp (d. 155) is given as an example: "We have at last gathered his bones, which are dearer to us than priceless gems and purer than gold, and laid them to rest where it was befitting they should lie. And if it be possible for us to assemble again, may God grant us to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom with gladness, thus to recall the memory of those who fought in the glorious combat, and to teach and strengthen by his example, those who shall come after us" (Beatification and Canonization, The Catholic Encyclopedia).
For the first several hundred years saints were not formally canonized but were chosen by public acclaim and confirmed by the Church. The formal process of canonization began in the 900's, when the Church decided to examine closely the lives of those who were considered candidates for sainthood. Only those with the reputation for heroic virtue were considered. The testimony of many witnesses was painstakingly gathered. Eventually the writings and teachings of the proposed saint were carefully scrutinized for evidence of any slightest deviation from Catholic orthodoxy. If such were found the cause for canonization was halted.
Once it was a Church that transcended the times, a Church for every age, an immovable rock of ages, famous for taking its time to change anything. Now it is the Church of the times, shifting with every wind of doctrine, changing with every novelty that comes along. We saw this with the Folk Masses, Rock Masses, Jazz Masses, Polka Masses, Mariachi Masses, and even Clown Masses. The times were a-changing, and everything was "blowing in the wind."
With everything else changing, the Church's canonization process could not be left untouched. Herein lies a great irony. The "liturgical experts" that collected around Paul VI and Archbishop Bugnini, the founders of the New Mass, began to strip away saints from the official calendar, under the pretext that the Liturgical Calendar needed to be simplified and less cluttered with saints festivals. So it was decreed. Many were saddened as the names of beloved saints like Philomena and Christopher were no longer to be officially celebrated. Then along came John Paul II canonizing some 482 saints and beatifying 1330, more saints and blessed than all of his 264 predecessors put together. Is it a church out of control, or what?
In the case of Novus Ordo canonizations the standards have been lowered dramatically. Now only one miracle is required for beatification and one for canonization, whereas formerly two were required for each. The post of Promoter of the Faith, or "devil's advocate," who had to try in every way to discredit the would-be saint so that there would be no question about his or her holiness, was abrogated, although Pope Urban VII had said that without the "devil's advocate" (Promoter of the Faith) the canonization would be invalid. The testimony of adverse witnesses has been ignored in some notable cases, although the Code of Canon Law of 1917 declared it to be the duty of "all the faithful" who had evidence that would create doubt about the sanctity of the candidate to come forward, whether summoned or not. The test of orthodoxy in the teachings and practices of the person has been very lax, so that some who would never have been canonized under the more strict standards of the Traditional Church are being presented to us as saints. The process of canonization has been cheapened.
It is impossible to recognize the true Church - prudent, careful and wise in her decisions - in the present Church of the New Order (Novus Ordo) - clumsy, rash, and hasty in promoting its new cadre of saints. There has been much opposition and controversy surrounding several of the new canonizations, such as in the case of the founder of Opus Dei. Many of its members kept their fingers crossed until his canonization, thinking that once it took place it could no longer be challenged, since the decree of canonization is considered infallible.
Doubt about the Novus Ordo canonization process, does not mean doubt about Padre Pio. It was once said that there would be no more saints acclaimed by the people. Then came St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who wished to spend her Heaven in doing good upon earth, acclaimed and loved by all who read her autobiography or invoked her intercession. The same can be said about Padre Pio. During his lifetime long lines of penitents sought his absolution in the confessional. Miracles of healing and mystical phenomena such as bilocation were numerous. The swelling tide of popular acclaim since his death is testimony to his holiness. These words from the Mass of a Confessor-Bishop seem not inappropriate:
"Behold, a great priest, who in his days pleased God, and was found just; and in the time of wrath he was made a reconciliation. There was not found the like to him, who kept the law of the Most High. Therefore, by an oath, the Lord made him to increase among his people. He gave him the blessing of all nations, and confirmed His covenant upon his head. He acknowledged him in His blessings; He preserved for him His mercy; and he found grace before the eyes of the Lord" (Ecclus.44:16-27;45:3-20).