September 7, 2000
volume 11, no. 163

The Commandments of God
fourth segment
The First Commandment
part two: Veneration of the Saints

    We pay special honor to the Blessed Virgin Mary, because she is the Mother of God, and our Mother. God has exalted her above all other creatures. Her intercession is more powerful with God than that of any other saint. No man refuses his mother a favor; so God does not refuse any request of Mary. Christ even worked his first miracle in advance of His time, because Mary asked Him. Let us all love and honor the Blessed Virgin, for she is our Mother, whom Christ Himself gave us from the cross.

    The first commandment does not forbid us to honor the saints in Heaven, provided we do not give them the honor that belongs to God alone. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and veneration of the saints, are not opposed to the commandment to adore God alone. We do not worship the saints; we only honor them as the special friends and servants of God. We adore God alone.

    By venerating the saints we honor God Himself, Who is the cause of their holiness. Without the help of God, they would not have done anything holy. We do not adore saints. Should we not reverence those who reflect God's perfections? So we venerate the saints. Similarly we honor outstanding persons on earth; but we do not adore them.

    We give to God the supreme honor and adoration, called latria. We render the saints our veneration, called dulia. To the Blessed Virgin we give special veneration, called hyperdulia, because she is above all angels and saints as the Mother of God. But even the Blessed Virgin we do not and cannot adore or worship. However saintly, not all the saints and angels together can approach the infinite holiness of God. We show honor to God when we venerate those to whom was granted grace to resemble Him.

    A person who died in the grace of God and is already in Heaven is a saint. In the strict sense of the term, a saint is one solemnly declared by the Church to be in Heaven, and may be given public veneration. Before a person is declared a saint, rigid proof is required of a life of heroic virtue. Inquiry is made into his life, virtues, and writings. The preliminary investigation is usually not made unti at least fifty years after the person's death. The process goes through three stages which, if satisfactory, end in papal declaration for three degrees, with titles given of Venerable, Blessed, and Saint.

    To one whose martyrdom or heroic virtue has been proved, the title Venerable is given; he may be accorded no public veneration. If the inquiry continues, this second stage is the process of Beatification; ending successfully, it grants a limited public veneration.

    The cause for beatification is not opened unless the holiness of the person is outstanding and ascertained by competent authority, or unless the miracles worked are of an extraordinary character. Proof is required of at least two miracles worked at his intercession: these are unquestioned signs of God's approval.

    If formal investigation proceeds into the third stage, that is the process of canonization. If satisfactory, it ends with a papal declaration giving the title Saint, with public veneration in the universal Church. For canonization proof is required of at least two additional miracles, subsequently worked by the beatified one. Canonization does not make a saint; it surely is not a permission for entrance into Heaven. It is merely an official declaration by the Church that a person is already in Heaven, worthy of public veneration and imitation. It is a formal proclamation of the state of a deceased person.

    We honor the saints in Heaven because they practiced great virtue when they were on earth, and because in honoring those who are the chosen friends of God, we honor God Himself.

    If we are eager to show honor to earthly royalty, how much more should we honor the saints of God, princes of Heaven! If we ask for prayers of our fellowmen on earth, how much more eager should we be to ask the saints, our friends in Heaven!

    We can honor the saints by imitating their holy lives. The highest honor we can pay them is to imitate their virtues. By praying to them we honor them by praising them in word and song, and asking for their intercession. We may pray in private to anyone who we believe is either in Heaven or Purgatory. But we are forbidden to give public veneration to anyone who is not beatified or canonized.

    We can honor the saints by showing respect to their relics and images. We also give the saints honor when we celebrate their feasts, or take them as our patrons and models.

    When we pray to the saints we ask them to offer their prayers to God for us. This is what we call the "intercession" of the saints. If we are grateful for the intercession of a friend before an earthly superior, how much more so should we be for the intercession of saints before God! How many times have the saints obtained favors from God for men? And God likes this intercession: as He said, He would have spared Sodom for the sake of ten just men (cf. Genesis 18:32).

    Experience has proved that much is gained by invoking certain saints in times of special need. It appears that God has given to individual saints powers to help us in special needs. Thus, we invoke Saint Joseph as the patron of a happy death; Saint Anthony when we have lost anything; Saint Blaise for diseases of the throat, etc. Many wonderful answers to prayer lead to the belief that the saints take particular interest in persons whose circumstances are the same as theirs were on earth.

    We know that the saints will pray for us, because they are with God and have great love for us. The saints in Heaven are, with us, members of the Communion of Saints and therefore the Church, of one body belonging to Christ. "So we the many, are one body in Christ but severally members one of another" (Romans 12:5).

    Members of the same body give mutual help to each other; the saints help us by their prayers before God. On our part, we honor and imitate them. The Church omits no opportunity to urge us to the veneration of saints. At Baptism we receive the name of a saint. At Confirmation we choose a saint's name, asking that particular saint to strengthen us in our Faith further. Each day of the year one or more saints are commemorated. Images and pictures of the saints are placed in the churches. Saints are invoked in the Mass, the litanies, and other public prayers.

    The Church worships God, and honors the saints as friends and servants of God. So churches and altars are dedicated and consecrated to God alone although named after saints and placed under their protection. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered to God alone, although it may be celebrated in memory of the saints. In praying, we say to God, "Have mercy on us", but to the saints, "Pray for us", just as we would say it to a dear friend.

Next Thursday: The First Commandment part three - Relics and Images

September 7, 2000
volume 11, no. 163

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