THE VENERATION OF SAINTS
We call those saints who died in the grace of God, and who are already in heaven, more especially those whom the Church has canonized.
Canonization does not admit any one into heaven; it is only a solemn declaration on the part of the Pope that the man or woman in question has led a holy life (this having been proved by the examination of his or her life), and that (as the miracles proved to have been wrought by the individual testify) he or she is already in heaven, and is therefore to be venerated by the Church. Canonization is preceded by beatification; by this latter the individual is proposed for the veneration of a portion of the faithful only, whereas by canonization he is declared worthy to receive the cultus of the whole Church. The scrutiny to which the life and miracles are subjected is extremely rigorous; they are laid before a special congregation composed of cardinals, priests, physicians, scientists, who are appointed to examine them by the Supreme Pontiff himself. This examination does not take place as a rule until fifty years after the death of the servant of God. On account of the great number of the saints, their different degree of glory, and the fact that their life was more in heaven than on earth, they are compared to the stars; or again to precious stones, rarely found upon earth and valuable in God’s sight; to the cypress, whose wood never decays, because they were not contaminated by the corruption of serious sin; to the majestic cedars of Lebanon, by reason of the height of perfection they attained; to the fragrant lily, because by their good works they shed a sweet odor around them; to an anvil, unbroken by the blows of the hammer, for they stood steadfast beneath the strokes of misfortune. They are also said to be the pillars of the Church, for they sustain her by their prayers, and like the towers that crown a city, they add to her outward majesty and dignity.
The Church ordains that those saints alone whom she has canonized should be publicly venerated by the faithful.
The Church knows that the veneration of the saints is good and useful for us. Consequently she omits no opportunity of inciting us to it; at Baptism the name of a saint is given to the child who is made one of the members of the Church, and the same is done at Confirmation. Every day in the year some one or more saints are commemorated; statues and pictures of saints are placed in the churches, their names are mentioned in the Mass and invoked in litanies and public prayers.
1. We honor the saints because they are the friends of God, princes of the heavenly court, and benefactors to ourselves; also because we obtain great graces from God through venerating them.
We venerate the saints because they are the friends and servants of God. He who reverences the emperor will not fail to honor his servants, the ministers, or viceroy, etc., for the reverence paid to them is indirectly paid to the emperor himself. For this reason we venerate the friends and servants of God. Every man of good feeling likes his friends to be respected, and feels it to be a slight to himself if they are treated with contempt; how much more is this so with God. He desires that those who loved Him above all things on earth should receive special honor. While the saints lived here below, they fled from honors; nay, more, they were despised, calumniated, persecuted by evil men. Therefore God now wills that their innocence and virtue should be made clear, and they should be venerated by all Christendom. God Himself gives honor to the saints; He works miracles through their intercession, aid oftentimes inflicts condign punishment on those who show them disrespect. Christ Himself says: “If any man minister to Me, him will My Father honor” (John xii. 26). We venerate the saints on account of their exalted rank in heaven. If we show so much honor to kings by whom God rules the world, how much the more is it incumbent upon us to honor the celestial spirits whom God makes His instruments for the government of the Church, and of whole races of men, and also for the salvation of mankind; and whose dignity therefore far exceeds that of earthly princes. Most of the saints moreover have a claim on us for the services they have rendered to mankind; heathen countries have been evangelized by them (witness St. Boniface, the apostle of Germany); others have maintained and defended the faith, as St. Ignatius of Loyola by forming the Society of Jesus; or again they have enriched the Church by their writings, as did St. Augustine. Many a time the saints have prevailed upon God on behalf of their fellow-men. He would have spared Sodom for the sake of ten just men (Gen. xviii. 32); for Joseph’s sake He blessed the house of Putiphar (Gen. xxxix. 5); for the sake of the elect the days of judgment shall be shortened (Matt. xxiv. 22). After their death the saints offer supplications before the throne of God for their kinsfolk and their people. The prophet Jeremias did not cease after death to pray for the Jewish people and for all the holy city (2 Mach. xv. 14). The saints in heaven and Christians upon earth are all members of one body. When one member suffers, all the members suffer with it, and they mutually succor one another. Thus the saints help us by their prayers. How much honor is paid to men who have deserved well of their contemporaries; their services are lauded and magnified, statues are Erected to their memory, institutions, towns, streets are named after them; ought we not then to venerate our best benefactors? If the man who rescues me from drowning has a claim on my gratitude, how much more those who have spent their strength in endeavoring to save me from eternal perdition! Furthermore, the Council of Trent tells us that the veneration of the saints is of practical utility to ourselves; through them we obtain favors from God, besides a speedy answer to our prayers. Our petitions are much more favorably received by an earthly monarch if they are presented by one of his courtiers; so it is with God, and the more intercessors we have the better for us. What God might not grant to a single saint, He will not deny to several, just as an abbot cannot refuse to grant a request preferred by the whole of his community. Wherefore, as beggars go from house to house asking an alms, let us go through the streets of the heavenly city, appealing to the apostles, the martyrs, the virgins, and the confessors, imploring them to intercede on our behalf.
2. We venerate the saints if we entreat their intercession with God, if we celebrate their feasts, reverence their images and their relics; if we bear their name, claim their protection in matters of importance, and praise them in word and song. The best manner in which to venerate them is to imitate their virtues.
One day we are to be the companions of the saints in heaven, and this prospect unites us to them in a mutual love. Both they and we be long to the same great family whose father is God. This is the meaning of the communion of saints. Hence they espouse our cause, when we invoke their aid and their intercession with God. The fact of invoking them testifies to the esteem in which we hold them, and the value we attach to their prayers. We celebrate the feasts of the saints. In the earliest ages of the Church the day whereon the martyrs suffered was carefully noted down, to be commemorated annually. In the world great events are celebrated by a jubilee; why should not the same be done in the Church? The anniversaries of the saints are not holy-days of obligation, excepting the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul in England, and the festival of All Saints here. And as we like to preserve in memory of the departed, little objects that have belonged to them, whether they be our own relatives and friends, or men of great renown, so the relics of the saints and their images are to be held in veneration. The names of heroes and great men are given to public institutions or buildings, so we receive the name of some saint or great servant of God at our Baptism and Confirmation, or on entering a religious Order, taking him or her for our patron. We also dedicate churches, towns, and countries to some saint, placing them under his protection. Heroes and illustrious men of past times often furnish a theme to the orator and the poet; so panegyrics are pronounced, and hymns sung in honor of the saints. But the most important thing is to imitate the saints. “To venerate the saints without following in their steps,” says St. Augustine, “is merely offering them the incense of empty flattery.” To read the lives of the saints is also a means of honoring them, for we read the record of their deeds in order to take them for patterns in our own actions.
3. The veneration we pay to the saints does not in the least detract from the honor due to God, for we only reverence the saints for God’s sake, and by no means do we reverence them in the way that we reverence God, but only because they are the servants of God.
The veneration of the saints does not detract from the honor due to God. Who would think of saying that it showed want of respect to the emperor to honor his mother, his children, his friends, and faithful servants? On the contrary, it would rather evince our respect for him (St. Jerome). By venerating the saints of God we no more detract from the honor due to Him than we do by charity towards our neighbor, and we know that the love of God increases with the love of one’s neighbor. We honor the saints because in them the divine image is reflected. We reverence a portrait of the king as being a faithful representation of the monarch to whom we owe allegiance; so we reverence the saints because we see the image of God in them. We love them as we love our fellow-men; they are made after God’s image, and are His children. We also venerate the saints because they were instruments employed by God to perform new and signal deeds. We do not honor them for what they were in and by themselves; their works do not redound to their own glory, so much as to the glory of God, Who worked by their agency. Thus the credit of a beautiful picture does not belong to the brush, or a clever book to the pen, or an eloquent discourse to the lips that merely repeated it. God alone is wonderful in His saints. The Blessed Mother of God did not say: “I have done great things;” but, “He that is mighty hath done great things to me” (Luke i. 49). And as by venerating the saints we honor God, so by despising the saints we dishonor God. Our Lord declared that to despise His apostles was tantamount to despising Himself (Luke x. 16), and that He regarded every act of unkindness towards one’s neighbor as an act of unkindness to Himself (Matt. xxv. 40). And since God loves the saints in heaven far more than men on earth, He must be deeply affronted by disrespect shown to them. An additional reason why veneration of the saints in no wise diminishes our reverence for God, is because we do not honor them as we honor God. We adore God, but we do not adore the saints, so we do not pay to them the supreme homage that we pay to God, for we know that the distance between Him and them is infinite. However superior the saints are to us, they are only creatures like ourselves. The esteem and veneration in which we hold them is the same in kind as that in which we hold the servants of God on earth, only it is greater in degree, because the saints have already passed as victors into the Church Triumphant. The saints do not desire the adoration of men. When Tobias and his family prostrated themselves before the angel, he said: “Bless ye God, sing praises to Him” (Tob. xii. 18). When St. John the Divine fell down before the feet of the angel, he said to him: “See thou do it not, adore God” (Apoc. xix. 10). And if we kneel beside the tomb or before the image of a saint, we no more adore him than a servant adores his master if he goes on his knees to ask a favor of him. If the holy sacrifice is offered in honor of a saint, if churches arid altars are dedicated to him, it is only in the hope that he will unite his prayers to the sacrifices we offer, the prayers we say at his shrine; and we praise God, Who led the saint in so marvelous a way to the attainment of sanctity. Thus veneration of the saints is not idolatry, nor does it betray want of confidence in Christ, our great Mediator. It rather betokens mistrust of ourselves, a humble spirit. Conscious of our own unworthiness to present our petitions to Christ, we have recourse to a mediator whose prayers will have greater weight with Him than our own.
4. It is advisable under different circumstances of life to invoke certain saints.
Experience has proved how much is gained by invoking the saints in times of special need. We invoke St. Joseph as the patron of a happy death, because he expired in the arms of Jesus and Mary; also in seasons of temporal distress, for on him the Child Jesus was dependent for His maintenance. For diseases of the throat St. Blase is to be invoked, who miraculously cured a boy thus afflicted; for diseases of the eye we call on St. Ottilia for aid, because she, when blind, recovered her sight at her Baptism. Those who suffer through calumny find a protector in St. John Nepomucene, who was a martyr to the seal of confession; and when anything is lost, we have recourse to St. Anthony, through whose prayers the thief who had stolen from him a valuable manuscript, had no peace until he restored it. It appears that God has given to individual saints special powers to help us in special needs. 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, and whose calling or state of life is the same as was their own, as well as for the place where they lived and labored.