When Fr. Solanus is ‘Blessed Solanus,’ what will change?

Devotions can now become public; Fr. Solanus’ feast likely to be celebrated July 30

DETROIT — Now that Fr. Solanus Casey will be a “blessed,” what does this mean for Detroiters? What, if anything, will change?

The main difference — and the reason beatification is so significant — is that for the first time, the Church in Detroit and Capuchins around the world will be allowed to publicly venerate Fr. Solanus. Until now, such devotions have only been “private” — meaning individuals have been allowed to pray to him, but the Church cannot invoke him officially in prayers, Masses or liturgical functions.

A stained-glass window shows the image of Capuchin Fr. Solanus Casey next to St. Teresa of Calcutta at St. Jude Parish in Detroit. (Mike Stechschulte | The Michigan Catholic)

Now, that will change.

“I think that will be very significant,” Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said in an interview with The Michigan Catholic. “For one thing, we can publicly invoke him in our prayers and at the liturgy, and we will have this further assurance that what we’ve held as private convictions, the pope and the Church have confirmed, that yes, Father is indeed holy.”

So how does a “blessed” differ from a saint?

“The difference between beatification and canonization is not so much the proposition of the holiness of the person as it is the authority that the pope uses,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “He’s not using his full authority at this moment, but when — and I pray it will happen in good time that Father is canonized — that would be the pope giving his totally reliable judgment about Father’s holiness.”

Beatification is an “administrative act” by which the pope allows a candidate for sainthood to be venerated publicly in places closely associated with his or her life and ministry; the place may be as small as one city, although usually it is the diocese where the person lived or died.

A canonization, on the other hand, is a formal papal decree that the candidate was holy and is now in heaven with God; the decree allows public remembrance of the saint at liturgies throughout the Church. It also means that churches can be dedicated to the person without special Vatican permission. While churches and chapels can be named after a “blessed,” that distinction is typically reserved to saints.

It is also when a person is declared “blessed” that they receive a feast day. The vice postulators have petitioned Rome for Fr. Solanus’ feast day to be July 30, the vigil of his death on July 31, 1957. The official announcement of the feast day will be made during the beatification Mass itself.

Beatifications only became common in the early 1600s after the Vatican centralized the sainthood process. The centralized process meant dioceses could wait many years or decades to celebrate one of their own as a saint, so to acknowledge the local devotion to the candidate, the popes would give the candidate the title “blessed” and allow limited devotion.

For hundreds of years, the most obvious difference between a canonization and beatification was the fact that the pope personally presided only at a canonization Mass.

In 2011, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments issued a decree maintaining the distinction between the two.

The decree dealt with one of the three main differences: the number and location of dioceses that can hold annual public liturgical celebrations in the holy person’s honor. The other two differences deal with who ceremonially requests the pope to act and the level of papal authority involved in the proclamation.

During a beatification ceremony, the bishop of the diocese where the person dies asks that the candidate be declared blessed; at a canonization, the prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes speaks in the name of the whole Church and asks that the candidate be declared a saint.

Catholic News Service contributed to this report.

How a saint is made

All souls in heaven are saints. Formerly, the Catholic Church declared “saints” as people who were outstanding in holiness either because they died as witnesses for the Faith (martyrs) or they lived a life of heroic virtue (confessors). The exact number of canonized saints is unknown because not all recognized as saints have been officially canonized. For the first half of the Catholic Church’s history, saints were canonized in various ways. Today, the process of canonization is very complex and thorough.

Servant of God

Servant of God Fr. Walter Ciszek, a graduate of St. Mary’s Prep and St. Mary’s College in Orchard Lake

Servant of God Fr. Walter Ciszek, a graduate of St. Mary’s Prep and St. Mary’s College in Orchard Lake
The official process of canonization, called a “cause,” does not begin until five years after the death of the candidate. This period of time permits the Church to verify whether the candidate enjoys a true and widespread reputation of holiness and of intercessory prayer. When a cause is officially begun, the candidate receives the title “Servant of God.”

The first stage of the process begins with the official opening of the cause by the bishop of the diocese where the Servant of God died, and the appointment of a postulator, to assist in its promotion. The bishop then nominates various officials for a tribunal, to gather all the evidence for and against the canonization. Two theologians examine the Servant of God’s writings to make sure that there is nothing in them contrary to the faith and moral teaching of the Church. Afterward, they proceed to taking the testimony of witnesses who knew well the candidate.

Venerable Servant of God

Venerable Bishop Frederic Baraga, the “snowshoe” priest and first bishop of Marquette, Mich., declared “venerable” in 2012

The second step toward canonization starts when all the evidence is studied by the Congregation for Causes of Saints in Rome. If the evidence reveals true holiness exercised by the Servant of God, the cardinal prefect of the congregation informs the pope that the Servant of God either was a true martyr or has lived a life of extraordinary and heroic virtue. The pope then orders the congregation to issue the decree either of martyrdom or of heroic virtue, and the Servant of God is given the title “Venerable.” This means that the Servant of God either died as a true martyr for Christ or led a life of heroic virtue and, is worthy of imitation by the faithful.


Blessed Fr. Stanley Rother, an Oklahoma City priest and martyr who became the first U.S.-born man to be beatified in September

When the Servant of God has been declared a martyr he or she may be beatified, that is, declared “Blessed.” If, on the other hand, the Servant of God has been declared to have lived a life of heroic virtue, it must be proven that one miracle has been granted by God through the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God. Then, he or she is declared “Blessed.”

For a healing to be considered a true miracle, a tribunal to gather all the evidence is established in the diocese where the event took place. It must be determined that there is no scientific explanation for the cure and that the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God is proven. The Congregation for Causes of Saints conducts its study and judgment of the cure by the testimony of medical experts that no scientific reason can explain the recovery, and of theological consultants to verify that the intercession of the Venerable Servant of God was requested. Once again, the conclusions are presented to the pope, who alone can declare that the event is a true miracle. Then the Venerable Servant of God may be beatified.


Pope St. John Paul II, who was canonized in 2014

For all those beatified — both martyrs and confessors — to be canonized, one miracle is required. It must be proven that this event took place through the intercession of the Blessed and after the date of his or her beatification.

When this has been proven, the pope proceeds to the ceremony of canonization, which is an act of the infallible teaching authority of the pope. By this act, the Church declares that he or she is a saint in heaven with God. It also means that the saint is worthy of public veneration by the universal Church, and held up as a model for imitation and a powerful intercessor for all. Catholics do not “worship” the saints, but rather venerate them. United in the communion of saints, the faithful on earth ask the faithful in heaven, who are their brothers and sisters in Christ, to join them in presenting their needs humbly and prayerfully to God.

This material was compiled by Msgr. Robert J. Sarno and is used with permission from the Solanus Casey Center.