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New path to sainthood announced by Pope Francis

By Cian Molloy - 15 July, 2017

A new category for beatification, oblatio vitae, has been inaugurated by Pope Francis this week in a move described by many as “the most significant change to the Church’s saint-making procedures”.

Pope Francis at the canonisation of Saints Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II in 2014

Until now, the process had three routes: martyrdom; living a life of heroic Christian values; and having a saintly and devout reputation.

In the case of martyrdom, or dying for your faith, the official process was almost automatic, but the second two routes required miracles that could be ascribed to the intervention of the saintly candidate – one miracle for beatification and recognition as ‘Blessed’, and a second miracle for canonisation and recognition as ‘Saint’.

The new, fourth route introduced this week by Pope Francis is termed oblatio vitae, literally ‘the free offering of one’s life’. It is for those candidates for sainthood who have literally sacrificed their lives for others.

The new route is described in the Pope’s apostolic letter, Maiorem hac dilectionem, which takes its title from the words of Our Lord in St John’s Gospel (15:13) : “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Edel Quinn

Under the new procedure, a miracle attributable to the candidate’s intervention will be required for beatification, but a second miracle will not be required for canonisation. This ‘one miracle, not two’ has led some to say that the new route is ‘a hybrid’ between that used for martyrs and that used for those who are declared saints because of their Christian values and saintly reputations.

The innovation could have an impact on the cause of Venerable Edel Quinn, the Irish missionary who went to Africa as an envoy of the Legion of Mary. The 36-year-old stayed on the missions despite suffering from tuberculosis and being told that the harsh conditions in Africa would hasten her death. If it is ruled that she freely accepted her imminent death for the good of others, only one miracle, not two, would be required for her to be declared a saint.

There are five conditions for being declared a saint by the oblatio vitae route:

  • The free and voluntary offering of one’s life, and heroic acceptance propter caritatem of a certain and soon-to-come death;
  • A nexus, or a close relation, between the offering of one’s life and the premature death of the one who offers it;
  • The exercise, at least in ordinary degree, of the Christian virtues before the subject’s offering of his or her life and, afterward, perseverance in those virtues unto death;
  • The existence of fama sanctitatis, a reputation for holiness, on the part of the subject and of signs of that reputation continuing after death;
  • The necessity, for beatification, of a miracle, one that occurred after the death of the Servant of God, and by said Servant’s intercession.

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