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Canonising a Saint
Canonising a Saint
Mary MacKillop will become Australia’s first saint next Sunday. As this is the first time many people in Australian will have experienced a canonisation, it is a good opportunity to examine the liturgy.
I am indebted to ‘our man in Rome’, Paul Catchlove, for the information about what happens at a Mass of Canonisation. Paul is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Brisbane and a doctoral student in liturgy at the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy at Sant’Anselmo, Rome.
In accordance with the principle Lex orandi, lex credenda (The way we pray expresses what we believe), the canonisation liturgy reflects the Church’s understanding of what canonisation means. Firstly, it acknowledges that someone has lived an exemplary Christian life and as such is enrolled in the list of saints. Secondly, we are encouraged to model our lives on that person because of their prophetic witness.
There are two unique elements in the Canonisation Mass - the Preparation for the Celebration which takes place before the Introductory Rites and the Rite of Canonisation itself which follow the Introductory Rites.
In the Preparation for the Celebration excerpts are read from the writings of those to be canonised and, in word and song, the assembly expresses joy and gratitude to God for their exemplary faithfulness to their Christian call.
The Rite of Canonisation commences with a request to the Holy Father from the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints:
Holy Father, Holy Mother Church asks that you enrol... Blessed Mary MacKillop (et al) ... in the Catalogue of the Saints, so that they might be rightly honoured by all Christians.
The Prefect then presents a brief biography of each of those to be proclaimed saints (there will be six on 17th October). Following the presentation, the Holy Father intones the singing of the Litany of Saints. After the Litany the Holy Father gathers together the prayers of the entire assembly for the future saints and submits them to the Lord. The core element is the Formula of Canonisation:
In honour of the Blessed Trinity, for the exaltation of the Catholic faithand the growth of Christian life, with the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and Our Own, after lengthy reflection, having assiduously invoked God’s assistance and taken into account the opinion of many of Our Brothers in the episcopate, we declare and define... Blessed Mary MacKillop (et al) to be Saints, and we enrol them in the Catalogue of the Saints, and we establish that in the whole Church they should be devoutly honoured among the Saints. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The congregation responds with an affirming Amen.
Relics from the newly proclaimed saints are presented on the altar, during which a hymn of praise and thanks to the Lord is sung. The Prefect for the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, together with the postulators for the various causes, then offer thanks on behalf of the Church to the Holy Father and request that he inform the universal Church of the new saints. This request is granted and a sign of peace is offered.
From this point on, the liturgy of the Mass continues as usual.