Life of Matt Talbot – The Cause of Beatification of Matt Talbot

cover of the ebook 'Life of Matt Talbot, by Sir Joseph Aloysius Glynn'By the Notary of the Process

The countless thousands in many countries, who have read with such enthusiasm the accounts of Matt Talbot’s simple yet marvellous life story, published by the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland and translated, into several languages, will greet with joy the announcement that his Grace the Archbishop of Dublin has decided to take the first steps towards what, they hope, will be his eventual Beatification and Canonization. By so doing, His Grace will satisfy not merely his own personal love for one of his humblest subjects but also the ardent wishes of thousands in all conditions of life.

It will not, therefore, be out of place in this new edition of his Life to give some particulars of what a Process of Beatification and Canonization means. It will not be possible to give a detailed account of this Process; the care which the Church takes to secure that the honours of the Altar are granted to those only whose claims to them can stand the severest examination makes necessary the holding of investigations which are both lengthy and involved. The procedure to be followed is most carefully drawn up and must be strictly followed; any failure to do so in a serious matter would render the whole Process invalid. For this reason a difficult task faces those responsible for the promotion and prosecution of the Cause. For readers of this Life a more elementary exposition, avoiding as far as possible the technicalities of the Canon Law governing such Processes, will suffice.

Canonization, generally speaking, is a decree of the Holy See regarding the public ecclesiastical; veneration of an individual. This decree is of two kinds, preceptive and permissive. By a preceptive decree is meant one commanding the faithful of the Universal Church to venerate the Servant of God as a Saint; it is promulgated with that solemnity of which most readers will have an idea and constitutes Canonization. By a permissive decree is meant one which permits, without commanding, such public veneration, or which prescribes it but only for a particular country and not for the Universal Church; such is the decree, promulgated also with great solemnity, which constitutes Beatification and the Servant of God so honoured is thenceforth called Blessed.

It will be noticed that decrees of Canonization and Beatification refer primarily to the regulation of public worship. But the, considerations which move the Church to issue them are of great importance and provide the= matter with which the various preliminary Processes are concerned. They involve a searching investigation into the life and miracles .of the person on whose behalf a claim to public cult is being advanced.

The first stage of the lengthy procedure is what is known as the Ordinary pr Informative Process. Its name explains its authority and purpose. It is called Ordinary because it is undertaken by the Ordinary or Bishop of the diocese acting on his own authority and responsibility; the authority or approval of the Holy See is in no way involved in the constitution of this Process. It is called Informative because its purpose is to collect information concerning the life and miracles of the Servant of God. It is clear, therefore, that the initiating of such a Process involves no ecclesiastical approval whatever of any public cult of the person concerned. In fact, part of the Process consists in an enquiry as to whether any public cult, contrary to the law of the Church, has been shown to him; the existence of such a cult would seriously militate against the Cause. This remark in no way concerns private cult or devotion which is based on private moral certainty of the sanctity of the Servant of God. Very many, who have read Matt Talbot’s Life, must have formed such an opinion of his sanctity. They may act upon it by invoking his intercession and by other forms of private devotion; they should, certainly, recite the beautiful prayer for his Beatification which has been approved and enriched with an Indulgence by the Archbishop of Dublin. But there, is a danger that too enthusiastic admirers of him may go too far and; extend to him signs of veneration due only to those: whose cult has received the solemn approval of “the Church”, such as the erection of public altars in his honour, the decoration of his image With such insignia as are proper to Canonized Saints^ the inclusion of his name in public Litanies, the placing of lights or votive offerings on his tomb, sermons in which his virtues are so treated as to seem to anticipate the judgment of the Church regarding his Cause.

For the holding of an Ordinary or informative Process a Court has to be set up consisting of the Bishop, who acts as Judge, an Assistant Judge or Judges, a Promoter of the Faith (he is popularly known as the Devil’s Advocate because of the opposition which he seems to offer at each step of the Process; in reality he acts as the best friend of the Process by seeing that its procedure is correctly, carried out in every detail), a Notary, whose duties are similar to those of a Secretary, and several other officials. Outside the Court there are two important officials, namely, the Postulator and Vice-Postulator of the Cause. The former is usually an ecclesiastic resident in Rome, whose duty it is, to attend to everything that concerns the promotion of the Cause when it comes before .the Holy See, whilst the latter looks after its interests at the Diocesan Court and produces the witnesses, who are to support the claims set forth in the “Articles” or statement of the virtues and miracles of the Servant of God. As it is important that the Informative Process should be held whilst those who knew the Servant of God are still living and able to give evidence, it is not delayed until such time as, according to the designs of Providence’, Divine confirmation of his fame for Sanctity is manifested by miracles. The present Process, therefore, will be mainly concerned with the collection of such evidence, but it will also deal in a general way with any miracles or favours attributed to the intercession of Matt Talbot. Those of the Faithful who have useful evidence to give on any of these points should communicate at once with the Vice-Postulator, who will decide as to whether their evidence is necessary or useful. It will be clear from what has been said that the Informative Process alone will require much time and labour. Every witness must be examined separately and under oath, and his or her statement taken down in full by the Notary. This examination will cover not merely the Articles put forward by the Postulator but also certain secret Interrogatories, which will be drawn up by the Promoter of the Faith. Should any claim to miracles be adduced, expert medical testimony will have to be called to report upon it. All evidence must be given under an oath of secrecy, so that it will be impossible for one witness to know what another has testified; in this way anything in the nature of collusion between witnesses, is made impossible. When all the witnesses have been examined, a carefully collated and authenticated copy of their evidence must be prepared and sent to the Holy See for consideration. With this, the business of the Informative Process closes for the time being and the second stage of the long road to Beatification is reached.

The Cause is then in the hands of the Sacred Congregation of Rites and its further promotion devolves directly upon the Postulator. He wilt be assisted by a Cardinal appointed by the Pope to act as. “Ponente” or patron and by an ecclesiastic versed in the procedure of the Sacred Congregation who will be employed as Advocate to plead the Cause, before it. The evidence sent out from the Diocesan Court is first translated into Latin or Italian and a summary of it printed and distributed to the Cardinals who form the Congregation of Rites, along with the statement of the Advocate and the, animadversions of the Promoter-General. of the Faith, After, allowing due time for consideration, a Congregation is held at which the Cardinals give their views as to the merits of the Cause. Should they be favourable, a. Decree is prepared and submitted to the Holy Father for signature; by this decree the Cause is formally introduced and the local Bishop is authorized to hold a further Process in prosecution of the enquiries which the Holy See deems necessary for the particular case.

This brings us to the third stage, the Apostolic Process. It is held once more by the local ecclesiastical authority, who, however, now acts as Delegate of the Holy See. The procedure is practically similar to that of the Informative Process and the evidence given is once more sent to Rome and prepared for an even stricter examination than in the case of the Informative Process. After careful investigation as to the validity. of all the acts of: the Diocesan Court, the first point debated, at three distinct Congregations or assemblies, is whether the Servant of God practiced virtues, both theological and cardinal, in a heroic degree. At each of these Congregations a majority of the Consultors must decide that the difficulties raised by the Promoter-General of the Faith have been satisfactorily answered. Should this be secured, a Decree is prepared and submitted to the Pope, who only after fervent prayer for Divine Guidance, signs it and thereby gives his supreme confirmation of the judgment of the Sacred Congregation.

The question of Miracles is next considered, of which at least two and sometimes four of the first class are required. The same elaborate investigation and consideration,. both by the Diocesan Court and by the Roman Congregation is prescribed here also. When all the requirements have been satisfied and a favourable judgment given by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, the final Decree of Beatification is prepared and submitted to the Holy Father, Who signs it and appoints the great day for the solemn ceremony of Beatification. Then, and not till then, is given the permission of the Church for public cult of the Servant of God, who is henceforth entitled “Blessed.”

For Canonization two further first class miracles. worked after Beatification, are required and must be proved by a Process similar to those already described.

From all that has been said it will be clear that many years must elapse from the time of inception of a Cause to the final acts of Beatification and Canonization. The Church moves with great caution in such matters and the investigation of many claims, some centuries old, taxes the time of the Congregation of Rites to the fullest; It is clear also that, whilst the starting of the Ordinary Process by the Archbishop of Dublin implies a signal recognition of the fame of Matt Talbot, it does not sanction any public veneration of him or convey: any guarantee that his Cause will overcome the; many difficult obstacles which the prudence of the Church puts in the way of Beatification. The promoters of Matt Talbot’s Cause approach the Process with full recognition of all this, but also with, a lively hope that, moved by the prayers which will assuredly be offered by Matt’s countless devotees scattered throughout the whole world, God will be pleased to honour the humble Dublin labourer by having him enrolled amongst the Blessed Saints, of His Holy Church.