The Modern Appeal of “Saints”
“Remember when we were supposed to be jaded about heroes? That didn’t seem to affect the 4.2 million Americans who watched the funeral of Mother Teresa on Sept. 13. Since her death on Sept. 5, people have bombarded the Vatican with requests to have her formally declared a saint. Few people doubt it will happen.”—Sun-sentinel, United States, October 3, 1997.
THE humanitarian and charitable work of Catholic missionary Mother Teresa is looked upon by many as the essence of saintliness. Heroic figures exist among other religions. Perhaps none, however, are recognized officially as are those canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope John Paul II has canonized over 450 persons during his papal rule, more than the number canonized by all other popes of the 20th century combined. * Why is there such enduring devotion to “saints,” many of whom are little known among Catholics in general?
Notre Dame University theologian Lawrence Cunningham explains: “People are interested by the notion of sanctity in the world. Saints show the possibility of a heroic life, even today.” In addition, it is held that “saints” have special access to God, making them effective intercessors for the living. When relics or bodily remains of a “saint” are found, these are venerated in the belief that power issues forth from them.
The Catechism of the Council of Trent, published in the 16th century to reaffirm Catholic dogma, decreed: “We are justified in concluding, that to honour the saints ‘who sleep in the Lord,’ to invoke their intercession, and to venerate their sacred relics and ashes, far from diminishing, tends considerably to increase the glory of God, in proportion as the Christian’s hope is thus animated and fortified, and he himself excited to the imitation of their virtues.” (The Catechism of the Council of Trent, 1905) True Christians certainly want to live virtuous lives, to approach God properly, and to receive divine help. (James 4:7, 8) According to God’s Word, therefore, who qualify as genuine saints? And what role do they play?
^ par. 4 Canonization officially recognizes a deceased Roman Catholic as worthy of universal and obligatory veneration.