Why Beatify or Canonise someone?

Chapter VII of the 2nd Vatican Council’s Constitution Lumen Gentium on the Church clarified exactly in what spirit the Church promotes the veneration of the Saints:

“When we look at the lives of those who have faithfully followed Christ, we are inspired with a new reason for seeking the City that is to come and at the same time we are shown a most safe path by which among the vicissitudes of this world, in keeping with the state in life and condition proper to each of us, we will be able to arrive at perfect union with Christ, that is, perfect holiness. In the lives of those who, sharing in our humanity, are however more perfectly transformed into the image of Christ, (275) God vividly manifests His presence and His face to men” (LG n°50).

The Council asks that the faithful be taught how:

“the authentic cult of the saints consists not so much in the multiplying of external acts, but rather in the greater intensity of our love, whereby, for our own greater good and that of the whole Church, we seek from the saints example in their way of life, fellowship in their communion, and aid by their intercession”. (LG n°51)

It is only in this context that the process which envisages the Church recognising the sanctity of one of our brothers or sisters can begin.

So, then, there are grounds for setting out on this path in a spirit of humility and in obedience to the rules laid down by the Church for discerning whether the life of one who has gone before us is a reliable model we can imitate if we, too, are to reach Heaven.

On what grounds was the decision made to open this process?

"They are our older brothers and sisters in the faith, who persevered in their search for God and were untiring in their love for their fellow men. They highlight the realistic side of sanctity when they recognised on the face of Christ the reason for not giving up on themselves. This is what brings about the most unexpected transformations within man. In their great diversity, the Saints proclaim to the world that we really can believe in God. "

Frère Jacques, OSB in « Oser porter la sainteté »

(Renaissance de Fleury, revue des moines de Saint-Benoît- sur- Loire).

When a Bishop authorises the opening of a Beatification process he does so on the basis of testimonials demonstrating, as objectively as possible, that the person concerned led such a virtuous life that they may become a suitable model for their brothers and sisters in the faith and that we can ask for their help and intercession.

This first step, (which is clearly not prejudicial to the Church’s judgement) is based on the observation of the life of the person concerned.

With regard to the Servant of God Zita, several characteristics can be considered:

  • Her sense of service as Empress and Queen.  On the human level she corresponded in an exemplary way with the words of the Coronation Ritual addressed to her in Budapest (30th December 1916): “Receive the sovereign’s crown, in order that you may know that you are the spouse of the king and that you must always take care of the people of God.  The higher you are placed, the more you must be humble and abide in Jesus Christ.”
  • Her attentiveness to others, both in her official duties, and in her ordinary life (the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Monsignor Piffl, called her ‘the guardian angel of all who suffer’).
  • Her abandonment to God and the courage she displayed during the final illness and death of her husband Blessed Charles, and during every stage of her exile.
  • Her courage when widowed with eight children.  She took great care of their education, especially their Christian education.  In fact, she did not differentiate between ‘education’ and ‘Christian education’ but wanted her children to be, above all, solid Christians.
  • Her love for the Church, her devotion to the Sacraments, especially the Mass and the Sacrament of Penance, and her respect for Papal teaching.
  • Her obedience: to the Pope, to the Church, and even, via Dom Prou, the then Abbot of Solesmes, to her children, when he conveyed to her on their behalf their wish that she should not become a nun.
  • Her piety and humility, manifested in the recitation of a part of the Divine Office, of the Rosary, and in her choice of a simple life.
  • Her union with Christ as an oblate of the Abbey of Saint Pierre of Solesmes and through her consecration, along with all her family, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at the moment of her agony.

All these characteristics, attested to by reliable witnesses, should enable the Church, God willing, to declare heroic the Servant of God’s virtues.

As for us, overawed perhaps by such a long list, let us not forget the words of St. John Marie Vianney, the Curé of Ars:

I have nothing else to demonstrate to you except the indispensable obligation we all have to become saints” and Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s “Holiness is not the luxury of the few ; it is a simple duty, for you and for me. We have been created for that.”


How does a « Process » of Beatification or Canonisation move forward?

The indications for Diocesan Inquiries regarding the causes of Saints are to be found in the Instruction  Sanctorum Mater  promulgated on 17th May 2007.

This instruction deals with the various stages of the procedure for Diocesan Inquiries concerning the life, the virtues, and the reputation for sanctity (fama sanctitatis), as well as any signs or miracles attributed to a member of the Catholic Church in view of their Beatification or Canonisation.

The process may be summarized and applied to the Servant of God as follows:



It pertains to the Bishop (of the place of the death, or the place where the person passed the greater part of their life or where the most significant proofs are found) to decide to open an Inquiry,

He must make his decision after verifying that the person concerned enjoys a “widespread and authentic reputation for sanctity” or of martyrdom and a reputation for signs (miracles)…  This reputation must be spontaneous and not artificially contrived.

So, simply compiling a file, or in contemporary language, pooling and spreading information, is not enough!

The Diocesan Process for the Servant of God Zita was officially opened on Thursday 10th December, 2009 at the episcopal palace of Le Mans, seat of the Diocesan Tribunal, in the presence and under the presidency of  the diocesan Bishop, the Right Reverend Mgr. Yves Le Saux.

This Inquiry consists of:

  • assembling documentary evidence of the cause (including the writings of the person concerned),
  • and listening to the testimonials of witnesses if that is possible, given the time lapse involved.


From the opening of this Inquiry, the person concerned has the title of ‘Servant of God’.  This then, is Zita’s situation today.

The Bishop, in a decree, nominates the members of the Tribunal.

The members of the Tribunal are bound to secrecy, in particular with regard to the Petitioner of the Cause.  They must not diffuse the proofs received or use them for any external purpose (especially not publishing them).

  • At the end of the Inquiry it pertains to the Bishop to conclude this phase of the Process and to send the Acts to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
  • It is then that the so called Roman phase begins: the study of the file and a definitive judgement.


The Roman phase :

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints is responsible for the examination of the file.

When this Congregation recognises the heroicity of the virtues of the Servant of God, he or she then has the title of ‘Venerable’.

The next step is the recognition of a miracle which opens the way to the possibility of a Beatification.

The recognition of a second miracle is necessary for Canonisation

Ultimately, only the Pope can decide.


Who are the stakeholders ?

The Petitioner of the Cause, i.e. those approved by the Bishop who promote the Cause and assume its moral and financial obligations, and guarantee its advancement in both its diocesan and Roman phases.

In the case in point, the Association for the Beatification and Canonisation of Empress Zita is the Petitioner of the Cause.

The Postulator is a priest or lay person nominated by the Petitioner for the Diocesan phase who must be an expert in Theology, Canon Law and History and who follows the whole course of the Inquiry.  For the Roman phase, there must be a new nomination, giving a fresh mandate to the Diocesan Postulator or nominating a new Postulator.

Since March 2015 the Postulator nominated by the Association Petitioner and sworn in before Monsignor Le Saux, Bishop of Le Mans and president of the tribunal for the cause, is Father Alexander Leonhardt.

Born in 1966, of German nationality (but bilingual in French) the Reverend Alexander Leonhardt, ordained in 1992, has been a priest of the archdiocese of Strasbourg since 1994.  His pastoral activities include being assistance priest of the Parish of the Glorious Cross at Strasbourg and at Logelbach (Colmar), and assistant priest at the parish of St Louis of Strasbourg.  Judge auditor of the Diocesan Tribunal, he holds a Masters Degree in Canon Law.  Spiritual director of the Lower Rhine Delegation of the Hospitallers of the Order of Malta, Father Alexander Leonhardt is also a Magistral Chaplain of the Sovereign Order of Malta.

A Vice-Postulator may be named by the Postulator with the consent of the Petitioner, to replace the Postulator if necessary. Thus, Mr. Norbert Nagy was appointed Vice-Postulator for Hungary.

The members of the Tribunal:

The Episcopal Delegate prepares the case for the Cause in the name of the Bishop.  Father Bruno Bonnet (of the diocese of Versailles) is the Episcopal Delegate.

The Promoter of Justice, (also called “the devil’s advocate”) ensures the good ordering of the Inquiry and sees to it that the acts and documents relative to the object of the Inquiry are gathered in a thorough manner.  Father François Scrive (of the diocese of Pontoise) holds this office.

The Notary transcribes the declarations of witnesses and draws up the acts of the Inquiry.  Madame Nathalie Fumery and Monsieur Didier Le Gac carry out  this role.

Eventually, for an Inquiry into a presumed healing, the Bishop nominates a medical expert, or for an alleged miracle of another nature, a Technical Expert.

All these persons are nominated by the Bishop and are sworn in in his presence.

The Bishop must likewise nominate at least three experts to make up the Historical Commission.  The president of this Commission is Fra’ Emmanuel Rousseau, member of the Sovereign Council of the Order of Malta.

Finally, is appropriate to stress that only Beatification authorises a public cult.


How do the Petitioner and the Postulator work together ?

These two roles are both distinct and complementary.

It is rather like the difference in the secular world between an architect (the Petitioner) who plans a house, and a building contractor (the Postulator) who carries out the work.

The Petitioner fosters the Postulator’s work by organising activities throughout the year to make the life and spirituality of the Servant of God more widely known, encouraging the faithful to ask for her intercession, and gathering testimonials regarding graces or healing received, which may then be passed on the the Postulator.  It is thus that the Association contributes to the Servant of God’s reputation for sanctity (fama sanctitatis).

The Postulator, then, is the building contractor:  he plays a central role in the advancement of the Process.  He has the necessary competence in Canon Law and Theology which the Petitioner has not.

He must thus ensure that a real collaboration is established in a climate of mutual trust and respect.  That is why the Postulator and the Members of the Tribunal meet regularly when they can, especially at the annual General Assembly.

This collaboration is clearly at work for example in the administration of ‘donations offered for the Cause’; in fact, if article 18 of the Instruction Sanctorum Mater foresees that the Postulator administers these resources, the Association, as Petitioner, still supports the Cause and enjoys juridical and financial autonomy.  It is an opportunity for practising a modus vivendi  bearing in mind that these resources are indeed material but their use has a spiritual purpose.


What stage are we at?

The Diocesan Phase, consisting of meeting with potential witnesses and selecting them in order to avoid repetition, requires planning the inquiries geographically, socially, historically and according to the witnesses’ closeness to the Servant of God Zita.

The initial total of those laying their testimonials before the Tribunal was reckoned to be about thirty, but could be increased if new witnesses were found, according to the opinion of the Judge.

In September 2012, 35 witnesses had been heard.  To date, this part of the work seems to have been completed.

The Promoter of Justice has prepared his questions: two thirds of them are of a historical/biographical character and one third concern the practice of the virtues and the reputation for signs (graces and miracle).

The Postulator prepares the Tribunal’s sessions.  He is not allowed to take an active part in them but he may be present to ensure that they unfold without any problems.

The Petitioner understands that the inquiries by the Tribunal and the First Postulator can practically be considered as concluded.  They have been transcribed by the two Notaries.  If any witnesses remain their hearing would need to be arranged, but the essential work now is to formulate the presentation of the results of the Diocesan Inquiry and to draw up a summary of this Inquiry.

The Postulator is the link between the Bishop and a Theological Commission composed of two Censors (who do not know one another and work independently of each other) and provides the documents to be submitted.

Simultaneously, the Historical Commission must complete its work and integrate it into the final document.