Saint Bernadette's Parish

Roman Catholic Diocese of Fall River

529 Eastern Avenue, Fall River, MA 02723 | 508.679.1991

Saints: Our Heroes in Faith

Saints: Our Heroes in the FaithThe Church has always venerated the saints and set them before us as men and women who lived an exemplary testimony to genuine Christian life while they were alive. They are Catholic disciples of the Lord who lived lives of virtue, faith, charity, and love. They provide a good and clear example for us of what it looks like to live our lives in the service of God. They were human beings like us in all things, even sin, who trusted in God and lived their lives in God’s presence. The saints are not saints because they did great things but rather because they allowed God to accomplish great things through them. Thus a key characteristic of a saint is openness to God. Saints are also models of holiness because they preached and lived the Gospel in their daily lives.

Catholics pray to the saints and ask them the mediate on their behalf because the saints are in heaven and close to God. The saints are in God’s presence now but they still remain connected to us as one community of faith. In the same way that we may ask a living person to pray for us, we can ask the same of the saints. It is important to note that we are not praying to the saints as if they have the power to grant our prayers but rather we are asking them to pray with and for us – we are praying through them. We believe the saints are true intercessors for us because they were so close to God on earth, as models of holiness, and now they are even closer to God, as witnesses in heaven. Invocation (asking saints to pray for us) and intercession (knowing that saints pray for us, even without asking) is a form of reverence for God.

Why pray to saints when we can pray to God directly? The Catholic Encyclopedia explains,

“It has been clearly shown that the honour paid to angels and saints is entirely different from the supreme honour due to God alone, and is indeed paid to them only as His servants and friends. ‘By honouring the Saints who have slept in the Lord, by invoking their intercession and venerating their relics and ashes, so far is the glory of God from being diminished that it is very much increased, in proportion as the hope of men is thus more excited and confirmed, and they are encouraged to the imitation of the Saints’ (Cat. of the Council of Trent, pt. III, c. ii, q. 11). We can, of course, address our prayers directly to God, and He can hear us without the intervention of any creature. But this does not prevent us from asking the help of our fellow-creatures who may be more pleasing to Him than we are. It is not because our faith and trust in Him are weak, nor because His goodness and mercy to us are less; rather is it because we are encouraged by His precepts to approach Him at times through His servants, as we shall presently see. As pointed out by St. Thomas, we invoke the angels and saints in quite different language from that addressed to God. We ask Him to have mercy upon us and Himself to grant us whatever we require; whereas we ask the saints to pray for us, i.e. to join their petitions with ours. However, we should here bear in mind [St. Robert] Bellarmine’s remarks: “When we say that nothing should be asked of the saints but their prayer for us, the question is not about the words, but the sense of the words. For as far as the words go, it is lawful to say: ‘St. Peter, pity me, save me, open for me the gate of heaven'; also, ‘Give me health of body, patience, fortitude’, etc., provided that we mean ‘save and pity me by praying for me'; ‘grant me this or that by thy prayers and merits.’ For so speaks Gregory of Nazianzus… ‘The supreme act of impetration, sacrifice, is never offered to any creature.’ Although the Church has been accustomed at times to celebrate certain Masses in honour and memory of the Saints, it does not follow that she teaches that sacrifice is offered unto them, but unto God alone, who crowned them; whence neither is the priest wont to say ‘I offer sacrifice to thee, Peter, or Paul’, but, giving thanks to God for their victories, he implores their patronage, that they may vouchsafe to intercede for us in heaven, whose memory we celebrate upon earth…”

From the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2001)
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments:

211. The doctrine of the Church and her Liturgy, propose the Saints and Beati who already contemplate in the “clarity of His unity and trinity”(276) to the faithful because they are:

  1. historical witnesses to the universal vocation to holiness; as eminent fruit of the redemption of Christ, they are a proof and record that God calls his children to the perfection of Christ (cf. Ef 4, 13; Col 1, 28), in all times and among all nations, and from the most varied socio-cultural conditions and states of life
  2. illustrious disciples of Christ and therefore models of evangelical life(277); the church recognises the heroicness of their virtues in the canonization process and recommends them as models for the faithful
    citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem who ceaselessly sing the glory and mercy of God; the Paschal passage from this world to the Father has already been accomplished in them
  3. intercessors and friends of the faithful who are still on the earthly pilgrimage, because the Saints, already enraptured by the happiness of God, know the needs of their brothers and sisters and accompany them on their pilgrim journey with their prayers and protection
  4. patrons of the Local Churches, of which they were founders (St. Eusebius of Vercelli) or illustrious Pastors (St. Ambrose of Milan); patrons of nations: apostles of their conversion to the Christian faith (St Thomas and St. Bartholomew in India) or expressions of national identity ( St. Patrick in the case of Ireland); of corporations and professions (St. Omobono for tailors); in particular circumstances – in childbirth (St. Anne, St. Raimondo Nonato), in death (St. Joseph) – or to obtain specific graces (St. Lucy for the recovery of eyesight) etc.

In thanksgiving to God the Father, the Church professes all this when she proclaims “You give us an example to follow in the lives of your Saints, assistance by their intercession, and a bond of fraternal love in the communion of grace”(278).

212. The ultimate object of veneration of the Saints is the glory of God and the sanctification of man by conforming one’s life fully to the divine will and by imitating the virtue of those who were preeminent disciples of the Lord.

Catechesis and other forms of doctrinal instruction should therefore make known to the faithful that: our relationship with the Saints must be seen in the light of the faith and should not obscure the “cultus latriae due to God the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit, but intensify it”; “true cult of the Saints consists not so much in the multiplication of external acts but in intensification of active charity”, which translates into commitment to the Christian life (279).

Patron Saints

Patron saints are chosen as special protectors or guardians over particular areas, conditions, and situations of life. From the fourth century, people and churches were named after apostles and martyrs. Recently, the popes have named patron saints but patrons can also be chosen by other individuals or groups. Patron saints are often chosen today because an interest, talent, or an event in their lives corresponds to a situation or area in life today. For example, St. Matthew was a tax collector when he was called by Jesus, and he is therefore the patron saint of accountants. Angels can also be named as patron saints. Patron saints intercede to God for us and help us in various situations and areas of life. They listen to our special needs and pray to God with us. They are also models for us to follow in our professions, vocations, challenges or other situations in life.

How Does the Church Recognize Saints?

Canonization, the process the Church uses to recognize a saint, has only been used since the tenth century. It is important to note that canonization does not “make” a person a saint; it only recognizes what God has already done.

Honoring the saints was part of Christianity from the very beginning. This practice came from a long-standing tradition in the Jewish faith of honoring prophets and holy people with shrines. The first saints were martyrs, people who had given up their lives for the Faith in the persecution of Christians. By the year 100 A.D., Christians were honoring other Christians who had died, and asking for their intercession. For hundreds of years, starting with the first martyrs of the early Church, saints were named by public acclaim. Though this was a more democratic way to recognize saints, some saints’ stories were distorted by legend and some never existed. Gradually, the bishops and finally the Vatican took over authority for approving saints.

The process begins after the death of a Catholic whom people regard as holy. Often, the process starts many years after death in order to give perspective on the candidate. The local bishop investigates the candidate’s life and writings for heroic virtue (or martyrdom) and orthodoxy of doctrine. Then a panel of theologians at the Vatican evaluates the candidate. After approval by the panel and cardinals of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the pope proclaims the candidate “venerable.”

The next step, beatification, requires evidence of one miracle (except in the case of martyrs). Since miracles are considered proof that the person is in heaven and can intercede for us, the miracle must take place after the candidate’s death and be the result of a specific petition to the candidate. When the pope proclaims the candidate beatified or “blessed,” the person can be venerated by a particular region or group of people with whom the person holds special importance.

Only after one more miracle will the pope canonize the saint (this includes martyrs as well). The title of saint tells us that the person lived a holy life, is in heaven, and is to be honored by the universal Church.

Though canonization is infallible and irrevocable, it takes a long time and a lot of effort. So while every person who is canonized is a saint, not every holy person has been canonized. You have probably known many “saints” in your life, and you are called by God to be one yourself.

Relics of Saints

The word “relic” comes from the Latin “reliquiae” which refers to some object, notably part of the body or clothes, which remains as a memorial of a departed saint. A relic can either consist of the physical remains of a saint or the personal effects of the saint. The veneration of relics is not exclusive to Christianity but has been in use by many different cultures and religious systems. For Catholics, relics help us to honor the saints and to help keep us connected to those men and women who are our heroes in faith. The Church altar, which is the center of worship for sacred liturgy, contains a saintly relic. Also, many cures and miracles are attributed to relics, not because of their own power, but because of the holiness of the saint they represent.

Teaching of the Church on Relics

From the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2001)
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments:

236. The Second Vatican Council recalls that “the Saints have been traditionally honoured in the Church, and their authentic relics and images held in veneration”(323). The term “relics of the Saints” principally signifies the bodies – or notable parts of the bodies – of the Saints who, as distinguished members of Christ’s mystical Body and as Temples of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 3, 16; 6, 19; 2 Cor 6, 16)(324) in virtue of their heroic sanctity, now dwell in Heaven, but who once lived on earth. Objects which belonged to the Saints, such as personal objects, clothes and manuscripts are also considered relics, as are objects which have touched their bodies or tombs such as oils, cloths, and images.

237. The Missale Romanum reaffirms the validity “of placing the relics of the Saints under an altar that is to be dedicated, even when not those of the martyrs”(325). This usage signifies that the sacrifice of the members has its origin in the Sacrifice of the altar (326), as well as symbolising the communion with the Sacrifice of Christ of the entire Church, which is called to witness, event to the point of death, fidelity to her Lord and Spouse.

Many popular usages have been associated with this eminently liturgical cultic expression. The faithful deeply revere the relics of the Saints. An adequate pastoral instruction of the faithful about the use of relics will not overlook:

  1. ensuring the authenticity of the relics exposed for the veneration of the faithful; where doubtful relics have been exposed for the veneration of the faithful, they should be discreetly withdrawn with due pastoral prudence(327)
  2. preventing undue dispersal of relics into small pieces, since such practice is not consonant with due respect for the human body; the liturgical norms stipulate that relics must be “of a sufficient size as make clear that they are parts of the human body”(328)
  3. admonishing the faithful to resist the temptation to form collections of relics; in the past this practice has had some deplorable consequences
  4. preventing any possibility of fraud, trafficking(329), or superstition.

The various forms of popular veneration of the relics of the Saints, such as kissing, decorations with lights and flowers, bearing them in processions, in no way exclude the possibility of taking the relics of the Saints to the sick and dying, to comfort them or use the intercession of the Saint to ask for healing. Such should be conducted with great dignity and be motivated by faith. The relics of the Saints should not be exposed on the mensa of the altar, since this is reserved for the Body and Blood of the King of Martyrs (330).

Litany of Saints

Lord, have mercy
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Holy Mary: Pray for us.
Michael, Gabriel, Raphael: Pray for us.
Angels of God: Pray for us.
Abraham, Moses, and Elijah: Pray for us.
Saint Joseph: Pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist: Pray for us.
Holy prophets: Pray for us.
Saint Peter and Saint Paul: Pray for us.
All holy apostles: Pray for us.
Saint Mary Magdalene: Pray for us.
All disciples of the Lord: Pray for us.
Saint Stephen: Pray for us.
Saint Perpetua and Saint Felicity: Pray for us.
Saint Agnes: Pray for us.
Saint Boniface: Pray for us.
Saint Thomas More: Pray for us.
Saint Charles Lwanga: Pray for us.
Ally holy martyrs: Pray for us.
Saint Augustine: Pray for us.
Saint Basil and Saint Gregory: Pray for us.
Saint John Chrysostom: Pray for us.
Saint Catherine: Pray for us.
Saint Martin: Pray for us.
Saint Patrick: Pray for us.
Saint Benedict: Pray for us.
Saint Francis: Pray for us.
Saint Clare: Pray for us.
Saint Francis Xavier: Pray for us.
Saint Vincent de Paul: Pray for us.
Saint Elizabeth: Pray for us.
Saint Therese: Pray for us.
Saint John Vianney: Pray for us.
All holy men and women: Pray for us.
Lord, be merciful! Lord, save your people.
From all harm: Lord, save your people.
From every sin: Lord, save your people.
From all temptations: Lord, save your people.
From everlasting death: Lord, save your people.
By your coming among us: Lord, save your people.
By your death and rising to new life: Lord, save your people.
By your gift of the Holy Spirit: Lord, save your people.

Be merciful to us sinners:
Lord, hear our prayer.
Guide and protect your holy church:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Bring all peoples together in trust and peace.
Lord, hear our prayer.
Strengthen us in your service:
Lord, hear our prayer.
Jesus, Son of the living God:
Lord, hear our prayer.

Christ, hear us.
Christ, hear us.
Lord Jesus, hear our prayer.
Lord Jesus, hear our prayer.