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The Reliquary of Saint Teresa of Calcutta


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Statue of Saint Teresa in the National Shrine, Washington DC (Photo: T. V. Antony Raj)
Statue of Saint Teresa in the National Shrine, Washington DC (Photo: T. V. Antony Raj)

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At every canonization ceremony in the Catholic Church, people connected to the new saint carry to the altar a relic in a reliquary which is often an ornate work of art in gold or silver.

A relic is a keepsake, a tangible reminder that the new saint was human yet heroically lived a life of holiness.

The relic may be the purported or actual physical remains of saints, such as bones, pieces of clothing, or some object associated with saints or other religious figures. The authenticity of any given relic is often a matter of debate; for that reason, some churches require documentation of the relic’s provenance.

In the Catholic Church, a reliquary, also known as a shrine or by the French term châsse is used as a container for relics.

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The reliquary containing the relic of Saint Teresa
The reliquary containing the relic of Saint Teresa

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The relic presented at the Mass for St. Teresa of Calcutta was a few drops of her blood contained in a phial embedded within the centre of a wooden reliquary in the form of a simple cross reflecting her life and values.

The back of the cross-shaped reliquary is made from Lebanon cedar (Cedrus libani), a species of cedar native to the mountains of the Mediterranean region, known as a symbol of nobility and spiritual greatness.

The front of the large cross is made of wood taken from places associated with Mother Teresa’s works of mercy: The first home for the dying she established in Calcutta, a home for those with Hansen’s disease, an immigrants’ boat, a Gypsy shack, and wood from the kneeler of a confessional because Mother Teresa believed the “Sacrament of Penance” also known as “Confession” or “Reconciliation” was the greatest expression of God’s mercy.

In the centre of the cross,  the phial of Mother Teresa’s blood is sealed in a glass orb in the shape of a water drop as a symbol of her vow to quench the thirst of those literally without water and those dying in the aridness of being unloved.

A roughly sculpted wrinkled hand supports the glass to symbolize that it carries this drop of water, full of love, in response to the cry of Jesus “I thirst” on the cross echoed by millions of people around the world.

The religious dress of the Missionaries of Charity bears special significance. The white colour of their sari stands for truth and purity and the three blue borders each signify the vows that the nuns of the Order take: the first thin band represents “Poverty”, the second thin band represents “Obedience”, and the third broad band represents the vows of “Chastity” and of “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor”.

The water drop on the reliquary is framed by a heart of three sweeping bands of blue on the left and a white band on the right to symbolize the sari St. Teresa adopted as a habit for her sisters of Missionaries of Charity as well as to express devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The three sweeping bands of blue on the left side of the heart are curved and bent to represent St. Teresa’s own curved form bent in prayer. The white band on the right side of the heart displays the words, “I thirst in gold, reproduced in St. Teresa’s handwriting.

The base of the reliquary is made of battered iron to represent how society always sees the poor people whom Mother Teresa loved with her whole heart.

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The Canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta in Vatican City


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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At the end of life, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”
– Saint Teresa of Calcutta

 

Mother Teresa - A painting by Mark Sanislo
Mother Teresa – A painting by Mark Sanislo

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Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the “nun of the gutters”, a champion for the poor, the dying and the unborn died on September 5, 1997.

Scarcely two years after her death Monsignor Henry D’Souza, the then Archbishop of Calcutta, requested Pope John Paul II to dispense with the five-year waiting period required before beginning the process of beatifying and canonizing Mother Teresa.

As a fitting climax to a process that stretched on for almost 19 years, Pope Francis on Sunday, September 4, 2016, a day before Mother Teresa’s 19th death anniversary, formally declared  Mother Teresa, as the newest saint of the Catholic Church at a ceremony that drew 100,000 pilgrims from around the world to St Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

For the honour of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother bishops, we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta be saint and we enroll her among the saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole Church. In the name of the Holy Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Pope Francis, however, acknowledged that despite the fact she now has a formal title as “Saint Teresa of Calcutta“, she will always remain “Mother Teresa” to the world. The pontiff said:

“We may have some difficulty in calling her ‘Saint’ Teresa, her holiness is so near to us, so tender and so fruitful that we continue to spontaneously call her “Mother”. She made her voice heard before the powers of this world so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime – the crimes of poverty they created.”

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How Does One Become a Saint in the Catholic Church?


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Catholic Saints

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In the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodoxy, or Anglican Church, Canonization is the act by which a person who has died is declared a saint. After that, their name is included in the canon – a list of recognized saints.

During the first millennium of the Church’s life, the first people honoured as saints were the martyrs whose deaths were considered to affirm the truth of their faith in Christ. Originally, only the names of martyrs along with that of the Virgin Mary appeared in the Roman Rite’s honoured as saints were the martyrs whose deaths were considered to affirm the truth of their faith in Christ. Originally, only the names of martyrs along with that of the Virgin Mary appeared in the Roman Rite’s Canon of the Mass and since 1962, that of Saint Joseph was included.

Next, in the absence of a centralized canonization process, the local Church recognized holy men and women who demonstrated great virtue during their lifetime without any formal process or investigations into their personal life or any miracles attributed to their intercession.

Later on, different processes and procedures for canonization were developed such as those used today in Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. In both Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches, the act of canonization is governed by the Holy See and a person is declared a saint at the conclusion of a long process that requires substantial proof of their worthiness to be recognized as a saint by their exemplary and holy way of living on this earth.

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Devil’s advocate and God’s advocate 

In 1587, during the reign of Pope Sixtus V, the office of the Devil’s advocate (Latin: Advocatus Diaboli) also known as the Promoter of Faith, was established. This canon lawyer appointed by the Church authorities argued against the canonization of a candidate by taking a skeptical view of the candidate’s character, uncovering any character flaws or misrepresentation of evidence such as fraudulent miracles attributed to the candidate, etc.

The Devil’s advocate opposed God’s advocate (Latin: Advocatus  Dei) also known as the Promoter of the Cause, whose task was to make the argument in favour of canonization.favour of canonization.favour of canonization.favour of canonization.

Pope Paul VI beatified a total of 38 individuals during his pontificate and canonized 84 saints in 21 causes.

The work of simplification of canonization initiated by Pope Paul VI continued with Pope John Paul II’s apostolic constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister of January 25, 1983, and the implementation of the norms issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on February 7, 1983, at the diocesan level.

Contrary to popular belief, the reforms did not eliminate the office of the Promoter of the Faith popularly known as the Devil’s advocate, whose duty was to question the material presented in favour of canonization. John Paul II reduced the number of miracles required for sainthood from three to two, one for the first stage — beatification — and one more for canonization. The reforms were intended to make the process less adversarial.

In November 2012 Pope Benedict XVI appointed Monsignor Carmello Pellegrino to the office of Promoter of the Faith.

This reform by Pope John Paul II changed the canonization process considerably, helping John Paul II to usher in an unprecedented number of elevations: nearly 500 individuals were canonized and over 1,300 were beatified during his tenure as Pope as compared to only 98 canonizations by all his 20th-century predecessors.

In cases of controversy, the Vatican may still seek to informally solicit the testimony of critics of a candidate for canonization.

Candidates go through the following steps on their way to being declared saints.

Servant of God“: The process leading to canonization begins at the diocesan level. Responding to a petition by members of the faithful, a bishop with jurisdiction, usually the bishop of the place where the candidate died or is buried, gives permission to open an investigation into the virtues of the individual.  This investigation usually opens no sooner than five years after the death of the person being investigated.

Venerable/Heroic in Virtue“: After gathering sufficient information, the congregation will recommend to the pope to proclaim that the Servant of God exhibited the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, to a heroic degree. From this point, the one said to be “heroic in virtue” is referred to by the title “Venerable”.

A Venerable has as yet no feast day and no churches may be built in his or her honour. Prayer cards and other materials may be printed to encourage the faithful to pray for a miracle wrought by the venerable’s intercession as a sign of God’s will that the person can be canonized.

Blessed“: Beatification is a statement by the church that it is “worthy of belief” that the person is in heaven, having come to salvation. This step depends on whether the Venerable is a “martyr” or a “confessor”.

For a martyr, the Pope has only to make a declaration or a certification that the venerable met death voluntarily as a witness for the faith and/or in an act of heroic charity for others.

All non-martyrs are “confessors” as they “confessed” or bore witness to their faith by the manner they lived their lives. To be named “Blessed” (abbreviated “Bl.”) or, in Latin, Beatus or Beata a miracle has to tale place as a sign that God performed the miracle in response to the venerable’s intercession. Today, these miracles are mostly miraculous cures, as these are the easiest to establish based on the Catholic Church’s requirements for a “miracle”.

A feast day will be designated, but its observance is normally restricted to the Blessed’s home diocese, to certain locations associated with the blessed and/or to the churches or houses of the blessed’s religious order, if they belonged to one. Parishes may not normally be named in honour of a Blessed.

Saint“: Canonization is a statement by the church that the person enjoys the Beatific Vision. To be canonized a saint, an additional miracle after granting beatification must have been performed through the blessed’s intercession.

The saint (contracted “St” or “S.”) is assigned a feast day which may be celebrated anywhere within the Catholic Church, although it may or may not appear on the general calendar or local calendars as an obligatory feast. Parish churches may be built in the saint’s honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.

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