ASK FATHER: When can people begin to ask for Pope Benedict’s intercession?

This question comes from a comment under another post, but it stands on its own.

From a reader…


Father, quick question? I too believe that Benedict is a saint in heaven. Of course, when someone dies (including a pope), we pray for his soul. Thursday’s requiem will do just that. However, at what point is it permissible to pray *to* him for his intercession?

This is a good question.

In the long history of the Church venerating saints, first popularly, and then formally declaring certain saints for veneration, there have always been two crucial elements involved… at least until fairly recently, quite strong.   That is…

… fama sanctitatis… reputation for holiness, and

… cult.  (I don’t mean anything like liberal koolaid or blue oysters.

There can also be reputation for martyrdom, but let’s leave that aside.

The very first thing that spurs the beginning of a “process” which could lead to beatification is that there is a widespread, spontaneous public devotion for the person.  In our lifetimes, a good example of this is how so many people were in favor of the canonization of John Paul II.  There was obvious, widespread and spontaneous devotion to him.  That was less manifest in the case of Paul VI.  I never encountered people strongly devoted to Paul VI.  I digress.

Because of this strong devotion, someone (the “actor“) will take the initiative to begin a cause.

As the cause progresses, proofs (documents, testimonies, writings, etc.) have to be gathered and examined which can be long and rigorous.  At a certain point the “servant of God’s” cause advances to the printing of materials such as cards with prayers asking for intercession.  However, there also has to be certified that there is no untoward or heretical veneration, any improper cult, around the servant of God or the place of burial.  It is important that there be no official liturgical rites or images.  For example, were a picture of the servant of God depicted with a halo put up in church or a stained glass window before the time of beatification.  So, there has to be popular, spontaneous devotion, but it can’t be exaggerated or heretical.

As far as a figure such as Benedict XVI, I think there will be a strong popular devotion to him that could grow into a cause.  How soon can one invoke his intercession?  It seems reasonable to me to wait at least the few days allotted for mourning, an octave plus, the novemdiales.

Would it hurt to ask his intercession before that?  Privately, no. Not at all.  But there should be no organized cult of devotion in parishes, etc.  Let it evolve on its own.

I am confidant that it will.  Firstly, Benedict exuded kindness and solid faith.     His prayer life was clearly deep, individually (you don’t write as he did otherwise) and liturgically.   I do not want to see any cause rushed, and I think that some recently causes have been.  But I suspect there will be a cause in time.  While the haters are going to hate him no matter what, I believe that many hearts will begin to soften, even of those who were not enamored of him in life.

Fama sanctitatis.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Gregg the Obscure says:

    glad to report that the Cathedral here is having three requiem Masses for him: today celebrated by the rector, Thursday by the auxiliary bishop, and January 12 by the Archbishop. hoping i can at least attend the one on January 5

  2. Josephus Corvus says:

    Interesting take on that. Thanks. My guess would have been that he was going to be the first non-canonized post-Vatican II pope, given that there is a strong group on one side that did not care for what he did during (and before) his papacy, and another group on the other side that blame him for allowing all of this current evil (i.e., T.C.) to happen by ending his papacy almost 10 years too early.

  3. Lurker 59 says:

    Formal canonization likely will take some time as in after Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s canonization. Relatively soon to venerable but then not much after that.

    This is fine as the Church really needs to slow some things down and get back to brass-tacks. We also really need to allow the cult of a particular saint to develop for there to be deep roots to the cult. No more “popular saints” who are there and forgotten in all but name, but real viable cults with prayers, litanies, etc. and above all people interacting with the saint.

    I would say with Pope Benedict XVI, the Pope of Christian Unity, that right now it is so very important for people to pray for the repose of his soul. Those in purgatory cannot merit but they still can pray, they still can intercede (Saint Robert Bellarmine (De Purgatorio, lib. II, xv), contra St. Thomas) albeit in a limited way. The best way, really the best way, for the cult of an individual to grow is through the prayers for the repose of the soul of the individual. So much merit can be gained, for the dead and for the Church on earth.

    We want him to intercede for us in a perfect way, let us intercede for him and grow the cult.

  4. lgreen515 says:

    I felt moved to pray for his intercession, so I did.

  5. APX says:

    Global News here in Canada was interviewing Cardinal Collins and he believed that Pope Benedict XVI would be declared a Doctor of the Church, which I assume means they expect a canonization at some point.

  6. Dominicanes says:

    We can ask the intercession of any departed person that seems to have died in the state of grace. The souls in purgatory are powerful intercessors. They cannot pray for themselves but can pray for us.

  7. deaconjohn1987 says:

    I’m already praying for Pope Benedict XVI and asking for his intercession.

  8. kimberley jean says:

    It’s too soon. Let’s not talk about this for at least 50 years.

  9. TonyO says:

    I do not want to see any cause rushed, and I think that some recently causes have been.

    Hear, hear! Well said. We need to let time and perspective have their say. The Church is here for the long haul, let us not be hasty. If he really is a saint, God can make this known over decades of works in his name.

    While there is a place for an intense uprising of common feeling for a deceased public person all at once, we should not mistake charisma for holiness. Pope John Paul II had enough charisma for 3 popes, and it is not surprising that his death evoked an intense outcry in his favor. But it would not have diminished the Church to let his cause for canonization to stew a bit longer than it did.

  10. jflare29 says:

    Would there chance to be anyone offering–and televising–a funeral Mass for Benedict in the traditional rite? I’ll likely watch EWTN for the Vatican’s funeral Mass. …I’ll hope people will understand that I’m not finding the Novus Ordo version so impressive these days….

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