CM Saints and Beati/B
DEVOTION TO OUR SAINTS AND BEATI (B)
by Thomas Davitt CM
- CIF, April 198
In my first talk this week I referred to some passages in some of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. I mentioned that Vatican II said it endorsed what had been said about saints in previous councils, especially Nicea II, Florence and Trent. I want now to have a look at the place in the documents of the Council of Trent given in the footnote to paragraph 51 of Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. It refers to the Decree on the Invocation, Veneration and Relics of Saints, and on Sacred Images, of 3 December 1563. The section I wish to refer to reads as follows:
The holy Synod instructs all bishops and others who hold teaching office that according to the usage of the Catholic and Apostolic Church stemming from the earliest times of the Christian religion, the unanimity of the holy Fathers, and the decrees of the sacred councils: firstly, that they diligently instruct the faithful about the intercession and invocation of the saints, about honouring their relics and the legitimate use of their images. They are to teach them that the saints, reigning with Christ, offer their prayers to God for the human race; that it is good and useful humbly to invoke them, and to turn to them asking for their prayers, their aid and help for our needs to be requested from God through his Son Jesus Christ who is our only Redeemer and Saviour. (Denziger 1821 ).
I wish to deal with just one point from that, namely the intercession and invocation of saints.
In the first Eucharistic Prayer in the missal we find the words, referring to saints, addressed to God:
May their merits and prayers gain us your constant help and protection.
In the third Eucharistic Prayer, we have these words, again referring to saints:
on whose constant intercession we rely for help.
The document from Trent said that people who hold any form of teaching office are to instruct those whom they teach about the intercession and invocation of saints. The General Assemblies of our Congregation hold teaching office, and the Assemblies which drew up our Constitutions put in to the Constitutions the following sentence in paragraph 50:
We should cherish devotion to St Vincent and to the canonized and beatified members of the Vincentian Family.
At the 1992 General Assembly Giuseppe Guerra, who was Postulator of Causes at the time, said that his experience was that there was very little devotion in the Congregation to our saints and beati, apart from Vincent. My experience would tend to be the same. I have found that confreres in general, while they may know something about Justin or John Gabriel, do not know very much about most of our beatified confreres. Ask a confrere, for example, to speak for three minutes, without preparation, on Pierre-René Rogue and see what happens.
In the talks this week I have tried to give you some information about what these canonised and beatified confreres did, as well as some indication of what sort of men they were. I also spoke about a not yet beatified confrere, John Francis Gnidovec, because unless more confreres pray to him there is little hope of his being beatified. Confreres in Slovenia, of course, do pray to him, but he is not just for the Slovene Province, he is for the Congregation and therefore confreres all over the world should pray to him and pray for his beatification.
To help us to develop devotion to them I will suggest some basic ideas. First, we should look for similarities with ourselves. Much writing on saints in the past tended to emphasise how they were different from the ordinary person; similarities were usually ignored. This is true of much of what was written about John Gabriel Perboyre.
Secondly, while it is very important to know what they did during their lives, it is also very important to try to see what sort of men they were. Letters written by them are very important in this connection. Also important are any letters written about them while they were still alive. Letters written after their deaths, particularly after their cause for beatification has been started, are less important because they often tend to be hagiographical.
Thirdly, do not look for a systematization of their “spirituality”. They did not, normally, produce such a systematization.
Now, following the first point I made a moment ago, let’s look at some similarities between these men and ourselves which can help our devotion to them, and show why we should pray to them, following the teaching of Trent and our Constitutions, as well as the expressions used in the Eucharistic Prayers of the missal.
Popular missions: I refer here to parish missions preached in one’s own country. Many confreres are engaged today in this ministry. Justin De Jacobis was ordained in 1824 and did not leave for Ethiopia until 1839. That means he had fifteen years of priestly ministry in Italy. For most of that time he was engaged in preaching parish missions. John Henry Gruyer was also mainly engaged in this ministry, and John Gnidovec in the short period between joining the Congregation and being ordained a bishop also gave missions. He did not take the additional name Francis until he became a bishop
Retreats: Another form of ministry in which many confreres are engaged to a greater or lesser degree is giving retreats to various groups. The three men already mentioned gave retreats as well as missions. Perhaps some of the others did as well.
Major Seminaries: Francis Clet was a professor of moral theology, Pierre-René Rogue taught dogma, and John Gabriel Perboyre taught theology ; his letter does not say which branch. Louis-Joseph François was rector of a seminary.
Theology courses for lay people: Pierre-René Rogue.
Minor Seminaries and Secondary Colleges: John Gabriel Perboyre and John Gnidovec were engaged in this type of ministry, and both were superiors in such houses as well.
Vincentian Internal Seminary: Francis Clet, John Gabriel Perboyre, Justin De Jacobis and John Gnidovec were directors of the internal seminary.
Missions ad gentes: Francis Clet, John Gabriel Perboyre and Justin De Jacobis. Francis and Justin were also involved in the administration of such missions.
Internal administration of the CM: Louis-Joseph François was Secretary General, Francis Clet was an elected delegate to a general assembly, and John Gabriel Perboyre was secretary of a commission.
Parish ministry: John Henry Gruyer and Pierre-René Rogue.
Dialogue with pagans: Francis Clet and John Gabriel Perboyre.
Dialogue with Orthodox Christians: Justin De Jacobis, Ghebre-Michael, John Francis Gnidovec.
Dialogue with Islam: John Francis Gnidovec.
Clandestine ministry during time of persecution: Pierre-René Rogue.
Ministry through foreign languages: Francis Clet, John Gabriel Perboyre, Justin De Jacobis, John Francis Gnidovec. It is interesting to note that there is contemporary evidence that neither of the two men in China ever got a good knowledge of the language, while Justin and John Francis acquired very good knowledge of more than one of the foreign languages needed for their ministry.
Ministry of writing: The outstanding example here is Louis-Joseph François, but Justin De Jacobis also achieved much by this means.
So, bringing everything together:
We are recommended by Trent and Vatican II to pray to saints. Our Constitutions recommend prayers to our canonized and beatified confreres, and I add also those whose causes have been started. The first and third Eucharistic Prayers refer to our being helped by such prayers. If we are engaged in a similar ministry to that of any of these men, then we should avail of the help of their prayers in our ministry. But even if we are not engaged in similar ministry we all have two things in common with them -- we are Vincentians and we are priests, and we can avail of the help of their prayers under both of these general headings.
NOTE: There are some errors in the biographical information about Louis-Joseph François and Jean-Henri Gruyer in the Latin, English, Italian and Spanish versions of the CM supplement to the breviary; the French version has corrected these errors.
- It was Gruyer, not François, who exercised parish ministry.
- It was François, not Gruyer, who worked mainly in seminaries.
- St-Cloud is also incorrect. The Latin edition has “… apud civitatem S. Claudii (St.-Cloud)”. This is an error. The correct translation of the Latin “S. Claudii” is Saint-Claude” The Latin for “St. Cloud” is “.S. Clodoaldi”. Saint-Cloud is near Paris, whereas Saint-Claude is the cathedral town of the diocese for which Gruyer was ordained.