JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT

CANONIZATION


Summary
I.	Introduction.
II.	Beatification and Canonization of Father de Montfort:
	1.	First steps; 
	2.	The examination of the writings; 
	3.	The examination of the virtues; 
	4.	The examination of the miracles; 
	5.	Towards beatification; 
	6.	Towards canonization.

I. INTRODUCTION

When speaking of beatification and canonization, it is not surprising or rare to hear from certain quarters remarks such as "Is it really useful to spend so much time and money on the canonization process, especially when the person is already in heaven and is thus without need of it, since it adds nothing to their essential happiness?" In spite of this critique, the Church continues to be responsive to the demands of the faithful by honoring in this way men and women of heroic virtue whom she believes to be models of encouragement for the people of God.

There are many explanations why so many great saints and authentic martyrs have yet to enjoy this great honor. Obviously, God’s will offers the single significant reason. It is a fact that a canonization cause does require a great number of people to expend a great deal of money and effort over a long period of time. It also requires a special sensibility on the part of those who are furthering the cause. This partially explains why more religious than diocesan priests, and more priests than lay folk are canonized.

The main purpose of a canonization is not first to glorify a particular person. Rather it is to edify the faithful, who are always in need of new models of holiness. Also, communion with the saints increases and seals the union that exists between the triumphant and pilgrim Church. Lumen gentium affirms this: "It is not only through their example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; rather we seek, by devotion to them, to exercise that bond of fraternal charity which unites and strengthens the whole Church in the Spirit (cf. Eph 4:1-6). Just as Christian charity brings us closer to Christ on our earthly journey, so does the communion of saints join the People of God to Christ, the fountainhead of all grace and life, on their eternal journey" (LG 50).


II. THE BEATIFICATION AND CANONIZATION OF FATHER DE MONTFORT

Louis Marie de Montfort died at Saint Laurent-sur-Sèvre on April 28, 1716. He was beatified on January 22, 1888 and canonized on July 20, 1947, 231 years after his death.

There was a great lapse of time from the evening of April 28, 1716, when Christians spontaneously cried out, "Holy Father de Montfort is dead?" But a universal veneration of Montfort canonized him in anticipation of the event. His very first tombstone, which can be seen at Saint Laurent- sur-Sèvre, states unhesitatingly, "Died in the odor of sanctity." It must be noted also that Bishop de Champflour of La Rochelle on November 12, 1717, allowed the first exhumation of the body. It was found to be intact. In 1718 Bishop de la Poype of Poitiers had innumerable favors of a "miraculous" character attributed to Louis Marie committed to writing.

Why did the canonization of this celebrated missionary take so long? First, we must remember that his followers in the Company of Mary were few in number. Second, we should recall the tormented era in which they worked. The first biography of Montfort, by Grandet, dates from 1724, and the second, by Father de Clorivière, appeared in 1785. The end of the eighteenth century ushered in a period of immense social and religious upheaval.

1. First steps

In 1825, a dynamic, powerful man of many achievements, Father General Gabriel Deshayes, initiated the first preparatory steps of the beatification process. He undertook a long and exhausting pilgrimage to Rome. There he met the Dominican Fathers, who, mindful of the fact that Montfort had been a pious member of their Third Order, agreed to undertake his cause. Having accomplished this, Father Deshayes then met with Father Lamarche, prior of the order, who enjoyed the Holy Father’s confidence. He gained from him a promise of full support. He also consulted a canon lawyer, who looked over Montfort’s life and recommended that the cause be undertaken.2

Upon his return to Saint Laurent, Father Deshayes hastened to report on his consultations and the opinion of the canon lawyer in Rome. The community chose Father Deshayes as the postulator for France, and Father Lamarche as postulator in Rome. From that moment, the cause moved ahead with dispatch.

Bishop Soyer of Luçon established a tribunal composed of vicars-general and other dignitaries from his cathedral. This tribunal met for the first time at Luçon on August 4, 1829. It conducted its work either at Saint Laurent or at Luçon until July 1830 as it sought to establish the moral character and authenticate the miracles of Montfort. The tribunal received the testimony of many witnesses under oath. Among the numerous miracles attested to, four were chosen, and the results of their investigation sent to Rome. At the end of 1830, the Holy Father received the Acts of the process of canonization from two Fathers of the Company of Mary, Fathers Hillereau and Jean-Baptiste Marchand. To these Acts were added a petition from the bishop of Luçon, twenty other cardinals, as well as archbishops and bishops of France. Their wishes were granted. The cause was entrusted to the Congregation of Rites in 1831.

On September 7, 1838, Pope Gregory XVI issued a decree that accorded to Montfort the title of Venerable, and thus gave his approval for the cause to be pursued.

On August 3, 1839, the "non-cult" process was started. Its goal was to establish that the proper judgment of the Church had in no way been compromised on this matter. The conclusion was favorable.

The success of the cause filled Father Deshayes with joy. And when others remarked to him that their work was going well, he inevitably would respond, "And the Father de Montfort affair is going well too!" Father Deshayes "would not live to see the beatification, but God allowed him to survive long enough to complete the task of postulator. The last official signature is his."3

2. The examination of the writings

The Congregation of Rites, charged with pursuing Montfort’s beatification, ordered an ecclesiastical tribunal to convene on the matter at Saint Laurent from the end of 1841 to the beginning of 1842. When 291 of Louis Marie’s writings were sent to Rome for examination and approval, one work was missing—his masterpiece, the Treatise on True Devotion. For it was only on April 22, 1842 that Fr. Pierre Rautureau rediscovered this precious work at the Montfort residence in Saint Laurent. The Treatise was sent immediately to the bishop of Luçon. A committee of experts examined it carefully and, under oath, declared it a signed work of Louis Marie de Montfort. This enabled the precious manuscript to be sent, in the very year of its discovery, to the Eternal City to join the 291 already there.

Then began a series of further investigations, in which the Congregation of Rites posed certain questions and sought the advice of a variety of theologians. The archives cite several dates when authorities dialogued and strongly discussed certain points: March 28, 1851, January 10, 1852, and during May of the same year. The cardinal "ponent" of the cause was Cardinal John Serafini.

Finally, on May 7, 1853, it was made public that the deliberations of the congregation had revealed nothing in the writings of Montfort that constituted an obstacle to the pursuit of his cause. The Holy Father approved and confirmed this rescript of the Sacred Congregation on May 12, 1853.

3. The examination of the virtues

Under the direction of Cardinal Clement Villecourt, pre-preparatory and preparatory assemblies were held on January 9, 1866 and July 16, 1867. By virtue of a special request from the postulator, another preparatory assembly was held on February 15, 1869. On July 27, 1869, under the direction of Cardinal Nicolas Clarelli Paracciani, the general assembly was held in the presence of the Pope. His Holiness, after welcoming the suffrages of the cardinals and consultant fathers, exhorted them to continue praying to obtain light and counsel so as to bring to a conclusion the work which had begun.

Finally, on September 29, 1869, the decree on the heroism of the virtues was issued. The Holy Father, Pius IX, in the presence of the prefect of the Congregation of Rites, the recorder of the cause and the defender of the faith, decreed "that the Venerable Servant of God, Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, practiced the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity towards God and neighbor, the Cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance, and the related moral virtues, to an heroic degree; to the effect in question, that one could proceed to the discussion of the four miracles."

4. The examination of the miracles

The miracles attributed to Father de Montfort are very numerous. Biographers state that various extraordinary favors were obtained through his intercession. Four of these were selected and proposed for examination by the Sacred Congregation.

The study of these miracles was very long. The affair seemed to be advancing slowly until, at the end of 1881, Bishop Catteau of Luçon, on his ad limina visit approached the Holy Father about the cause so dear to his diocese. Leo XIII was sympathetic to his plea.

These were the four miracles selected: in January 1845, the cure of Sr. Emmanuel, Daughter of Wisdom, of spinal paralysis; in July 1869, that of Sr. Saint-Lin, Daughter of Wisdom, of a chronic disease of the marrow; in March 1870, that of Reine Mallé, aged 10 years, pupil of the Daughters of Wisdom, of a tubercular arthritis of the hip and dislocation of the right leg; and finally, in April 1873, the cure of Sr. St-Gabriel, Daughter of Wisdom, of consumption of the lung that had been judged fatal, with abdominal cystic tumor and heart disease.

Pre-preparatory meetings were held under the presidency of Cardinal Aloysi Bilio, recorder of the cause, on June 12, 1883. A preparatory session took place at the Apostolic Palace of the Vatican on February 24, 1885. Then a general assembly was held in the presence of Pope Leo XIII at the Vatican on January 5, 1886. Finally, on February 21, 1886, Pope Leo XIII recognized the four cures as miraculous.

5. Towards beatification

Before the solemn beatification of Father de Montfort, it was necessary that a decree summing up the procedure should resolve the last doubt: "Now that there had been an affirmation of his virtues and four miracles, can we proceed with the solemn beatification of the Venerable Servant of God in full confidence?"

The doubt was proposed on May 25, 1887 at a general assembly in the presence of the Pope. All of the cardinals present, as well as the priest consultants, gave a favorable response. The Holy Father, however, deferred a final verdict, said the decree, "in order to pray to God be- forehand to enlighten him in such a serious matter." Finally, on November 21, 1887, the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin, the Pope pronounced his solemn judgment and ordered publication of the decree, called a decree de tuto, which authorized proceeding confidently with the cause.

The process of beatification being complete, it would soon be possible for the faithful to venerate the precious remains of Father de Montfort. A decree from Rome dated November 9, 1886 had authorized the exhumation of his remains.

On August 18, 1887, the tomb was opened. Father de Montfort’s tomb had been opened three times previously. The first was on November 12, 1717, with the authorization of the Bishop of La Rochelle. That ceremony, which took place at night, allowed the following facts to be noted: the missionary’s face was well preserved; the body was "pitted" at certain points where it made contact with the earth; there was a pleasant fragrance of "little fennel-scented apples"; there was a mass of little flies with green wings, buzzing and singing like bees leaving their hive.

The tomb was opened a second time on November 30, 1812. It allowed the transfer of part of the relics to the Montfort communities. A third opening took place on January 17, 1842 at the beginning of the process of beatification. On both these occasions, the coffin or the coffers containing Father de Montfort’s remains were embossed with the episcopal seal.

On August 18, 1887, the bishop of Luçon, with an ecclesiastical tribunal, proceeded with the solemn opening of the tomb in the presence of several eminent persons, among them the superiors general of the Montfort communities and a few witnesses. It consisted of an identification of the remains and a selection of relics for the beatification.

The solemn beatification of Louis Marie de Montfort took place on Sunday, January 22,1888.4 The ceremony would have taken place in the choir of St. Peter’s Basilica if the Pope had been entirely free, but because of the situation in which His Holiness found himself, it was held in the loggia, that is to say, in the large chapel to be found above the portico of St. Peter’s. The ceremony was set for 10 o’clock. From 9 o’clock onwards, the crowds entered the loggia, and soon 3,000 persons were crushed into the enclosure, where lights and draperies focused attention on the four large tableaux re-presenting the miracles selected for the beatification.

On May 8 of that year, Bishop Clovis-Nicolas-Joseph Catteau, of Luçon, announced in a pastoral letter, to be read on Pentecost Day in all the churches of the Diocese, the solemn triduum of Saint Laurent-sur-Sèvre. In this letter he wrote: "Never shall we forget the mysterious sensation that enveloped our whole being when, after the reading of the Brief of Beatification, the veil covering the Apotheosis of Father de Montfort suddenly fell and the Blessed one appeared to us, all bathed in light, ascending in glory surrounded by angels bearing the Cross, the Rosary, and the admirable Book of Rules that he left to his children. While the Church on earth, for the first time, offered incense, the perfume of its homage, to the precious relics that we, a few months previously, had taken from the obscurity of the tomb, we witnessed the Heavenly Church salute with love this immortal victor."5

On June 4, 5, and 6, crowds gathered at the tomb of Blessed Father de Montfort in the parish church of St. Laurent-sur-Sèvre. On the final day of the triduum, 1,500 priests and 20,000 pilgrims formed a triumphant procession lasting three hours.

6. TOWARDS CANONIZATION

After an interval of forty years, the cause of canonization was resumed. Captivated by the figure of Montfort and by Montfort spirituality, the famous Cardinal Mercier made himself its herald. As early as 1925, he submitted for approval by the Catholic bishops a prayer requesting definition of the doctrine of the Universal Mediation of the Blessed Virgin, as well as the canonization of Montfort, her great apostle. Count-less signatures of cardinals, archbishops, and bishops testify to the warm welcome that this step by the Primate of Belgium received. On October 7, 1927, Reverend Mother Pauline of the Sacred Heart, superior general of the Daughters of Wisdom, and on November 19, 1927, Very Reverend Father Henri Richard, superior general of the Company of Mary, sent their entreaty to the Sovereign Pontiff. Thus on January 27, 1928, the cause of canonization of Father de Montfort was resumed.

Two instant cures were presented: that of Sr. Gerard of Calvary, cured at Romsey, England, on April 8, 1927, and that of Sr. Marie Therese of the Visitation, cured at Saint Laurent-sur-Sèvre on June 24, 1934, both Daughters of Wisdom. The first was suffering from a very serious infection, a tubercular ulcerous lesion in the pelvic area, with two fistulas and bacterial consumption of both lungs; the second was suffering from tubercular meningitis. On February 1, 1939, Rome recognized the legal merit of the two examinations of these two cures carried out by the episcopal curias of Portsmouth and Luçon. On July 23, 1940 there was a pre-preparatory meeting of the Sacred Congregation of Rites for the examination of the two miracles, and on July 1, 1941 the preparatory meeting took place. These pre-preparatory and preparatory gatherings heralded the plenary meeting of December 16, 1941 in the presence of His Holiness Pope Pius XII. On January 11, 1942, the feast of the Holy Family, the Pope gave recognition to the two miracles, and the decree of approbation was read. On January 27, 1942, in a session that included the cardinals and was held in the presence of the Pope, opinion was voiced that it was safe to proceed to the canonization. The events of that period, however, resulted in the decree de tuto concerning the canonization being promulgated in Rome only on May 21, 1945.

Finally, on July 20, 1947, in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, the solemn canonization of St. Louis Marie de Montfort took place: "In honor of the Holy and Indivisible Trinity. . . , after invoking divine help . . . , we decree and define that the Blessed Grignion de Montfort . . . be regarded as a Saint."6

After the invocation and special prayer of the new saint, the Sovereign Pontiff praised the missionary zeal of St. Louis Marie, his ardent devotion towards the Virgin Mary, and his obedience and loyalty to the Church. At his special audience for the many pilgrims from France and elsewhere, he repeated the same themes in a direct and homely style: "Hail to you, pilgrims gathered from various countries . . . , whose love for Mary binds you together, because all of you have come to honor the guide who leads you to Mary and from Mary to Jesus."7

Marie Claire Vienne-Marcel Gendrot


Notes: (1) Fr. R. Rodrigo, O.A.R., published in 1991, under the aegis of the Holus Institutum Historicum Augustinianorum Recollectorum, a book valuable to postulators. It is entitled Manuale per istruire i processi di canonizzazione (Manual for Preparing the Processes of Canonization). (2) Abbé F. Laveau, Vie de Gabriel Deshayes (Life of Gabriel Deshayes), Vannes 1866, 201. (3) Ibid., 208. (4) Cf. Béatification du serviteur de Dieu Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. Histoire du procès, décrets, cérémonies de la béatification (Beatification of the Servant of God Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort: History of the Process, Decrees, Ceremonies of the Beatification), Bideau et fils, Luçon n.d., 207. (5) Ibid., 44. On the ecclesial significance of Montfort’s beatification, going beyond any provincialism, cf. S. De Fiores, Per une "memoria" monfortana profetica ed ecclesiale (On a Prophetic Ecclesial "Memoria" of Montfort), in QM 6 (1989), 3-5. (6) Cf. AAS 39 (1947), 329-330 - (21) Ibid., 410-411. Pius XII stated that "the Church leaves a fair margin of freedom to her children. She holds that true and perfect devotion to the Blessed Virgin is by no means so linked to interpretations that any particular one could claim a monopoly" (ibid., 413). (7) The parish church of Saint Laurent was built between 1888 and 1949 on the foundations of a church built at the beginning of the eleventh century and dedicated to St. Laurence, deacon and martyr. This church contains the tombs of Fr. de Montfort (†1716), of the Marquis of Magnanne, a great benefactor of the montfort family (†1750), and of Marie-Louise de Jésus, cofoundress of the Daughters of Wisdom (†1759). In 1963 the church received liturgical consecration and the title of "minor basilica."

 

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Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St.
Louis de Montfort
(Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).

Provided courtesy of the Montfort Fathers © All Rights Reserved.

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