Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Blessed Montini – Paul VI To Be Beatified Oct. 19

It's been expected for months... and this morning, it's official: continuing his predecessors' respective rises to the honors of the altar, the Pope signed the decree affirming a miracle through the intercession of Giovanni Battista Montini, Pope Paul VI, scheduling the tormented, tragic figure's beatification for October 19th, coupling it with the closing Mass of the Extraordinary Synod on the pastoral challenges facing the family.

While Paul's oversight of the bulk of Vatican II and the reforms which sprung from it has chiefly made him a figure of acclaim among the ecclesial Left, the context for his elevation to the step before sainthood points instead to his signal accomplishment in the eyes of church conservatives: Humanae Vitae – the 1968 encyclical which, rejecting the almost-unanimous advice of a papal commission, reaffirmed the Magisterium's condemnation of artificial contraception, an act whose fallout increasingly cowed Papa Montini away from the stage for the last decade of his 15-year pontificate.

According to Italian reports, the miracle approved today echoes the spirit of the still-controversial document. In the early 1990s, a California woman prayed to Paul to save her unborn child after in utero tests showed the baby afflicted with significant organ damage. After the mother rejected a recommendation to terminate the pregnancy, the child was born healthy and no trace of issues were ever found.

As is typical in miracle cases under investigation, the identities and precise whereabouts of the woman and her child have remained undisclosed, but are likely to emerge in short order in light of today's announcement.

Born in Brescia in the northern Italian countryside, Montini spent most of his priesthood in the Secretariat of State, where he became a protege of Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pius XII. After serving a decade as Pius' top aide, Pacelli named the slight, cultured monsignor as archbishop of Milan in 1954 – and even delivered the ordination homily via radio from his sickbed – but died four years later without giving him the red hat. Named a cardinal by John XXIII – indeed, the first on the list – within days of the now-saint's election, Montini's succession to Papa Roncalli was seen as a fait accompli going into the 1963 Conclave, the result being accomplished on the sixth ballot.

As the 262nd Bishop of Rome, Paul primarily made his mark in three areas: a taboo-shattering ecumenical outreach, his urgent emphases for the causes of peace and global development and, as many will especially recall, becoming the first Pope to cross the globe, visiting all of the inhabited continents. While Francis is already set to follow in Montini's footsteps later this month as he commemorates the 50th anniversary of Paul's pilgrimage to the Holy Land with his own, it's notable that the reigning pontiff's all-but-confirmed US tour in late September 2015 would likewise coincide with the half-century of Paul's 13-hour swing through New York on St Francis' Day, 4 October 1965.

Along with the Pauline miracle, Francis advanced several other causes in this morning's audience with his chief saintmaker, Cardinal Angelo Amato SDB, including those of a 20th century Spanish Jesuit and a widowed French mother who founded a religious community. On a side-note, with Amato – the CDF lieutenant of Cardinal Ratzinger who birthed Dominus Iesus – nearing a year past the retirement age of 75, an increasing amount of chatter tips a transition at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the coming months.

Back to Paul, one of the many logistical calls to be made between now and the rites will be the choice of his liturgical feast. As he died on 6 August – the ancient observance of the Transfiguration – as with John and John Paul, an alternative date will need to be determined. It will, however, be tricky: four anniversaries of milestones in his life and ministry – his episcopal ordination on 12 December 1954, the Council's closing on 8 December 1965, Humanae Vitae's publication on 25 July 1968 and his coronation on 30 June 1963 – are already off-limits due to significant designated feasts. The most likely choices, then, would be either his birthday (26 September) or his priestly ordination-date of 29 May. Given the placement of the newly-canonized Popes' feasts in October – John XXIII on the 11th (Vatican II's opening) and John Paul's on the 22nd (his inaugural Mass as Roman pontiff) – the former option is ostensibly the preferred one.

With Paul's beatification coming months after the unprecedented joint canonizations, all of 19 months from his election Francis will have declared three of his predecessors as blessed or saints, a feat unequaled by any Pope in centuries.