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The Necessity of Miracles

Msgr. Michele Di Ruberto is a specialist in both civil and canonical matters. He has been working at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for the last thirty years and is its present Under-secretary. He participates in the medical consultation. He, along with the postulators for Causes, also prepares and drafts the presentation aiming at ascertaining the presence of a miracle. The process of ascertaining the presence of a miracle is central to the continuation of a cause for canonization.  We follow with him this process as we take into consideration the miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla, a medical doctor and the mother of a family, who was proclaimed a Saint on 16th May 2004.

John Paul II The Necessity of Miracles

Msgr. Di Ruberto explains that the final act in the juridic process establishing presence of a miracle is the Decree: it is a juridic act of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, ratified by the  Holy Father, which defines a prodigious fact as a miracle. A fact is considered to be a miracle when it supersedes the forces of nature, and is enacted by God through the intercession of a Servant of God or a Blessed. The investigation of a miracle, once began, is a true and proper procedure that is carried out independently and apart of the one that examines a candidate’s virtues or martyrdom. During the procedure there is the gathering and evaluation of all the proofs dealing with the prodigious fact to establish it as a miracle itself, and that it took place through the intercession of a determined candidate being considered to be exalted to the honour of the altar.

 The gathering of the testimonial proofs and documents to establish the heroic level of a candidate’s virtues, the thorough examination of the historical-critical setting, and the theological evaluation in reaching moral certitude and the formulation of a judgment of said items can all be subject to error. We can be mistaken, but God, who is the author of miracles, cannot deceive us. Miracles are a gratuitous gift of God. They are a sign of His glory that is aimed at reawakening and reinforcing our faith. A miracle confirms the holiness of the person whose intercession has been invoked. Their acknowledgement, therefore, consents  with a degree of reliance to have a cult of an individual.

Miracles have always occupied a central relevance. Beginning with the first centuries in the Church, when bishops found themselves in a position to grant a cult to a martyr, before evaluating the quality of lifestyle (excellentia vitae) and the virtuous living of the candidate and, they studied the proofs of the quality of the signs(excellentia signorum) indicating such matters. Subsequently, over the passage of centuries, there was the  establishment and refinement of the procedure to study and evaluate miracles before proceeding toward a canonization of a candidate. Pope Urban II, in 1088, established that “it is impossible to inscribe a person’s name in the Canon of Saints if there are no persons who declare that they were eyewitnesses to the miracles and that this has been confirmed by the assent of the Synod.” The medical-legal aspect in the process gained its importance in the 15th century. The entire procedure was reorganized with the establishment of the Congregation for Rites in 1588. The procedures established criteria, such as the necessity of interviewing qualified witnesses and the requirement of medical reports, so that the judgment was based on the medical-legal expert reports and on the basis of oral testimony. Pope Benedict XIV specified the criteria for evaluation and instituted the first register of medical experts. The procedure was eventually included in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. But the said procedure had a weak point: there was no distinction between the medical-legal and the theological conclusions. In fact, theologians were expected to give their own conclusions based on medical determinations in which they lacked competence. Therefore, Pope Pius XII, in 1948, decided to establish the Medical Commission, followed by a Medical Consultation, as a specific organism of scientific evaluation and from then onwards, up to our own time, the examination is two-pronged, that is, one is medical and the other is theological. The judgment of the medical consultation is based on the specific diagnosis of the illness, the prognosis, the therapy, and its resolution.

When a healing is viewed as a possible miracle, experts must judge it as being fast, complete, enduring, and the medical-scientific field cannot explain its occurrence . The medical consultation is a collegial organism constituted of five medical experts and two experts appointed by the Congregation. The specialists who take part in the process vary according to the clinical cases at hand. Their judgment is strictly scientific and does not address the merit of the miracle. Therefore, it does not matter whether such experts are atheists or belong to another faith community.

The miracle can overcome nature’s capabilities either regarding the substance of the occurrence or regarding the person or simply in the way it took place. There are three levels of miracles. The first pertains to the resurrection of the dead (quoad substantiam- that is regarding the substance itself). The second regards the subject   (quaod subiectum – that is regarding the person himself or herself): the person’s illness, which may have even destroyed bones and vital organs, is deemed inexplicably cured – in this case there is not only complete healing but also the integral reconstruction of said bones or vital organs (restituito in integrum). Then there is the third level of miracles (quoad modum): the recovery from the illness was instantaneous, although it could have taken place over a long period of time.

Matters that involve remarkable conversions, that is those miracles in the moral sphere, are not admissible for a Cause because they do not take place in a controlled setting since it is extremely difficult to describe and define such events. However, wonders of a technical nature can be an object for examination. The Gospels contain descriptions of such miracles: for example, the transformation of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana, and the multiplication of the loaves and the fish. These events demonstrate that their occurrence goes beyond explanation. There is an extraordinarily striking event in our times. It is the case of the multiplication of rice that took place during a meal for the poor in Spain through the intercession of Brother Juan Macias, canonized in 1975. In this case, the examination did not fall within the medical sphere, but it belonged to the technical experts.

If perplexities emerge in the course of consultation, the examination is suspended and more experts and documentation are sought. Once the majority or the unanimity of the votes is reached, the examination is entrusted to the theological experts. After the theologians have reached and expressed their conclusions, their evaluation goes to the Congregation for Bishops and the Cardinals who, having heard the presentation of the case, discuss all the elements of the miracle being presented. Thus, every member provides his decision to be presented to the Holy father who, in turn, determines the miracle and then directs the promulgation of the Decree.

There was a rapid recognition of an extraordinary event attributed to Gianna Beretta Molla. Pope Paul VI sought her Cause. He had been struck with the figure of this member of Catholic Action and had termed the offering of her life as a “conscious immolation of self.” The prodigious fact involved a baby girl who had been formed in her mother’s womb in total absence of amniotic liquid. This was determined to be an actual miracle that was specifically linked to the life and work of Gianna Beretta Molla, being herself a mother and a paediatric doctor. It is also striking that this miracle that took place through her intercession occurred, as was the case with the one leading to her beatification, in Brasil, that is the country where the young Gianna wanted to go as a volunteer medical doctor.

Vatican Council II, when speaking of the intercession of saints, wanted it encased within the framework of the living union of charity that we should have with them. It is a living cooperation (consortium) in which we can partake for the benefit procured through their merits and through which we form with them one body, one family, one Church.

Msgr. Michele Di Ruberto