When the U.S. bishops meet Nov. 15-18 in Baltimore for their annual fall plenary assembly, it will be the conference’s first in-person gathering in two years. While much ink will be spilled by media on the bishops’ discussion and vote regarding a statement on the Eucharist — The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church — there are several other items on the agenda worthy of attention.
Among those is the proposal to add St. Teresa of Calcutta on the Proper Calendar for the Dioceses of the United States as an optional memorial on Sept. 5.
Liturgical commemorations can be added at a local level, supplementing the number of saints already included in the General Roman Calendar. While a canonization means, among other things, that Catholics can liturgically commemorate a given saint, it does not mean that the saint necessarily is included in the Church’s universal calendar of optional or obligatory memorials.
Local episcopal conferences can and do take the initiative to add liturgical celebrations to the Proper Calendar for the Dioceses of the United States. The beatified or canonized individuals who would be considered for this would ordinarily be those who have lived, ministered and died in the United States.
For her part, St. Teresa of Calcutta warrants inclusion in the American liturgical calendar not because of her long-lasting memory in American consciousness, or the abundant and fruitful ministry of her Missionaries of Charity among America’s poorest of the poor, or even on account of widespread devotion to the saint by so many who seek her intercession.
Those things, rather, supplement and augment the best argument: that she was given honorary U.S. citizenship in 1996. Honorary U.S. citizenship can be given by the President of the United States or by an Act of Congress. It is a distinction only seven other individuals have been given, and only two (herself included) received the honor in their lifetime. The other was Winston Churchill.
The usual process for adding new celebrations to a national calendar begins when someone at the local level makes a proposal to the Committee on Divine Worship of the bishops’ conference. If the committee supports the initiative, then it can be presented to the bishops as a whole, and the body votes on making the addition to the calendar. If the vote passes, then the conference must petition the Holy See to receive permission to make the addition.
As the bishops prepare to vote this week on Mother Teresa, it seems an opportune time to point out a few incongruities regarding the inclusion of American saints or beati in the Proper Calendar for the Dioceses of the United States.
For instance, since we do not have as many canonized saints as certain European countries like France or Italy, why are not all of our saints and beati included? At least when considering canonized Americans, one is curiously absent. When considering American beati, three are absent. However, a little known Canadian beati (Marie-Rose Durocher) is on the calendar.
Although Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos has an optional memorial set for Oct. 5, Blesseds Miriam Teresa Demjanovich, Stanley Rother and Solanus Casey have not been added to the Proper Calendar for the Dioceses of the United States. The Holy See has indicated a preference that, as a general rule, more beati would not be added to national calendars, given the emphasis of local celebration for beati.
But since the United States is a relatively young country, with a relatively small number of canonized and beatified individuals, the Holy See has been somewhat lenient on this point in the past. While the U.S. calendar is now filling up with a greater number of local celebrations, that principle will probably be upheld a little more firmly.
Up until now, one American saint has not been included in the Proper Calendar for the Dioceses of the United States. It seems that St. Theodora Guerin’s absence — also curiously the only canonized American not depicted in the Trinity Dome of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. — seems to be because neither the religious congregation she founded (the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana) nor the local bishop (the archbishop of Indianapolis) has started the process to rectify the situation.
It seems that if a vote is to be taken on St. Teresa of Calcutta — an honorary U.S. citizen — perhaps it is also time to take the vote on St. Theodora.
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