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Chapter 18, “The Miraculous Cure,” is about the standoff about Margaret’s burial and the miraculous cure that resolved it. The standoff was between the Dominican friars, especially the Prior, who wanted to bury Margaret with all the other Mantellate and the crowd of people who wanted her buried inside the church. All agreed that Margaret was a saint. They disagreed about whether or not they should wait for a formal declaration from Rome before they laid her body in the church. The crowd ended up “winning” the standoff after the miraculous cure. Does that mean they were proved right?
I think both sides may have been right. For approximately the first thousand years of the Church’s history, saints were canonized by popular acclaim and the approval of the local bishop. Even now, when the process of canonizing a saint is a formally regulated matter, subject ultimately to the judgment of the pope, the voice of the people is essential. It is the acclamation of the faithful that prompts the formal “cause for canonization” to go forward, and their devotion and prayers are an integral part of that process. Catholics don’t have to wait for Vatican approval in order to celebrate and pray to a holy person who has died. On the contrary, the Church’s formal process only begins after someone’s sanctity has been celebrated and part of that process is the evaluation of alleged miracles that are answers to prayers.
But Catholics do have to wait for formal beatification to publicly venerate a saint. Honoring a saint during the celebration of Mass would be a clear example of public veneration. Laying a persons body in a church is less clear. Fulton Sheen at St. Patricks in New York and Michael McGivney at St. Mary’s in New Haven are recent examples of the bodies of “Venerable Servants of God” being interred in churches before their beatification. But their bodies were either in a lower-level catacomb (Sheen) or in the back of the church (McGivney), not in places inviting public veneration. “Margaret’s body was placed in one of the side chapels in the Dominican church” (page 106), Father Bonniwell tells us. It was a testimony to the peoples love and esteem for her but I’m not sure it was exactly “by the book.”
Margaret was certainly celebrated for her sanctity, as these final chapters attest. Father Bonniwell also attested to this in his introduction, when he noted “an astonishing fact: during the course of six hundred years more that twoscore (40) writers . . . thought it well worth their while to publish the story of this obscure girl” (page xii). After her death, Margaret also seems to have answered a tremendous number of prayers. Father Bonniwell writes,
The affidavits are many–over two hundred of them–testifying to to permanent cures of the blind, the deaf, the lame, and of those with various other afflictions.Page 106
Yet it took 289 years for Margaret to be officially declared Blessed Margaret and 412 more until she could be called Saint Margaret.
After the miraculous cure of the young girl after Margaret’s funeral, the Dominican friars yielded to the cries of the people to bury Margaret in the church. They may or may not have acted is accordance with official policy. In any case, Margaret’s many miracles, her incorrupt body (see pages 112-113) and, at long last, the Church’s infallible pronouncement have confirmed what the people of Castello knew at the time of Margaret’s death: that she is a saint.
In his account of “the miraculous cure” at Margaret’s funeral, Father Bonniwell articulates the thoughts of those who cried out for her intercession:
Margaret was their dear friend, wasn’t she? While she was alive, had she not loved them deeply? Would she forget her friends now that she was in Heaven? . . . Of course she would listen to them now. She simply could not refuse.Page 103
Again, relating the mindset of those who prayed to Margaret after her death, Father Bonniwell writes,
They were convinced that if Margaret’s intercession with God had been so effective while she was on earth, now that se was in Heaven her services would be even more efficacious.Page 106
In Chapter 8, Father Bonniwell described how Margaret imitated the penances of Saint Dominic. Here, though he doesn’t explicitly say so, I think Father Bonniwell is alluding to another way that Margaret imitated Saint Dominic. At the hour of his death, Saint Dominic told his brothers that he would help them more in death that he could in life. Dominicans still remember that promise. In my Dominican province, we pray the Spem Miram every week, in which we recall the “wonderful hope” that Saint Dominic gave to us at the hour of his death, “promising that after your death you would be helpful to your brethren” and we pray, “fulfill Father what you have said and help us by your prayers.”
When I pray with families and loved ones after a person has died, I often tell them about Saint Dominic’s promise, suggesting that the same can be true for the person who has died: that he or she can help them more from heaven than was possible on earth.
Father Bonniwell tells us that Margaret’s loved ones believed that she would fulfill the same promise, helping them after death even more than before. It seems that they were right. Margaret did help them by her heavenly intercession. But it was not just her contemporaries that Margaret has helped, as those 200+ affidavits attest. And now the Church has canonized Margaret as a saint, inviting everyone around the world to honor her and seek her intercession. Thanks be to God for Margaret’s heavenly service to the whole Church and the whole world both now and forever, amen.
Having now completed our reading of this book, what final thoughts can you share?