Two of the great figures of the Second Vatican Council will be canonized on the same day next year. The Vatican announced that they will add Popes John Paul II and John XXIII to the list of saints on April 27th next year. That falls on Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast day instituted by John Paul II:
Two of the most-loved leaders of the Catholic Church, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, will be raised to sainthood together in a joint canonization ceremony — the first such ceremony in the church’s history.
At a consistory in the Vatican, Pope Francis announced Monday that the joint canonization will be held on April 27, the day on which the Catholics celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, marking the feast day of Divine Mercy.
Italian and Vatican authorities have started to plan for an event expected to draws hundreds of thousands of faithful from around the world. Many intend to make the journey from John Paul’s native Poland.
Pope Francis signed a decree on July 5 that gave the go-ahead to the canonizations of his two predecessors. Observers say the decision to canonize the two popes together appears designed to unify Catholics.
National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen tells AFP more about the unity of the event:
The popular Polish pope John Paul and his Italian predecessor known as “Good Pope John”, are two of modern-day Catholicism’s most influential figures.
The double sainthood is seen by Vatican watchers as an attempt to breach a traditional left-right divide in the Church.
“John XXIII is generally a hero to the church’s progressive wing while John Paul II is typically lionized by Catholic conservatives,” said John Allen, from the National Catholic Reporter, a US weekly.
Allen said the decision could be interpreted as “a statement that any attempt to set them at odds is artificial, and that what they had in common is more fundamental than any perceived differences”.
In my perception — which is somewhat limited — I haven’t really seen that kind of split in legacies, at least not on the ground in the parishes. John Paul II was such a towering figure and had such a lengthy papacy that his message and legacy never fit well in a right/left paradigm. (The same is true for Benedict XVI, despite the media’s coverage of him as a hard-right conservative.) John XXIII remains a beloved figure in the church for both his push for a new council and his humble approach to the papacy, which foreshadows Francis’ approach so much that it hardly seems coincidental.
Perhaps among some, this represents a show of unity. Considering how important both men were to the Second Vatican Council, though, it’s at least as important a statement to the commitment of the Vatican to those reforms. John XXIII launched Vatican II, and John Paul II was one of its most important participants, and later a Pope enthusiastic about enacting its findings. For those Catholics who want a return to a pre-Vatican II church, the message from Pope Francis seems extraordinarily clear: there is no going back.
With that said, Mary Eberstadt explains for Time readers that Pope Francis is no radical and doesn’t intend on throwing Catholic traditionalists “under the Popemobile”:
In the first place, and as the pope himself stressed throughout the interview, the occupant of the Chair of Peter is not exactly free to rewrite the teachings of the church. As he also said to America and La Civiltà Cattolica and everybody else, “The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear, and I am a son of the church.” Translation: Any papal capitulation to vox populi on matters of morals has a proverbial snowball’s chance.
Second, in a way that many people today do not understand (and Francis does), even if the teachings that put a kick me sign on the church could be changed by fiat, it would be self-defeating to do so. The mainline Protestant churches have all tried just that–throwing out the unwanted baby of the traditional moral code with the theological bathwater. Yet they’re still drowning. Over the centuries, people have found plenty to complain about in the church’s bans on abortion, contraception and extramarital sex. But that fact doesn’t undermine the code’s internal consistency–or its appeal to those who have found in it a tough but beautiful truth.
And neither would Pope Francis seek to undermine this code. He immediately followed his interview with a speech to a medical group in which he observed that the unborn too have “the face of Jesus.” And days later, he presided over the excommunication of a priest who had defied church teachings about gay marriage and female clergy. To some people, this might look like politicking on both sides, but to those who follow the church’s official teachings, it’s just playing by the rules.
No, Francis isn’t asking anyone to back off from 2,000 years of teaching, give or take a few decades. He’s making a different and pragmatic point: in a world already blasted by sin, the church is first and foremost a field hospital for broken souls. (“Heal the wounds,” he explained.) And as the Pope has also made clear in his pastoral work, including in his recent phone call to a pregnant woman in turmoil because her already married boyfriend was pressuring her to have an abortion, the sexual revolution is sending a steady stream of patients to the wards.
The analogy of the Church as “field hospital” fits precisely into the Second Vatican Council’s paradigm of living in the world while calling people to be not of the world. That is what the Vatican will be celebrating on Divine Mercy Sunday next year.
Via Patheos, Pope Francis announces the canonization date in Latin:
Update: In response to a comment I made below on the celebration of the Tridentine Mass, an e-mailer writes:
In the comments of your post regarding the canonization of John XXIII and JPII, you stated that, “Benedict XVI gave the discretion to the bishops on authorizing Tridentine Mass celebrations as they see fit.” That is incorrect. JPII gave that encouragement in 1988 in the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei. Unfortunately many bishops see the TLM as a threat and suppressed it.
Benedict XVII’s 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum was so important because it allows an individual parish priest to celebrate the TLM in spite of a bishop’s wishes. It put the power into the hands of the laity of and of the parish priest. It also gave explicit permission for religious communities to use the TLM.
Thanks for the correction.