In the Catholic Church, married couples have only had one chance to become saints together: If they died as martyrs. Now, for the first time, a married couple is to be canonized for living their marriage in an exemplary manner.
Marriage is, as Pope Francis once tweeted, "a royal road to becoming saints". But at least the official calendar of saints he can here hardly have had in mind: In the past 500 years, married couples have only been canonized together because they died as martyrs, not because they lived exemplary lives as spouses. Now, for the first time in the history of the Catholic Church, a married couple is to be canonized who were not killed out of hatred for the faith: the French couple Louis (1823-1894) and Zelie Martin geb. Guerin (1831-1877).
On Saturday, Francis officially named the two as future saints at a meeting of cardinals, known as a consistory, at the Vatican and set the date for their canonization: the French couple is scheduled for 18. October in the context of the Ordinary Synod of Bishops on family and marriage to be canonized. Thus also the first holy family of the modern times develops.
Parents of St. Therese
For the Martins are the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897). Already during the last Synod of Bishops, relics of the couple were displayed in St. Peter's Basilica and in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
It is not that there have been no saintly couples and families at all so far. Known are for example the parents of the Mother of God Mary, St. Joachim and St. Anna. But both were venerated as saints even before the introduction of a central Roman canonization procedure in 1588. The same is true for most other holy couples. The few couples canonized in due process after 1588 were among larger groups of martyrs killed during the persecutions of Christians in Japan and Korea.
According to the Cologne clergyman and saint expert Helmut Moll, Louis and Zelie Martin can therefore be considered the first married couple to be canonized in this capacity. The Zelies became the second couple ever to be beatified in 2008, achieving a preliminary step toward canonization. Seven years earlier, the Italian couple Luigi (1880-1951) and Maria (1884-1965) Beltrame Quattrocchi, had already been beatified.
All daughters religious
The canonization process of the Martins, however, was accompanied by suspicion: They would be canonized only because they were the parents of a saint, a prominent one at that. Already in the context of the beatification ceremony, this conjecture was expressly rejected. The 19-year marriage produced nine children. All five daughters who reached adulthood became women religious.
Marriage and holiness: there are the early Christian martyrs, who often became saints precisely because they steadfastly refused to enter into a marriage covenant with a pagan. St. Agnes of Rome for example. Then there are those saints whose husbands, by their early death, cleared the way for a religious life. And there were probably the nameless bulk of those who were simply faithful, caring and fallible spouses without halos.
Francis: "Sacrifice and devotion"
Saints are the stars of the Catholic Church. For the first time, a married couple will now soon be officially recommended for veneration worldwide. This is considered a clear signal. Whoever asked where the "stars" of the church were, which they opposed to the stars of the world, who preached sexual permissiveness and self-realization, quickly brought his counterpart into explanatory trouble. John Paul II had already said that. (1978-2005) recognized. Benedict XVI. had to go all the way back to 6 in his message to World Family Day in Mexico City in 2009. The family's origins go back to the nineteenth century, to the senator Gordiano and his wife Silvia, the parents of Pope Gregory the Great, when he wanted to give examples to today's families.
And how is one now canonized as a married couple? It doesn't sound hard: Be ready to "sacrifice and surrender" every day, Francis tweeted.