The recent story of an alleged incorrupt nun in Missouri drew the attention of many to the remarkable phenomenon of incorrupt bodies of the saints.
What’s the big deal with incorruptibility and how does it happen?
What does incorruptibility mean?
Incorruptibility is the preservation of a person’s body, after death, from natural decay or decomposition. In cases when only part of a person’s body (i.e. a limb or an organ) is preserved from decay after death, it is considered partially incorrupt.
Are incorrupt and incorruptible the same?
Both words are used interchangeably, yet they have slightly different meanings.
Incorrupt refers to "the preservation of a deceased body from natural decay." Incorruptible means "not susceptible to corruption, especially bribery." So, it refers to a person who is honest and trustworthy.
Incorruptible is also linked to the Pauline theology of the body with regard to the resurrection of the dead.
Saint John Paul II said that "in the resurrection, the human body, according to the words of the Apostle, is seen 'incorruptible, glorious, full of dynamism, spiritual.' The resurrection is not only a manifestation of the life that conquers death—almost a final return to the tree of life, from which man had been separated at the moment of original sin—but is also a revelation of the ultimate destiny of man in all the fullness of his psychosomatic nature and his personal subjectivity."
How do bodies become incorrupt?
Incorrupt bodies are usually discovered when exhumed months or years after death. The how and why some human bodies completely or partially avoid the normal process of decomposition after death remains unknown.
Are all incorrupt bodies Catholic saints?
Not all incorrupt bodies are those of Catholic saints, as some Buddhist monks reportedly had incorrupt bodies after they were exhumed.
In this same vein, not all saints have incorrupt bodies. Therefore, this supernatural phenomenon is not always a definite sign of sanctity.
How many saints' bodies are incorrupt?
Several sources claim over 200 officially recognized incorrupt saints.
Based on the Catholic author Joan Carroll Cruz's 2021 book, “The Incorruptibles,” there are an estimated 100 incorrupt saints that the Catholic church officially recognizes.
Is incorruptibility explained in the Bible?
An exact explanation of incorruptibility is not in Sacred Scripture.
However, Saint Paul states in 1 Cor. 15:42, “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible.”
In this, he sheds light on corruptibility as one of the natural principles of physical difference before and after a person’s death. Therefore, a body animated by a higher life principle and endowed with other qualities (such as incorruptibility) is a property of God Himself.
Who are the most famous incorrupt saints?
The first-known incorrupt saint is Saint Cecilia, a virgin, martyr, and patroness of music. She died around 177 A.D. in Rome and her incorrupt body was discovered over 1,500 years later!
Along with Saint Cecilia, Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, Saint Catherine Laboure, Saint John Vianney, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Zita, and Saint Veronica Giuliani are well-known.
Generally speaking, if a saint is incorrupt, the Catholic Church will announce it when he or she is canonized. So, if the Church does not announce it upon canonization, chances are, that saint's body is not incorrupt.
Are any saints partially incorrupt?
Yes, and there are quite a number of uniquely incorrupt saints, such as Saint Padre Pio, Saint Anthony of Padua whose tongue and jaw are solely incorrupt, Blessed Carlo Acutis, whose body is not completely intact, and Mexico’s first canonized bishop, Saint Rafael Guizar y Valencia, whose heart is incorrupt.
In certain instances, partially incorrupt saints have a life-like face that has resisted decomposition, while the skin on their hands appears leathery and dehydrated, but not rotting.
In other cases, like that of Saint John Vianney, his face is covered with a wax mask, while the remainder of his body is entirely incorrupt.
Are any popes incorrupt?
Yes, and a few of the most popular among the incorrupt popes are Blessed Pope Pius IX, Pope Saint Pius X, and Pope Saint John XXIII.
Who are some young incorrupt saints?
What countries have the largest number of incorrupt saints?
The majority of incorrupt saints come from Italy. There are also several incorrupt saints whose relics you can find in France. Among the most popular are Saint John Vianney, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, and Saint Catherine Laboure.
Why should incorrupt saints matter to Catholics?
Incorruptibility is a testimony of God's power. When the natural process of a deceased body’s decomposition does not occur, this proves that One more powerful controls nature.
It also points to the truth about the four marks of the Catholic Church--the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church that Jesus Christ instituted.
Finally, it baffles scientific explanations and natural reasons, and points solely to the supernatural. It can only be understood and accepted by faith in God alone.
Stories of incorrupt saints reflect God’s power in the life of his beloved children.
Let them be a motivation to strive daily and fervently pray to God, not that we may be incorrupt and widely recognized, but that we may simply become saints.
May this be our goal--the very target we set our sights on each day, and the purpose for the work we do and the people we serve. Above all, may the discovery of incorrupt saints encourage us to have a "determined determination," as Saint Teresa of Avila said, to live a life of virtue.
Here is a prayer to attain perfect sanctity through the intercession of Mary, Queen of all Saints:
God Our Father,
you have given us
the Mother of Your Son
to be our Queen and Mother.
With the support of her prayers
may we come to share
the glory of your children
in the kingdom of heaven.