Canonization is the process of how a person gets recognized as a Saint in the Catholic Church.
Other religions also have special people who demonstrated a life of almost perfect virtue. We just differ on the title assigned to these people. The Catholic church calls them saints. We must remember though that all Christians are called to be Saints. Saints are people that are in heaven, who may or may not be officially recognized as saints by the Catholic Church.
Saints that the Church recognizes falls in three groups, all must have lived very, heroically, virtuous lives, some offered their life for others, or they were martyrs for their faith. They have lived such good lives, that they are excellent role models for those of us still living on Earth. Some people misunderstand why Catholics pray to saints. First remember that to pray means to talk. We do not see them as gods. We see them as people who walked the right path with Jesus while living on Earth. We see their struggles, their commitments, and their successes. We want to be able to walk that walk, but at times find it difficult too. When we do, we talk with someone who has been through a similar situation and we ask for help, guidance, inspiration. We might turn to a good friend, parent, priest, teacher, counselor and/or a saint that understands the struggles, concerns, and temptations that we are going through.
The process by which someone becomes a Saint is called canonization. It is said that the Catholic Church has more than 3,000 Saints. It is nearly impossible to give you the exact number of saints that we recognize. There are some that people may consider to be saints, but they are not officially canonized. According to the Church, the pope does not make someone a saint. The Church only recognizes what God has already done.
For centuries, saints were chosen through public opinion. It wasn’t until the 10th century that Pope John XV decided to develop an official canonization process.
This process has been revised in the past 1,000 years several times, most recently by Pope John Paul II in 1983. One of the more major changes that he made was to remove the requirement for having a “devil advocate’s” role in the process. The devil advocate’s job was to convince others that the evidence offered in favor of canonization was lacking in some manner. The whole process of becoming a Catholic saint is lengthy, often it takes years to complete.
You may have heard about some of the issues with this process on the news. Mother Teresa was a nun who did many beautiful things to help the poor and the sick. Soon after she died people wanted her recognized as a saint. These people pushed hard to get the Vatican to make exceptions for canonizing her. In 1999, the pope did waive the five-year rule and allowed the process to begin.
There are three major steps to becoming a saint. First, the bishop goes to the pope and recommends that a person should be considered for sainthood. The pope then starts the process to see if the person meets the requirements for being recognized as “Venerable.” Next, if the person meets the first requirements then the pope moves on to the next step to see if they should be identified as “Blessed” and then the final step is to see if they should become a recognized “Saint.”
To be considered as “Venerable” means that the saint’s life has formally been investigated and evidence was found to support recognizing the deceased person as having lived a heroically virtuous life or offered their life up. Heroically refers to living a life in a brave, courageous, or determined manner. After it has been found that the person lived a virtuous life, then it must be investigated to see if the person meets the requirements for being “Blessed.” To reach this step there must be the evidence that at least one miracle had occurred through the intercession of the person. This step is not required if the person was a martyr. But a miracle is required before canonization for all those being considered.
A miracle is something that is not accomplished by the person being considered for sainthood, but by the grace of God, through the intercession of the person which cannot be explained by any means that we know other than by God.
The final step after being recognized as “Blessed” is to determine if the person meets final requirements to be called a saint. There must be another miracle that occurs during this time from all that are being considered for sainthood. This means that there are two miracles documented for each saint except the ones that were martyrs. They must have one accredited to them at least.
These miracles are not accepted easily. The miracles that are submitted to the Vatican must have verification in order to be accepted by the Vatican. There is a committee that does the investigation and gives recommendations to the Pope. This committee is called the “Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Once a person is a saint, he or she is brought to the entire Catholic church for veneration. There are some saints that are selected as patron saints. The patron saint is someone that has connections as a special protector or guardian over particular occupations, illnesses, churches, countries, or causes.
Patron saints are holy people who have died and are in heaven like any other saint. The patron saint is usually chosen because the saint had some common bond that related well to the cause when they were living on Earth. The patron saint is also asked to intercede for the person with God. This can be compared to us asking someone who is alive to pray for us to God.
This process is not as simple as it seems. It does take a lot of investigating, data collecting, reports to write and then to review. Then discussion occurs which sometimes gets emotional as the supporters push for what they want. It can take years to finally come up with a decision. But what we must remember is that all Christians are called to be saints.
We are called to be saints, and this means that we should be obedient and trust in the Lord, Jesus Christ, just like the saints before us have done.