This month’s theme is prompted by the upcoming canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta on September 4. At least a few of our fellow parishioners will be in Rome for the event which makes it an extremely timely topic.
What is the process for becoming named a saint (canonized)? We’ll take a closer look at this over the next few weeks.
The process of documenting the life and virtues of a holy man or woman cannot begin until 5 years after death. This waiting period insures that the person has an enduring reputation for sanctity among the faithful. It can be waived by the Pope, and has been done on two occasions, for Pope John Paul II and for Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
After the waiting period (unless waived) the Bishop of the diocese in which the individual died can petition the Holy See to allow the initialization of a Cause for Beatification and Canonization. If there is no objection the permission is communicated to the initiating Bishop.
Once a Cause has begun, the individual is called a Servant of God, e.g. the Servant of God Karol Wojtyła or the Servant of God Pope John Paul II.
Diocesan Tribunal: Informative Process
During this first phase testimony about the life and virtues of the Servant of God is gathered. Also, the public and private writings must be collected and examined. This documentary phase of the process can take many years and concludes with the judgment of a diocesan tribunal, and the ultimate decision of the bishop, that the heroic virtues of the Servant of God have or have not been demonstrated. The results, along with the bound volumes of documentation, are communicated to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
A Relator is appointed to superintend the Cause through the rest of the process. The next step is for a theological commission to vote affirmatively or negatively on the Cause. This recommendation is then passed to the cardinal, archbishop and bishop members of the Congregation who in turn vote. Their vote determines whether the Cause lives or dies. If the vote is affirmative, the recommendation of a Decree of Heroic Virtues is sent to the Holy Father, whose judgment is final. Once the person’s Heroic Virtues have been recognized by the Pope, they are called Venerable, e.g. Venerable Servant of God John Paul II, or Venerable John Paul II. First
Miracle Proposed in Support of the Cause
The remaining step before beatification is the approval of a miracle. The scientific commission must determine that there is no natural explanation for the alleged miracle. While miracles could be of any type, those almost exclusively proposed for Causes are medical. These must be well-documented.
The theological commission must also determine whether the miracle resulted through the intercession of the Servant of God alone. The task of the theological commission is two-fold, judge whether the cure was a miracle, and judge whether this miracle is due to the intercession of the Servant of God. The decision is forwarded to the Congregation in Rome.
It should be noted that in cases of martyrdom the miracle required for beatification can be waived – martyrdom being understood as a miracle of grace.
With the Holy Father’s approval of a Decree of a Miracle, the Servant of God can be beatified. With the beatification rite the Venerable Servant of God is declared Blessed, e.g. Blessed John Paul II.
After beatification the Church looks for a second miracle before proceeding to canonization. The process is the same as it was for the miracle which made beatification possible. The alleged miracle is studied by scientific and theological commissions in the diocese in which it is alleged to have occurred. After the diocese approves, the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints studies the alleged miracle. If they vote for approval, the matter now goes to the Pope. The consent of the Holy Father to the decision of the Congregation results in a Decree of a Miracle. Canonization is now possible.
By the Rite of Canonization the Supreme Pontiff, by an act which is protected from error by the Holy Spirit (i.e. infallibility) elevates a person to the universal veneration of the Church. By canonization the Pope does not make the person a saint. Rather, he declares that the person is with God and is an example of following Christ worthy of imitation by the faithful.
Few practices of the Catholic Church are so misunderstood today as devotion to patron saints. From the earliest days of the Church, groups of the faithful (families, parishes, regions, countries) have chosen a particularly holy person who has passed on to intercede for them with God. Seeking the intercession of a patron saint does not mean that one cannot approach God directly in prayer; rather, it’s like asking a friend to pray for you to God, while you also pray—except, in this case, the friend is already in Heaven, and can pray to God for us without ceasing. It’s the communion of saints, in actual practice. Scripture urges us to pray for one another; and, as Christians, we believe that those who have died still live, and therefore are capable of offering prayers as we do.
For a list of patron saints, check this website: catholicsaints.info