Catholic Classroom: Becoming a Saint
Question: How does someone get declared a saint?
The saints are individuals who lived holy lives on earth and who are now in heaven. They are worthy of imitation and are able to intercede for us. As implied by the universal call to holiness, we are all called to be saints. But how does that process work? First, it is important to understand that the Church does not make someone a saint. It is through God’s work that a person becomes a saint, and when the Church canonizes someone, it simply recognizes the fact. Along these lines, there are very likely people who are saints who have not been canonized. This is what the canonization process looks like:
Servant of God
A person may not be considered for sainthood until they have died. There is a standard five-year waiting period from a person’s death until their cause for canonization may be opened. A person may be considered for canonization if they are particularly known for holiness or if they died a martyr. Recently, Pope Francis declared that people who have given their lives for others may also be considered for canonization. The person who begins the investigation into a person’s cause is his or her local bishop. If the bishop submits the information to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints and they agree that the cause may be opened, the person is considered a Servant of God.
Then, the candidate’s local bishop collects extensive information about the candidate, including testimonies from people who knew the individual and both public and private writings by the individual. The writings are investigated for faithfulness to Church teachings. If all the evidence shows that the candidate lived a life of heroic virtue, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints votes to have the individual declared venerable, with the pope having the final say.
If the candidate died a martyr’s death, they may then be declared blessed. In all other cases, a miracle attributed to the intercession of the candidate is required for beatification. Such a miracle indicates that the person is in heaven and able to intercede for people on earth. Miracles are rigorously investigated and must be approved by separate committees of scientists and theologians. Usually, these miracles are healings. Once the miracle is approved, the candidate is declared blessed through the rite of beatification. Someone who is blessed may be venerated under certain conditions, usually restricted to the beatified person’s diocese or religious community.
A second miracle attributed to the intercession of a candidate is required for the individual’s canonization. Just as with the first miracle, any miracle attributed to a blessed is thoroughly investigated by scientists and theologians. When that miracle is approved, the pope canonizes the individual, declaring him or her a saint. This opens up public veneration of the saint to the whole Church. Additionally, a saint may be added to the general calendar of the Church with a memorial or optional memorial on his or her feast day.
Keep in mind that we do not pray to the saints (we instead ask for their intercession), nor do we worship them. The saints are known friends of God, and they can be friends to us as well. Their mission in heaven, as it was on earth, is to point people toward Jesus.