Emily M. DeArdo


Catholic 101: Becoming a saint

Catholic 101Emily DeArdoComment

While we're all called o be saint, what exactly is a saint, and how do we do it? And how do people like Mother Teresa et al. get those cool ceremonies and get added to the church calendar? 

First off, a saint is anyone who is in Heaven. If your grandma died, and is in Heaven, she's a saint. (YOU ARE NOT AN ANGEL WHEN YOU DIE.) Everyone in Heaven is a saint. 

However, we don't know if your grandma is in Heaven. Canonized saints, on the other hand, because of lots of evidence, are people that the Church is sure are in Heaven. They go on the official list of saints, called the "canon." Thus: Canonized saints. 

(A little note here: the Church doesn't "make" saints. God makes saints. We just recognize 'em.) 

The canonization process is a long one, and there are several levels in it. The process was updated in 1983 by Pope St. John Paul II, so it's not the same as it was back in the Middle Ages, etc. I'm describing the new process here. 

How to be a saint--in four steps: 

The process of canonization begins in the deceased own diocese. So, for example, if someone died in Columbus, OH, then the Diocese of Columbus is the place where the process would start. The bishop gives permission to open the investigation into the virtue of the deceased individual. Usually this happens no sooner than five years after the person's death. In the cases of St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta, this process was expedited. (At Pope St. John Paul II's funeral, there were signs that read Santo Subito--sainthood now!) (This period was also waved in the instance of Sister Lucia Santos, the last surviving Fatima visionary, who died in 2005--a little less than two months before the death of Pope St. John Paul II). 

A guild/organization of people who want the individual canonized is created, and an exhaustive search for the person's writings, speeches, etc. is done. A detailed biography is also written. 

When sufficient documents and evidence are gathered, the material is presented to the Roman Curia, specifically the Congregation for Causes of Saints. Here, the deceased is assigned a postulator, who gathers more information about the person's life. At this point, the person is called a servant of God. Relics are taken at this point. (More on relics next week!)

 When enough information has been gathered, the Congregation will make a recommendation to the pope that he declare the deceased possessed "heroic virtue" (What does that mean? Here's wikipedia: 

that is, that the servant exhibited the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, to a heroic degree

Once the declaration is made, the person is officially Venerable. He doesn't have a feast day, no churches can be built in his honor, and the Church isn't declaring for sure that this person is in Heaven. However, prayer cards may be printed, and people may ask for this person's intercession. 

This is where miracles start to come in. People can pray to venerable/blessed for him to intercede before God for their petition. A miracle is a sign that the person is in Heaven. However, it has to be through that particular person's intercession. (An example can be found here.) 

The last step before sainthood is beatification. This is a statement by the church that proclaims it is "worthy of belief" that the deceased is in Heaven. The person is either a martyr or a "confessor" (no, that doesn't mean a person that heard confessions. Perfectly reasonable assumption, though!). 

A martyr is a person who died voluntarily for his faith or in an act of heroic charity for others (St. Maximilian Kolbe is an example of the latter. If you don't know his story, read that link right now. He's awesome.) 

A confessor is someone who "confessed" his faith by how he lived his life. So if you're not a martyr, you're a confessor. If you're in this category, then at least one miracle attributed to your intercession has to happen. (For example, in Mother Teresa's case, there had to be a miracle, which you can read about in this article.)  Usually today these are miraculous cures, which are verified via a lot of medical testing, inquiry, etc. You can't just say it was a miracle; it has to be proven, as far as possible, via a lot of science. 

A Blessed gets a feast day, which is usually only celebrated in the blessed's home diocese or religious order. 

Finally, sainthood is announced when at least two miracles have been attributed to the person's intercession (if the person wasn't a martyr. If you're a martyr, just one suffices.) Canonization means the church is certain that this person is in Heaven and enjoys the Beatific Vision. (I love that phrase) 

The crowd at the canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII. 

The crowd at the canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII. 

The saint gets a feast day, churches may be built in the person's honor, and the faithful may freely celebrate this saint. 

The canonization ceremony involves a Mass. A tapestry is made of the saint and is displayed during the Mass itself. 

John Paul II's tapestry at the canonization in Vatican City. 

John Paul II's tapestry at the canonization in Vatican City. 

Mother Teresa's tapestry. 

Mother Teresa's tapestry. 

As you can see, it's a long process, and obviously, not everyone in Heaven is a canonized saint. But as Mother Angelica used to say, "Where most men work for letters after their name, we work for ones before our name: St." 

We are called to be great saints. Don't miss the opportunity!

--Mother Angelica

Who's your favorite saint?