Beatification — the second stage in the process of proclaiming a person a saint; occurs after a diocese or eparchy and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has conducted a rigorous investigation into the person’s life and writings to determine whether he or she demonstrates a heroic level of virtue or suffered martyrdom. A miracle attributed to the person’s intercession must be proved.
Blessed — title bestowed on a person who has been beatified and accorded limited liturgical veneration.
Canonization – the formal process by which the Church declares a person to be a saint and worthy of universal veneration.
Congregation for the Causes of Saints – a department of the Roman Curia, established originally as the Congregation of Rites by Pope Sixtus V in 1588. Reorganized and renamed in 1969 by Pope Paul VI, and again in 1983 by Pope John Paul II. Some of the responsibilities of the Congregation include making recommendations to the pope on beatifications and canonizations, and the authentication and preservation of sacred relics.
Miracle –something that has occurred by the grace of God through the intercession of a Venerable, or Blessed which is scientifically inexplicable.
Petitioner – party initiating an action in canon law. In the case of a sainthood cause, the petitioner is one who asks the diocesan bishop to begin the investigation which could ultimately lead to canonization. (A bishop may also begin a cause on his own initiative, in which case he is the petitioner.)
Positio – a comprehensive summary of all documentation; in this context, there are two: the one summarizing the investigation of a candidate’s life and heroic virtues or martyrdom and a second for any alleged miracles. The positio is prepared during the Roman phase by the postulator with the assistance of someone from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Postulator — person appointed to guide and oversee the cause. One oversees the cause at the diocesan or eparchial level (Phase I); the Roman postulator, oversees all aspects of Phases II and III.
Prefect — the head of any of the Roman curial congregations, usually a cardinal.
Relator – person appointed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to assemble the historic documentation of the candidate for canonization.
Saint – the title given to someone who has been formally canonized by the Church as sharing eternal life with God, and therefore offered for public veneration and imitation.
Servant of God — the title given to a candidate for sainthood whose cause is still under investigation, prior to being declared Venerable.
Venerable – the title given to a candidate for sainthood whose cause has not yet reached the beatification stage but whose heroic virtue has been declared by the pope.
All Christians are called to be saints. Saints are persons in heaven (officially canonized or not), who lived vitreous lives in a heroic way or were martyred for the faith, and who are worthy of imitation.
In official Church procedures there are three steps to sainthood: a candidate becomes “Venerable,” then “Blessed” and then “Saint.” Venerable is the title given to a deceased person recognized formally by the pope as having lived a heroically virtuous life. To be beatified and recognized as a Blessed, one miracle acquired through the candidate’s intercession is required in addition to recognition of heroic virtue. Canonization requires a second miracle after beatification. The pope may waive these requirements. A miracle is not required prior to a martyr’s beatification, but one is required before canonization. http://www.usccb.org/about/public-affairs/backgrounders/saints-backgrounder.cfm
Stage One: Examining the Life of a Candidate for Sainthood
Note: Five years must pass from the time of a candidate’s death before a cause may begin, unless the Pope dismisses the waiting period.
The Bishop of the diocese where the person died is responsible for beginning the investigation. But it all ultimately begins with the faithful.
If people believe that a particular person (who has died) is now a saint in heaven (petitioner), they can petition the bishop through a person called a postulator to open an investigation into the life of the candidate.
Evidence about the person’s life, like eyewitness accounts, speeches, writings, etc., are collected and consulted by the bishop and an episcopal conference (comprised of the faithful of his diocese and the Holy See).
Once the consultations are done, and the Holy See gives his okay to keep moving forward, a diocesan tribunal is formed.
The tribunal will investigate how the candidate lived a life of theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance and fortitude. This, and other evidence mentioned earlier is sent to Rome.
It is at this point that the person is considered a SERVANT OF GOD.
A summary, or positio, of all the evidence undergoes examination by 9 theologians who vote on whether or not the candidate lived a heroic life or suffered martyrdom. If majority rule in favor, it is passed on for examination by cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. If they have a majority rule in favor, all evidence is presented to the Pope. If he gives his approval, the Congregation drafts a decree declaring one VENERABLE if they have lived a life of virtuous life or BLESSED if they have been martyred.
Stage Two: Beatification
Beatification is a declaration by the Church that it is “worthy of belief” that the Venerable is in Heaven and saved.
A verified miracle attributed to his/her intercession is necessary. In other words, proof is required that a miracle occurred through the intercession of the Venerable. The miracle has its own investigation and approvals to go through in itself. Once the miracle is decreed, in fact, a miracle, the pope grants beatification. The candidate is now BLESSED.
For a martyr, no miracle is required. So, when the pope approves the positio, the title Blessed is granted to the martyr then and there.
Stage Three: Canonization
Traditionally, it takes about 50 years for a person’s death to reach the canonization stage of things. This is a declaration by the Church that the person is not only in Heaven but is worthy of being recognized as an example of sanctity to the faithful.
For canonization, another miracle is needed for both Blessed martyrs and Blesseds who lived a virtuous life. The miracle needs to be attributed to the intercession of the Blessed, and needs to occur after his/her beatification. (The methods for verifying the miracle are the same as in the step of beatification.)
With Canonization, the Blessed is now a SAINT. A feast day for the saint is confirmed and may be celebrated anywhere in the universal Church, and churches, statues, prayer cards, and medals may be made in the Saint’s honor, encouraging devotion to the saint.
Overall, it is not easy to become a saint. It takes many, many years, and involves so much approval and proof it can seem overwhelming sometimes. However, this is proof of how influential, special, and exemplary these people are! And the Church is showing us that they are worthy to take note of when it comes to fully living out life as a Christian.
I find the best way to describe saints is like this: Let’s say you want to be a professional soccer player one day when you grow up. So, what do you do? You watch professional soccer! And let’s say, after watching the game for a few seasons, you’re hooked on a particular player. They stand out to you as one of the best players in the league. So, you especially watch them play, and follow their games and whole career. You know their statistics and history, the great goals they’ve scored or the impressive defense they’ve saved the game with. You take notes, and practice the moves they do in soccer practice and strive to become a great athlete like them. Maybe you even write them a letter of how much they inspire you and how you are going to be a professional soccer player like them when you grow up.
Now switch out professional soccer for sainthood, and your favorite player for a saint.
As Catholics, we should want to become saints! We are all called to strive for it, too. And what a gift that we have (literally) hundreds of people who have gone before us and become saints! So the Church recognizes them, and says “hey, this person did it. (this) is how. Read about their life, pray to them to intercede for you, that you may learn the ways of living a life of heroic virtue and enjoy the glory of Heaven too!” With all the saints and their drastically different lives, we can see two things: 1 although there are some common themes among the saints, there is no cookie cutter way to get to Heaven – their individuality stands out in their paths to sainthood, and yours will too; 2 you, too, can get to Heaven. You should read where some of these people started out! And look where they are now! There is no such thing as too far gone.
In fact, we have so many examples, that there are certain saints dedicated to causes that perhaps you are going through too! Hi: St. Gemma Galgani, patron saint of students, against back pain, and temptations to impurity; St. Gianna Molla, patron saint of wives, mothers, and unborn children; St. Agnes, patron saint of engaged couples; St. Vincent of Saragossa, patron saint of winemakers (personal fav); St. John Fisher, patron saint of lawyers and stepparents, St. Monica, patron saint of difficult marriages and difficult children… I could go on and on!