Journey to Canonization
Making of a Saint
Compiled by Msgr. Robert J. Sarno, Episcopal Delegate for the Cause of Canonization of the Servant of God Joseph Dutton, Layman and Former Official of the Congregation, now called Dicastery, for the Causes of the Saints, Rome.
All souls who are in heaven and enjoy the vision of God face to face are Saints. In the process of canonization, the Catholic Church declares as “Saints” those faithful Catholics who gave outstanding testimony of holiness lived out in one of three essential ways: (1) they accepted or tolerated a violent death that was inflicted "in hatred of the Faith" (Martyrs); (2) they offered their lives as an expression of love, and died a rather quick and unexpected death (Confessors): (3) they gave heroic example of living all the Christian virtues (Confessors); For the first 1200 years of the history of the Catholic Church, Saints were canonized in various ways. Today, the process of canonization is very complex and thorough, and governed by a strict canonical or juridical procedure established by St. Paul II in 1983.
Servant of God
A cause of canonization cannot begin until five years after the death of the eventual candidate for canonization. This period of time permits the Church, through the local bishop or eparch, to verify whether the candidate enjoys an authentic and widespread reputation of holiness and of intercessory prayer among a significant portion of the people of God. When the local bishop officially begins the cause, the candidate is given the title of “Servant of God”.
The first or local phase of the process begins with the official opening of the Cause by the bishop of the diocese or eparchy where the Servant of God died, and the appointment of a Postulator, to assist in its promotion. The bishop then nominates those Officials charged with gathering all the documentary and eyewitness evidence for and against the Canonization of the Servant of God. Two theologians examine the published writings of the Servant of God to ascertain whether there is anything in them contrary to the Faith and the moral teaching of the Church, and an Historical Commission is appointed to collect all the documentary evidence in the Cause.
Finally, the testimony of eyewitnesses is taken.
Venerable Servant of God
The second or Roman phase of the cause of canonization starts when all the evidence gathered in the first phase is studied by the Dicastery for the Causes of the Saints in Rome. If the evidence reveals authentic and exemplary holiness of the Servant of God in one of the three ways mentioned above, the Prefect of the Dicastery informs the Holy Father that the Servant of God was, indeed, either a true martyr, or offered his/her life or has lived an heroically virtuous life.
The Holy Father then orders the Dicastery to issue the “Decree” either of martyrdom, of the
offering of life or of heroic virtue. The Servant of God is given the title of “Venerable Servant of God”. However, no form of public, liturgical honor may be given to the Venerable Servant of God.
The Venerable Servant of God, who has been declared to be a true “martyr” by the Holy Father, may be immediately beatified, that is, declared “Blessed”. If, on the other hand, the Servant of God has been declared to have offered his/her life or to have lived a life of heroic virtue, it must be proven that one miracle has been granted by God through his or her intercession. The miracle, required for beatification in these cases, must have taken place on or after the date of death of
the candidate for canonization. The overwhelming majority of cases of miraculous events are cures from diseases. For a cure to be considered a true miracle, an ecclesiastical tribunal to gather all the evidence is established by the bishop of the diocese or eparchy where the event
took place. It must be determined that there is no scientific explanation for the extraordinary event and that the intercession of the candidate for canonization has been proven. The Dicastery for the Causes of the Saints conducts its study and judgment of the evidence, collected by the local Church, to verify that there is no scientific explanation for the cure and that the intercession of the candidate for canonization was requested. Once again, the conclusions are presented to the Holy Father who alone can declare that the event is a true miracle. Then the Venerable
Servant of God may be beatified or declared “Blessed”.
When someone is declared “Blessed”, public ecclesiastical veneration (liturgical cult) is permitted by the Holy Father but only in the diocese that introduced the cause of canonization and, if it be the case, in the houses of the religious community of which the Blessed may have been a member.
For the canonization of all those who are already beatified, both martyrs and confessors, one miracle is required. It must be proven that this event took place through the intercession of the Blessed and after the date of his or her beatification.
When this has been proven, the Holy Father then proceeds to the solemn ceremony of canonization, which is an infallible act of the teaching authority of the Supreme Pontiff. By this act, the Church declares that a member of the Catholic faithful is a Saint in heaven with God. The canonized Saint is then granted public veneration or liturgical honor throughout the universal Church, and held up as a model for imitation and as an intercessor for all the faithful.
It should be made very clear that the Catholic Church does not “worship” the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints, but rather venerates them. United in the “Communion of Saints”, a tenet of the Faith declared in the Creed during solemn celebrations of the Liturgy, the faithful on earth ask the faithful in heaven, who are their brothers and sisters in Christ, to join them in presenting their needs humbly and prayerfully to God.