Who Gets to be a Saint?

Today, Friday, November 1, 2019 is All Saints’ Day also called the Solemnity of All Saints, All Hallows’ Day, Hallowmas, or Feast of Saints. In celebration people light candles, say prayers or liturgies, and sometimes make offerings. It is a day during which Christians around the world honor persons who have lived a life of almost perfect virtue. The Catholic church has canonized around 3,000 people. But who gets to be a saint?

Image of statues of saints on top of a building. But Who Gets to be Saints?

Prior to the tenth century, saints became saints due to public acclaim. By the twelfth century, the Church formalized the process for conveying sainthood on a person. Officially, neither the Pope nor the Church makes people saints; Instead, they recognize what God has already done. The five-step process can take a long while.

Step 1: Waiting Period

In the Catholic tradition, one cannot become a saint until at least five years after death. It could take a lot longer. They declared Saint Bede, the theologian a saint 1,164 years after he died. The Pope can waive the waiting period. 

Once the waiting period is over or the waiver granted, the bishop in the diocese where the person died can open an investigation. The bishop gathers evidence on the person’s life and deeds, including witnesses’ testimonies.

With sufficient evidence, the bishop then sends the information to the Vatican and the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. 

Step 3: Proof of a life of “Heroic Virtue”

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints is a panel of theologians and Cardinals. Once they accept the case, the candidate is a “servant of God.” “Servant of God” is a technical title used during the process of beatification.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints evaluates the evidence. They look for signs of the candidate’s holiness, his or her works, and signs that the candidate’s example drew people to prayer. 

Based on their evaluation, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints makes recommendations to the Pope.

If the Pope decides that the person lived a life of “heroic virtue.” Thereafter, that person has the canonical title, “venerable.”

Step four: Verified miracles

Beatification is the next stage. Beatification requires a miracle. After their death, the candidate must have inspired people to prayers. If the candidate is already in heaven, the candidate brings the prayer request to God’s attention. God grants the prayer request, performs or causes the miracle

To be a miracle, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints must verify the incident(s). The Congregation looks for evidence that proves that the incident is a miracle. For example, a person’s incurable medical condition is cured after prayer to a venerable. If that cure has no logical medical explanation, they will probably accept it as a miracle. 

The one exception is someone who died for their faith, a martyr. The Pope may grant a martyr beatification without this fourth step.

Once the Pope grants beatification, the individual has the canonical title, “Blessed.”

Step Five: Canonization

Normally, the Congregation verifies a second miracle before canonization can take place. (Remember the martyr is the exception.)

During the canonization ceremony, the Pope conducts a special Mass, reading aloud the individual’s life history and then chanting a prayer in Latin that declares the person a saint.

Canonization is infallible and irrevocable.

Disclaimer

I am not a Catholic. I have no firsthand knowledge of the religion or the practices mentioned here. My knowledge comes from consulting those more knowledgeable than I in person and in written literature. Please check out Catholic Online for more information. 

Any errors or inadvertent disrespect in this information are mine. Kindly point out my errors and I will correct them.

Research Becomes Story

Yes, as with most of my research, this article is part of my research. To create the world of the My Soul to Keep series, I studied several religions. I borrowed heavily from Western religions and their traditions. 

In book two of the series, they have attributed a miracle to a character you met in book one. They grant that person a highly honored position in the Fellowship. It will be up to the reader to decide if this person deserved the honor or not. 

I am working hard on book two and hope to have it published in late 2020. Were you familiar with the five-steps for who gets to be a saint? What traditions do you observe on All Saints’ Day? 

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