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What is a Saint?

What is the Catholic Church's understanding of a Saint?


In the Catholic Church there is an emphasis on Sainthood.  Saints are people who have lived heroically virtuous lives, offered their lives for others, or who were martyred for their faith.  They lead lives that are worthy of imitation.  

Saints are important to the church as Saints have the ability to inspire others to live the lives of heroism that they lived.  When one is baptized or confirmed into the Catholic Church one is also able to take on the name of a Saint which can either be a first or middle name.  In addition, saints are also often accredited certain days on the liturgical calendar which are called 'feast days'.  There are about 3,000 people that are considered Saints in the Catholic Church to date and the process of becoming one at the current time is not easy.  

Steps to Becoming a Saint


In the Catholic Church in the present day it is not east to become a saint.  There are many protocols that need to be met before one can actually be classified as such.  However, to simplify the process, there are three main requirements that a person needs to meet: Being declared Venerable, Blessed, and then Saint.  The process towards sainthood is called Canonization.

Servant of God

The official process for sainthood, called a Cause, does not begin until the five years after the death of a candidate.  This reason for this wait is because it helps to understand whether the candidate enjoyed a wide-spread reputation of holiness and of intercessory prayer. 

Official canonization is decided by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints which is a department of the Roman Curia.  It was established in 1588.  This congregation is responsible for making recommendations to the Pope on beautifications and canonizations, and the authentication and preservation of sacred relics.  

Before a person enters the cause of canonization there needs to be a collection of their documents.  The first summarizes their life and heroic virtues.  The second is a collection of alleged miracles.  

St. Kateri Tekakwitha.jpg

St. Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native Saint and is honored by many Native Catholics.  She was canonized (became a Saint) on October 21, 2012.  Her feast day is July 14th and her passing from this world happened on April 17, 1680.  

Stage 1: Examination of Life of a Candidate for Sainthood

Phase 1: Servant of God

This phase happens at the level of the Diocese.  While the candidate for Sainthood is undergoing the investigation for the cause of Sainthood they are called a Servant of God.  To begin the process after the preliminary steps have been met a person (called the Petitioner) goes to the Bishop of the Diocese.  The bishop then goes to a conference of bishops (Episcopal Conference), others within his region (eparchy) or to Rome (the Holy See).  After these consultations he then received the approval that what has been provided is not objectionable to the church on doctrine or moral grounds from Rome (Nihil obstat).  The Bishop then works with the Catholic Courts (Diocesan or Eparchial Tribunal) to investigate the Candidate for Sainthood to investigate his/her martyrdom or his/her life or heroic virtues.  This is based on the theological virtues of faith, hope, charity and cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude.  Witnesses are called and the documents that were written by and about the candidate are gathered and examined.

Phase 2: Declared Venerable

The documents are then sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints which is the department responsible for making recommendations towards Sainthood.  A person at this congregation then is appointed for overseeing the cause (Postulator) who resides in Rome.  The postulator prepares a summary (Postio) of the documented evidence from what was gathered in order to prove the Saints heroic exercise of virtue or martyrdom.  

This Postio then undergoes an examination by nine theologians who then vote on whether the candidate lived a heroic life or suffered martyrdom.  If the majority of the theologians are in favor then the cause is passed on for examination by the cardinals and the bishops who are members of the congregation.  If this judgement is favorable the results are then passed to the bishops or cardinals who are members of the Congregation.  If their judgement is favorable, it is then passed onto the pope who then gives his approval and declares the Candidate "Venerable".

Stage 2: Beautification

Declared Beautified

In order for a candidate to be declared Beautified they need to have a miracle attributed to his/her intercession and which happens after their death.  A miracle is considered something that has occurred by the grace of God that is scientifically unable to be explained or accounted for.  The miracle must be proven through a canonical investigation which is similar to the way in which the heroic virtues were investigated.  When this investigation is finalized a decree is made and finalized.  The Pope at this point grants the beautification.  The title of Blessed is then given to the candidate.  

Stage 3: Canonization

Canonized as a Saint

For the candidate to be canonized as a Saint another miracle needs to occur which is attributed to the intercession of the candidate which has to have occurred after the candidate's beautification.  The same process needs to be followed as in the stage of beautification.  Canonization allows for the public veneration of the Saint.  At this time the candidate is then given the title of Saint.  

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