How to become a Saint
God calls all people to be saints. In one sense, all people in communion with the Church are saints (CCC 946-948). Anyone, even a non-Catholic, can be a saint if they possess sanctifying grace through the gift of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. A saint is any person who resides in heaven with God.
But what about the canon of the Saints? That is, those individuals whom the Church recognizes are worthy of veneration and imitation?
The Church canonizes those who have lived a life of exceptional holiness and virtue. The Church also canonizes the martyred. Martyrdom means to give one’s life as a witness to the faith.
Canonization is the process of formal investigation and recognition of saints. Canonize individuals become known as “saints.”
To be clear, canonization does not make a person a saint. Only God can make a person a saint. Canonization is a recognition of sainthood. It is a decree made by the Church once investigators gather the evidence to prove a person is in heaven with God.
The first step in canonization is a waiting period. The Church requires five years must pass from the candidate’s death. When a person passes away, their critics are often silent, out of respect. The emotional experience of death can influence attitudes. The waiting period allows feelings to subside, so reason may govern the process. It is easier to understand a person’s life in hindsight than in the days after their passing. In some exceptional cases, the pope may waive this waiting period.
First Step to canonization steps
The first step involves a petitioner seeking a postulator in the candidate’s diocese. A petitioner is a person who brings a matter of canon law before the Church. A postulator is a person who oversees and guides the initial process of canonization. The postulator will ask the diocesan bishop him to open the cause for canonization. Alternatively, a bishop may open a cause himself. Once the cause is open, the candidate for canonization is referred to as a “servant of God.”
The bishop begins his work by consulting the faithful of the diocese. He will also bring the matter before his episcopal conference. If he finds no significant objections, he will present the servant of God to the Holy See. The Holy See may grant a “nihil obstat,” meaning it does not object to the cause for canonization.
After the Holy See grants its permission to proceed, the bishop must form a tribunal. The tribunal begins by gathering evidence of how the servant of God lived. They may call witnesses as they study the person’s life. Their purpose is to find evidence the person lived a life of holiness and heroic virtue. The tribunal will look for evidence of the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, specific to their state in life. The bishop will submit his findings to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints is part of the Vatican curia. The Congregation works out of Vatican City, in Rome. The Congregation will appoint a person called a relator to replace the postulator. From this point on, the relator will take over the case.
The relator begins by gathering all the evidence in the case. Their goal is to prove the servant of God exercised heroic virtue or suffered martyrdom. The relator then submits a report called a “Posito.”
Next, the team of nine theologians study the Posito. They each vote whether the candidate lived a heroic life or suffered martyrdom. The cause proceeds to the next step if the majority agrees it should.
The cause is then submitted to the nine bishops and cardinals who make up the Congregation. They also vote, and if the cause passes then the prefect of the Congregation will submit a report to the pope.
The pope will review everything submitted by the prefect. If he agrees, then he will give his permission to the Congregation to draft a special decree. The decree will declare before the Church that a person is either venerable or blessed.
All servants of God become venerable unless they suffer martyrdom. Martyrs are a special case, since they have died for the faith. The Congregation decrees them blessed instead because martyrs go to heaven without delay.
Venerable means the pope recognizes a person’s heroic virtue, but they are not yet blessed. We should follow the example of venerable persons. Blessed refers to a person who is beatified. Beatification is a recognition that a person is in heaven, and may intercede for the living on Earth.
The Church needs evidence to know if a venerable person is in heaven. Miracles provide the evidence the Church needs.
Miracles occur all the time, and often they occur because a person has asked for intercession. There are many kinds of miracles which may occur. The Church may investigate when a miracle is attributed to the intercession of a venerable or blessed.
The investigation is rigorous. A Church commission will perform a rigorous investigation. The Church gathers evidence, and will call witnesses and experts. In most cases the commission finds a natural, scientific explanation. But sometimes the commission finds a supernatural event, which none can explain. Such events are supernatural miracles. While such miracles happen all the time, they are not always investigated.
If intercession is evident in the miracle, the Church may issue a decree. If the person is venerable, the pope will now declare the person is blessed. This means there is evidence the venerable is in heaven and may intercede before God on the behalf of the faithful on Earth.
For the blessed, one miracle is enough to decree their sainthood. The Church requires a second miracle for the venerable, to be certain of their sainthood.
Once the Church attributes a miracle to a blessed person, canonization will follow. The pope will conclude the process by announcing the blessed person is now part of the canon of saints.