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In New Testament usage, Saint was a name that was applied to Christians in general, much as the word is used by Protestants today. However, early in the history of the Catholic Church, the word was restricted to men or women who were eminent in their holiness and, in the strictest sense a saint referred to those who distinguished themselves through heroic virtues during their life, and whom the Church honors as saints through a process known as canonization. The Church's official recognition of a person's sainthood implies that the person is now in heavenly glory, that their virtues during their life, or through a martyr's death, are a witness and example to all Christians, and that they may be invoked through prayer. In the Catholic Church, a person can be elevated to sainthood only after their death, and then only after a thorough investigation of the person's life indicates that they lived a saintly life while alive, and that some undisputed miracle took place through their intercession. Catholic devotion to the saints indicates respect and admiration for a deceased hero or heroine of the Church. There is a type of saint, within the Catholic Church, who is known as a Patron Saint. A patron saint is one who is regarded as a heavenly advocate or intercessor for a nation, place, craft, activity, clan, family, person, or specific illness or injury. Catholic believe that patron saints are able to intercede for the needs of their charges. For example, Augustine of Hippo is regarded as the patron saint of sore eyes, while Bernardine of Feltre is the patron saint of pawnbrokers, and Saints Anne, Jean de Brébeuf, and Joseph are the patron saints of Canada. Saint Patrick, of course, is the patron saint of the Irish, and Saint Ignatius of Loyola is the patron saint of the Basques.

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Feature Article


The Process of Becoming a Catholic Saint


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Although there is no official count, there are more than ten thousand Roman Catholic saints, the first being Saint Ulrich of Augsburg in AD 993. Before that time, Christians were recognized as saints by popular opinion, generally because they had been martyred. In time, the Catholic Church codified the process for attaining sainthood, the most recent changes coming about with the Vatican II Council.

Vatican II and subsequent directives from Pope John Paul II have simplified the process for canonization as a saint. The most significant change deals with the Cause of Beatification. According to current rules, it is the diocese that gathers the information arguing for or against the canonization of a candidate for sainthood, and inquiries are also now conducted during the diocesan phase. It is the diocese that gathers evidence of heroic virtues, martyrdom, sanctity, and miracles that may be attributed to the candidate. Prior to Vatican II, the process of beatification went back and forth between the Vatican and the diocese, complicating the process and lengthening the time involved.

For one thing, prior to Vatican II, there were two distinct steps involved: Beatification and Canonization. Now, beatification is considered to be the first stage toward canonization, and not a wholly separate process.

Prior to Vatican II, a Cause for Canonization had to be introduced by the Pope himself, leaving those who had an interest in the matter to lobby the Vatican before the process could even begin. Today, the bishop of the diocese in which the candidate died is given the sole authority to introduce a Cause of Canonization, although the authority to beatify or canonize a candidate remains in the hands of the Pope. Vatican II and papal directives are intended to simplify the process, as well as encouraging communication and cooperation between diocesan bishops and the Pope.

Before, the Cause for Canonization was known as the Process of Beatification and Canonization. Now, the process consists of the gathering of information by the diocesan bishop or whoever he might appoint.

While the 1917 Code of Canon Law had dozens of canons pertaining to a Cause, the revised code has only one canon that specifically relates to all Causes: canon 1403. The most obvious change has to do with the introduction of a Cause. As noted earlier, the Pope was the only one who could introduce a Cause previously. In 1969, Pope Paul VI issued an apostolic letter dictating that the local bishop could formally introduce a Cause for sainthood, but only after he had received permission from the Holy See to do so. This was intended to involve the diocese in the early stages of a Cause, and to encourage communication between the diocese and the Holy See.

This was still a lengthy process, requiring a lot of back and forth between the diocese and Rome. This proved to be only a first step, however. Under current rules the bishop of the diocese in which the candidate died can introduce a Cause on his own authority, and without the permission of the Pope. The local bishop is required to notify the Holy See that he has introduced a Cause, but this is now consultive.

The preliminary and immediate phases of the beatification process are currently handled by the diocese, who makes inquiry of the Holy See, regional bishops, the petitioners, and any experts or witnesses who may be called to testify. During the initial phase, the petitioner takes the first steps to advance a Cause in the form of a letter to the bishop. Then, the petitioner selects a postulator, who must be approved by the bishop, and the postulator may select a number of aides. The postulator investigates the life of the candidate with an eye toward finding proof of a life of heroic virtue or martyrdom. The postulator will also determine whether the candidate has a reputation for sanctity, and to find evidence that there is a system of religious veneration or adoration directed toward the candidate. Upon conclusion of this investigation, this evidence along with a biography of the candidate is presented to the bishop for review.

At this point, the bishop determines whether he will accept the letter of petition. If so, he may decide to handle the Cause himself or assign a delegate to do so. If the letter of petition is accepted, the postulator will present a list of witnesses for and against the candidate who will be questioned by the bishop or his representative. The bishop will also appoint someone to oversee the inquiry, ensuring that the proceedings are carried out appropriately. That concludes the preliminary phase.

During the immediate phase of a Cause, the bishop publishes the petition, making the introduction of the Cause public, so that anyone with additional evidence for or against the Cause may have an opportunity to come forward. The bishop will also appoint two theological consultors who will study the writings of the candidate, ensuring that he or she has not written anything contrary to the teachings or ethics of the Catholic Church. The bishop then consults with regional bishops as to the appropriateness of the Cause. If this evaluation is positive, the bishop notifies the Holy See.

The Holy See then seeks to determine whether there is anything that might obstruct the advancement of the Cause. If nothing negative is determined, then the Holy See will instruct the bishop to continue with the immediate phase of the Cause.

The bishop will then set into motion a diocesan inquiry with the witnesses, appointing a notary to witness the proceedings and to sign and seal each piece of documentation. Once the inquiry is completed, a transcript, known as the Acts of the Cause, is sent to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints in Rome, while the original copy remains with the diocese. This concludes the the diocesan inquiry phase.

Next, the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints studies the Acts of the Cause and prepares a comprehensive Position on the Life and Virtues or Martyrdom of the candidate, then a Position on the Miracle, which is a detailed report of the Acts of the Cause. The bishops and cardinals will also study and discuss the Position on the Miracle, offering their opinions.

The final step of beatification is in the hands of the Pope, who reviews the evaluations of the bishops and cardinals, and makes the final determination.

The Pope has the authority to intervene at any step of the process, and may stop or advance the process at any point.



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