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How does a person become recognized as a Saint?

The Catholic Church recognizes certain people to be Saints only after a long and careful process of study called canonization.

But first, it may be helpful to explain what we mean when we call a person a Saint (with a capital "S"). Simply put, a Saint is a person acclaimed by the Church through an infallible declaration by the pope that the person is now in heaven and worthy of honor and imitation. Throughout the centuries, several hundred men and women have been recognized as Saints. Many of them are remembered in the liturgy throughout the year.

The process of canonizing Saints has changed through the centuries. There was a time during early Church history when Saints were recognized by popular acclaim. This process brought about the veneration of many holy men and women, but it also had its abuses. For example, canonization by acclamation often was based on stories and legends about certain men and women that may have been false. In order to safeguard against these kinds of things, the canonization process used in the Church today is more careful and critical.

First of all, there has to be general agreement that the person proposed for sainthood led a life of extraordinary holiness. Also, there usually is a group of admirers of this person who publicize his or her deeds and who submit his or her cause to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints. An extensive study is made of the person's life, even to the point of using a "devil's advocate" to try to disprove the person's holiness. After the proposed candidate passes this scrutiny, there must, in addition, be miracles attributed to this person's intercession. Again, there is careful scrutiny given to miraculous claims; they must be well documented before the Church will recognize them. A candidate is beatified after two miracles have been documented; they are then called "Blessed" and may be honored by the faithful. With the documentation and acceptance of a third miracle, the candidate is proclaimed a Saint by the pope.

The process of canonization is different for martyrs. People who were killed because of their faith are sometimes canonized as Saints even though they may not have been exceptionally holy and without miracles attributed to them. The thinking here is that giving one's life for the faith is a sufficient indication that one chooses God above all else.

There also have been times when the pope granted dispensations from the usual canonization process to proclaim a person a Saint. A recent example was Pope John XXIII's canonization of St. Gregory Barbarigo in 1960.

Finally, we should recognize that by acclaiming certain men and women to be Saints, the Church is in no way saying that these people are the only ones believed to be with God in heaven.Undoubtedly, there are many others in heaven who have not been formally recognized as Saints. The biblical use of the word "saint" is in reference to those who have faith in Christ. These saints (with a small "s") enjoy the blessings of heaven just as fully as do the canonized Saints.

To obtain a printed copy of the Evangeline Scripts write to:
Evangelization Office
Diocese of Lake Charles
P.O. Box 3223
Lake Charles, La. 70602

Copyright 1991 Diocese of Lake Charles, La.
With Ecclesiastical Approbation
+ Jude Speyrer, S.T.L., D.D.
June 1991
Used with permission