What does it take to achieve sainthood?
A statuary likeness of Kateri Tekakwitha at St. Francis Xavier Church
Published Sunday, October 21, 2012 7:00AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, October 21, 2012 11:57AM EDT
With the canonization of Aboriginal saint, Kateri Tekakwitha, and six others Sunday, you might be wondering what it takes for Pope Benedict XVI to bestow the title. Here’s an explanation of what it takes to achieve sainthood:
Canonization becomes an official process
Before 1234, there was no formal process to become a saint. It was often just Martyrs, a person who suffers voluntarily to stand up for their faith, and those recognized as holy that were declared saints at the time of their death. Eventually the authorization of sainthood was taken over by bishops and finally the Vatican in 1234. The new rules were implemented by Pope Gregory IX who established procedures to investigate the life of a candidate. In 1588, it was taken one step further when Pope Sixtus V created the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints to oversee the process.
Who qualifies to become a Saint
The process only begins after the death of a Catholic whom others regard as holy. This can also be referred to as someone who has died with “fame of sanctity” or “fame of martyrdom.” It is often many years after a person dies before they are considered for the process.
The first steps in the process
It is the local bishop that takes the first steps in investigating a candidate. The process involves looking at the candidate’s life and writings for heroic virtue or martyrdom. This investigation will also ensure the candidate demonstrates a “purity of doctrine” insofar as never having written anything against the faith. The bishop will also seek out any stories of individuals that have experienced miracles after praying to this candidate for help. All of this initial information is then passed onto the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
Further Investigation is conducted
The next step is determined by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. This group will determine if the candidate has lived a life of heroic virtue. In the case of a martyr, the Congregation determines if they truly died for the faith, offering their life as a sacrifice. Other candidates are looked at in terms of their devotion towards profound charity for their neighbour. If approved, the candidate is declared “venerable.”
The “beatification” process
The beatification process is the first major step towards Sainthood, after which the candidate can be referred to as “blessed.” A miracle must take place after a person has died in order to prove that the candidate can intercede from heaven when petitioned on from the living. Martyrs are often excluded from this step by virtue of martyrdom itself.
The final step towards Sainthood
Once beatification is complete, another miracle is needed for the candidate to be officially declared a saint. As a saint, the Catholic Church is recognizing the person as one who is in heaven, has lived a holy life and is to be honoured globally by the Church.
How a Patron Saint stands apart
Saints deemed “patrons” are chosen based on their connection to specific areas of life to act as protectors or guardians. The areas are broad, including everything from the saint of writers, St. Francis de Sales who himself was a writer, to St. Francis of Assisi who became the patron of ecologists based on his love of nature. Catholics believe praying to a patron saint will specifically help them when they follow the saint’s way of life.
Source: Catholic Education Resource Centre and Catholic Online