November 1, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: The making of a saint

John F. FinkToday is the feast of All Saints, when the Church honors all the saints in heaven, those canonized and those uncanonized.

Devotion to saints plays a big role in the Catholic Church. Although technically a saint is anyone who gets to heaven when he or she dies, the Church gives special recognition to some people who exhibited unusual holiness during their lives. The Church offers them as role models for the rest of us.

The Church honored its saints from earliest times. Belief in “the communion of saints” is part of the Apostles Creed. Part of this belief is that those who have died and gone to heaven can intercede with God for those of us still here on Earth. (There’s more to it than that, but that’s sufficient for now.) Churches were named in honor of saints—especially martyrs—at least by the fourth century.

At first, saints were proclaimed by the people. Eventually, though, a more formal procedure was established. Today, the process by which the Catholic Church declares that a man or woman is a saint is called canonization. It is a declaration by the pope that the person is indeed in heaven and worthy of honor and imitation. Canonization was officially reserved to the papacy in 1234.

It’s usually a lengthy process. It begins at the local level at least five years after a person’s death. Those who believe that the person possessed saintly qualities collect data about the person, and submit it to the local bishop. If he concurs, he appoints a committee to examine the evidence. Once that is done and approved, it is all sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Vatican and the person is called a servant of God.

Then an extensive and intensive study is made of the person’s life, including a study of all the things he or she might have written. In some cases, that can slow things down considerably.

Once the congregation determines that the person had saintly qualities, he or she is formally named venerable. After that come beatification—after which the person is called “blessed”—and then canonization.

Before beatification can be declared, at least one miracle must take place through the person’s intercession, except for those who were martyred. But proving that a miracle took place is difficult. If it’s a medical cure, it is examined in detail by a board of doctors both at the local level and at the Vatican.

It might be an unexplainable cure of a cancerous growth that had been declared inoperable, or a deformed leg that became normal—something dramatic. After the doctors certify that they cannot explain the cure, a board of theologians decides if it happened through the intercession of the person whose life is being studied.

After beatification, another miracle is required before canonization.

Despite all this, if you think that your late husband, wife, mother, father or friend is now in heaven, by all means pray to him or her to ask his or her intercession with God. Canonized saints aren’t the only ones who are enjoying God’s special friendship. †

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