With the much-anticipated beatification of Pope John Paul II tomorrow, this seems the perfect time to explain the process of canonization!
If you are dying for all the official details, you can read the canonical procedures as laid out in the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister. But I like to put things simply, so here is a bare bones outline:
1) A person with a reputation for sanctity dies.
2) Before a "cause" can begin for his beatification and canonization, five years must pass. This is to ensure that emotions and fervor, which often surround the death of a holy person, have stabilized.
3) The local bishop, at the request of the faithful, may open an investigation. A diocesan tribunal is formed, and witnesses are called forth to testify to the heroic virtue of the candidate, as demonstrated by facts of his life. Documents and evidence are gathered, and the candidate is deemed "Servant of God".
4) Upon completion of the local investigation, the case is sent on to Rome, to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, where a more rigorous investigation begins. After an intense examination of the claims of heroic virtue (and doctrinal orthodoxy) of the candidate, nine theologians vote as to whether the cause should move forward. If yes, then the cause is sent to the cardinals and bishops who are members of the Congregation. If, after months of meetings, they also vote yes, then the cause moves on to the Pope for approval and public decree.
5) The next step is beatification. For a candidate to be eligible for beatification, the Church requires evidence of one miracle attributed to the intercession of the candidate -- a miracle that occurred after his death. A posthumous miracle is considered proof that the person is truly in Heaven. (Martyrs are exempt from the requirement of this first miracle.) Beatification also requires another investigation of the candidate's heroic virtue, and the Church may call "devil's advocates" to the stand, to testify against the candidate's cause. If the results of these investigations are favorable, the Pope beatifies the candidate, who may now be called "Blessed" and receive limited veneration.
6) Canonization is the final step in the process, and it requires evidence of a second miracle (or first, in the case of a martyr), which must have taken place after the beatification.
It's the miracle stuff that I find so fun! I remember watching a network news magazine back in 1998 (I think it was Dateline NBC), which did a segment on the canonization of Edith Stein, aka Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. They focused on the Vatican's miracle investigation, specifically that a little American girl at death's door was healed miraculously through Edith Stein's intercession.
The secular doctors who were called before the Vatican panels to testify about the alleged miracle were interviewed by the network. These doctors (who treated the girl and/or were expert medical witnesses) had no affiliation with the Church, and had no prior knowledge of or interest in the Church's investigative processes. I recall one doctor expressing his surprise and admiration for the thoroughness and seriousness of the panel inquiry. He hadn't expected it to be so objective and scientific, and he was quite impressed and satisfied.
It was one of the only times I've witnessed a major media network report fairly and respectfully about the Catholic Church.
7) Finally, if all the investigations are decided in favor of the candidate (after many years!), the Pope canonizes the candidate, who acquires the title of "Saint". This declaration is considered infallible.
It's important to remember that everyone in Heaven is a saint. Canonization does not "make" someone a saint, but merely confirms the truth of what God has already done for that person. The faithful on earth have assurance that the canonized saint dwells with the Lord in Heaven, and that we may look to him as a Christian role model and hero, and request his intercession at the Throne of God.
The saints are such a gift to the Church!
|JPII, we love you!|