The Process of Canonisation

Canonisation is the act by which the Holy Father declares in a definitive and solemn way that a Catholic Christian is actually in the glory of heaven, intercedes for us before the Lord and is to be publicly venerated by the whole Church.

Canonisation is a double statement – about the life of the person and also about the faith of the people who are alive at this moment. They are as much a part of the canonisation as the person who is being recognised.

When declaring a saint the Church looks at:

  1. The life of a person. It looks at what the person did, how she reacted to the events of life, what people wrote and said about her, what she wrote or said herself. For a martyr the Church looks at the death of a person and considers the reason for the death and the circumstances surrounding the death.
  2. The question of continuing devotion. When the person died did the people keep the memory alive? Is the person still alive in the faith of the people? Is her life continuing in the people?

There are two major steps in the process of canonisation, namely, beatification and canonisation.

Beatification

Beatification is both a process and a stage on the way to canonisation. The ceremony of beatification is the public declaration that a person has lived a heroically holy life, is with God, has the power of intercession with God for us and is a model for the faithful.

Beatification recognises that the person is a saint for a particular region, for a particular group of people or for a religious congregation but not for the whole Church or the world. It permits this person to be honoured by special liturgies and prayers in the local place.

How Does a Person get Beatified?

All baptised persons are called to holiness and many persons are holy. Beatification and canonisation give a public recognition that the person is worthy of veneration because the holiness of life has been proved.

The beatification process begins in the diocese where the person died or where a miracle is claimed to have occurred. Beatification is a pre-requisite for canonisation.

There are two phases:

The Diocesan Phase

In the diocesan phase the writings and stories of the person are collected and examined. Further evidence is also rigorously collected to establish the heroicity of virtue. In addition there is an examination of cures that could be declared miracles. One cure is chosen for study in the diocese where it occurred.

The Roman Phase

All the information collected in the diocese is sent to Rome where a panel of medical specialists give an opinion as to whether the cure could be explained by scientific means. Then theologians and cardinals study whether the cure can be attributed to the intercession of the person. Heroicity of virtue also needs to be established. If these outcomes are positive the person is decreed to be “Venerable”. Following these two decrees, recommendations are made to the Holy Father who then decides if the person can be beatified. If beatification is succesful the next step in the process is canonisation.

Canonisation

The recognition of a miracle verifies that the person is with God and has intercessory power with Him. The Blessed person does not grant the favour herself but intercedes with God on behalf of those who ask the favour.

At present, for canonisation proof is required that another miracle has occurred since beatification (previously two miracles after beatification were required). The proof of such a miracle must be rigorously studied, as for beatification, in the diocese where it happened. The documentation is presented to Rome, where the Cause is reopened.

When all evidence is accepted by both the medical experts and the theologians, the Holy Father issues the decree for canonisation and the ceremony, generally held in Rome, can proceed. The title of “Saint” is granted.

Canonisation means that the saint will now be recognised world-wide and venerated as a saint for the universal Church. The feast-day is listed in the universal Church calendar and the liturgy and prayers may be universally used.

Miracles

The intercessory power of the person being studied is usually established through the proof of a miracle. The subject of a miracle is usually the cure of an organic illness so that there can be scientific proof of the fact.

A second miracle is presently required as verification that this person is worthy of universal cult. For a cure to be declared a miracle there are two aspects to be examined – the theological and the medical.

Theological

Did the cure take place and did it happen in the context of prayer to God through the intercession of the holy person? It is God who does the curing.

Medical

Was the cure beyond normal medical and scientific explanation? This proof is by documentary and anecdotal evidence. Six elements need to be examined:

  1. Did the person really have the illness?
  2. Was there a valid diagnosis?
  3. Is there proof, that at another point in time, the illness was gone?
  4. Is there proof that the cure was not brought about by medical or surgical means?
  5. Is there proof that it was outside the normal curative process?
  6. Is there proof that the cure was complete? Is the cure permanent?

Before a cure can be examined, for most illnesses, 5 years must elapse from the time of cure for an adult and 10 years for a child.