What is canonisation?
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:
- 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.\
- 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?
The process of canonisation
There are several steps in the process for canonisation.
Step 1: Local investigation – Servant of God
When the subject arises that a person should be considered for Sainthood, a Bishop is placed in charge of the initial investigation of the person’s life. If it is determined that the candidate is deemed worthy of further consideration, the Vatican grants a “Nihil Obstat.” This is a Latin phrase that means “nothing hinders.” Henceforth, the candidate is called a “Servant of God.”
Step 2: Documents and testimonies presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints – Venerable
The Church Official, a Postulator, who coordinates the process and serves as an advocate, must prove that the candidate lived heroic virtues. This is achieved through the collection of documents and testimonies that are collected and presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.
When a candidate is approved, he/she earns the title of”Venerable.”
Step 3: First miracle required – Beatification
The next step toward sainthood is beatification, which allows a person to be honored by a particular group or region. In order to beatify a candidate, it must be shown that the person is responsible for a posthumous miracle. Martyrs — those who died for their religious cause — can be beatified without evidence of a miracle.
There are two phases:
- one in the diocese where the person died, and
- one in Rome.
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 successful the next step in the process is canonisation.
Step 4: Second miracle – Canonisation or Sainthood
There must be proof of a second posthumous miracle.
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.
The process of canonisation (MaryMacKillop.org.au)
Four steps to sainthood (Catholic Doors)