By T. V. Antony Raj
In the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Oriental Orthodoxy, or Anglican Church, Canonization is the act by which a person who has died is declared a saint. After that, their name is included in the canon – a list of recognized saints.
During the first millennium of the Church’s life, the first people honoured as saints were the martyrs whose deaths were considered to affirm the truth of their faith in Christ. Originally, only the names of martyrs along with that of the Virgin Mary appeared in the Roman Rite’s honoured as saints were the martyrs whose deaths were considered to affirm the truth of their faith in Christ. Originally, only the names of martyrs along with that of the Virgin Mary appeared in the Roman Rite’s Canon of the Mass and since 1962, that of Saint Joseph was included.
Next, in the absence of a centralized canonization process, the local Church recognized holy men and women who demonstrated great virtue during their lifetime without any formal process or investigations into their personal life or any miracles attributed to their intercession.
Later on, different processes and procedures for canonization were developed such as those used today in Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. In both Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches, the act of canonization is governed by the Holy See and a person is declared a saint at the conclusion of a long process that requires substantial proof of their worthiness to be recognized as a saint by their exemplary and holy way of living on this earth.
Devil’s advocate and God’s advocate
In 1587, during the reign of Pope Sixtus V, the office of the Devil’s advocate (Latin: Advocatus Diaboli) also known as the Promoter of Faith, was established. This canon lawyer appointed by the Church authorities argued against the canonization of a candidate by taking a skeptical view of the candidate’s character, uncovering any character flaws or misrepresentation of evidence such as fraudulent miracles attributed to the candidate, etc.
The Devil’s advocate opposed God’s advocate (Latin: Advocatus Dei) also known as the Promoter of the Cause, whose task was to make the argument in favour of canonization.favour of canonization.favour of canonization.favour of canonization.
Pope Paul VI beatified a total of 38 individuals during his pontificate and canonized 84 saints in 21 causes.
The work of simplification of canonization initiated by Pope Paul VI continued with Pope John Paul II’s apostolic constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister of January 25, 1983, and the implementation of the norms issued by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on February 7, 1983, at the diocesan level.
Contrary to popular belief, the reforms did not eliminate the office of the Promoter of the Faith popularly known as the Devil’s advocate, whose duty was to question the material presented in favour of canonization. John Paul II reduced the number of miracles required for sainthood from three to two, one for the first stage — beatification — and one more for canonization. The reforms were intended to make the process less adversarial.
In November 2012 Pope Benedict XVI appointed Monsignor Carmello Pellegrino to the office of Promoter of the Faith.
This reform by Pope John Paul II changed the canonization process considerably, helping John Paul II to usher in an unprecedented number of elevations: nearly 500 individuals were canonized and over 1,300 were beatified during his tenure as Pope as compared to only 98 canonizations by all his 20th-century predecessors.
In cases of controversy, the Vatican may still seek to informally solicit the testimony of critics of a candidate for canonization.
Candidates go through the following steps on their way to being declared saints.
“Servant of God“: The process leading to canonization begins at the diocesan level. Responding to a petition by members of the faithful, a bishop with jurisdiction, usually the bishop of the place where the candidate died or is buried, gives permission to open an investigation into the virtues of the individual. This investigation usually opens no sooner than five years after the death of the person being investigated.
“Venerable/Heroic in Virtue“: After gathering sufficient information, the congregation will recommend to the pope to proclaim that the Servant of God exhibited the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance, to a heroic degree. From this point, the one said to be “heroic in virtue” is referred to by the title “Venerable”.
A Venerable has as yet no feast day and no churches may be built in his or her honour. Prayer cards and other materials may be printed to encourage the faithful to pray for a miracle wrought by the venerable’s intercession as a sign of God’s will that the person can be canonized.
“Blessed“: Beatification is a statement by the church that it is “worthy of belief” that the person is in heaven, having come to salvation. This step depends on whether the Venerable is a “martyr” or a “confessor”.
For a martyr, the Pope has only to make a declaration or a certification that the venerable met death voluntarily as a witness for the faith and/or in an act of heroic charity for others.
All non-martyrs are “confessors” as they “confessed” or bore witness to their faith by the manner they lived their lives. To be named “Blessed” (abbreviated “Bl.”) or, in Latin, Beatus or Beata a miracle has to tale place as a sign that God performed the miracle in response to the venerable’s intercession. Today, these miracles are mostly miraculous cures, as these are the easiest to establish based on the Catholic Church’s requirements for a “miracle”.
A feast day will be designated, but its observance is normally restricted to the Blessed’s home diocese, to certain locations associated with the blessed and/or to the churches or houses of the blessed’s religious order, if they belonged to one. Parishes may not normally be named in honour of a Blessed.
“Saint“: Canonization is a statement by the church that the person enjoys the Beatific Vision. To be canonized a saint, an additional miracle after granting beatification must have been performed through the blessed’s intercession.
The saint (contracted “St” or “S.”) is assigned a feast day which may be celebrated anywhere within the Catholic Church, although it may or may not appear on the general calendar or local calendars as an obligatory feast. Parish churches may be built in the saint’s honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.honour, and the faithful may freely and without restriction celebrate and honour the saint.
- Canonization (en.wikipedia.org)
- Devil’s advocate (en.wikipedia.org)
- Pope Paul VI (en.wikipedia.org)