The Process of Beatification & Canonization
The process of documenting the life and virtues of a holy man or woman cannot begin until 5 years after death. This
waiting period insures that the person has an enduring reputation for sanctity among the faithful. It can be waived by
the Supreme Pontiff, and has been done on two occasions. Pope John Paul II waived 3 years of the waiting period in the
case of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Pope Benedict XVI waived all five years in the case of his predecessor, Pope
John Paul II.
After the five years have concluded, or earlier if all or some of the period is waived, the Bishop of the diocese
in which the individual died can petition the Holy See to allow the initialization of a Cause for Beatification and
Canonization. If there is no objection by the Roman Dicasteries, in particular the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith, the permission, or nihil obstat (nothing stands in the way), is communicated to the initiating Bishop.
Servant of God
- Once a Cause has begun, the individual is called a Servant of God, e.g. the Servant of God Karol Wojtyła or the
Servant of God Pope John Paul II.
- Diocesan Tribunal: Informative Process
- During this first phase the Postulation established by the diocese, or religious institute, to promote the
Cause must gather testimony about the life and virtues of the Servant of God. Also, the public and private
writings must be collected and examined. This documentary phase of the process can take many years and concludes
with the judgment of a diocesan tribunal, and the ultimate decision of the bishop, that the heroic virtues of
the Servant of God have or have not been demonstrated. The results, along with the bound volumes of documentation,
or Acta (Acts), are communicated to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
- Congregation for the Causes of the Saints: Positio
- The Acta resulting from the documentary or informative phase of the process are committed by the Congregation
to a Relator appointed from among the Congregation's College of Relators, whose task is to superintend the Cause
through the rest of the process. Working with a theological commission established by the Congregation, the Relator
ensures that the Positio summarizing the life and virtues of the Servant of God is properly prepared. When the
Positio is finished, the theological commission votes affirmatively or negatively on the Cause. This recommendation
is then passed to the cardinal, archbishop and bishop members of the Congregation who in turn vote. Their vote
determines whether the Cause lives or dies. If the vote is affirmative, the recommendation of a Decree of Heroic
Virtues is sent to the Holy Father, whose judgment is final
- Supreme Pontiff: Decree of the Heroic Virtues of the Servant of God
- Once the person's Heroic Virtues have been recognized by the Pope, they are called Venerable, e.g. Venerable
Servant of God John Paul II, or Venerable John Paul II.
- Diocese: First Miracle Proposed in Support of the Cause
- The remaining step before beatification is the approval of a miracle, evidence of the intercessory power
of the Venerable Servant of God and thus of his or her union after death with God. Those who propose a
miracle do so in the diocese where it is alledged to have occurred, not in the diocese of the Cause, unless
the same. The diocese of the candidate miracle then conducts its own tribunals, scientific and theological.
- The scientific commission must determine by accepted scientific criteria that there is no natural
explanation for the alleged miracle. While miracles could be of any type, those almost exclusively proposed
for Causes are medical. These must be well-documented, both as regards the disease and the treatment, and
as regard the healing and its persistence.
- While the scientific commission rules that the cure is without natural explanation, the theological
commission must rule whether the cure was a miracle in the strict sense, that is, by its nature can only
be attributed to God. To avoid any question of remission due to unknown natural causation, or even
unrecognized therapeutic causation, theologians prefer cures of diseases judged beyond hope by medicine,
and which occur more or less instantaneously. The disappearance of a malignancy from one moment to another,
or the instantaneous regeneration of diseased, even destroyed, tissue excludes natural processes, all of
which take time. Such cases also exclude the operation of the angelic nature. While the enemy could provoke
a disease by his oppression and simulate a cure by withdrawing his action, the cure could not be instantaneous,
even one day to the next. Much less can he regenerate tissue from nothing. These are, therefore, the preferred
kinds of cases since they unequivocally point to a divine cause.
- The theological commission must also determine whether the miracle resulted through the intercession
of the Servant of God alone. If the family and friends have been praying without cease to the Servant of God
exclusively, then the case is demonstrated. However, if they have been praying to the Servant of God, to the
Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph and others, then the case is clouded, and probably cannot be demonstrated. Thus,
the task of the theological commission is two-fold, judge whether the cure was a miracle, and judge whether
this miracle is due to the intercession of the Servant of God. The decision is forwarded to the Congregation
- Congregation: First Miracle Proposed in Support of the Cause
- As occured at the diocesan level, the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints establishes both scientific
and theological commissions. The affirmative vote of the theological commission is transmitted to the General
Meeting of the cardinal and episcopal members, whose affirmative judgment is forwarded to the Supreme Pontiff.
- It should be noted that in cases of martyrdom the miracle required for beatification can be waived -
martyrdom being understood as a miracle of grace. In this case, the vote of the Congregation would establish
the death of the Servant of God as true martyrdom, resulting in a Decree of Martyrdom by the Holy Father.
- Supreme Pontiff: Decree of a Miracle
- With the Holy Father's approval of a Decree of a Miracle, the Servant of God can be beatified.
- Supreme Pontiff: Beatification
- With the beatification rite, conducted on the authority of the Supreme Pontiff, the Venerable Servant of
God is declared Blessed, e.g. Blessed John Paul II.
- Blesseds may receive public veneration at the local or regional level, usually restricted to those dioceses
or religious institutes closely associated with the person's life. "Public veneration" in this use of the term
doesn't mean that it is done in public; rather, that it is an act done by the clergy, or delegated laity, in
the name of the Church (Mass, Divine Office, images in churches etc.), even if done in private. On the other
hand, "private veneration" means veneration by individuals or groups acting in their own name, even if done
"in public." While the Church restricts the public venration of Blesseds, Catholics are free to privately
- The reason for this distinction and its disciplinary norm is that beatification is not considered an
infallible papal act, and so it is not yet appropriate that the entire Church give liturgical veneration
to the Blessed. Perhaps to reinforce this distinction, Pope Benedict XVI has restored the practice, in use
prior to Pope Paul VI, of having the Prefect of the Congregation conduct the beatification, rather than
the Pope doing it himself. He has made exceptions, one of which is his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
- In the case of Blessed John Paul II, the Holy See in a Decree Concerning the Liturgical Cult of Blessed
John Paul II has determined that public veneration is lawful in the Diocese of Rome and the nation of Poland.
Other nations, dioceses and institutes may petition theCongregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of
the Sacraments for the Indult to render cultus (veneration) to the Blessed. Without an Indult, however, public
veneration is illicit, and even harms the possiblility for Canonization of the Blessed.
- Diocese: Second Miracle Proposed in Support of the Cause
- After beatification the Church looks for a second miracle before proceeding to canonization. The process
is the same as it was for the miracle which made beatification possible. The alleged miracle is studied by
scientific and theological commissions in the diocese in which it is alleged to have occurred.
- Congregation: Second Miracle Proposed in Support of the Cause
- After the diocesan process is concluded the proposed miracle is studied by a scientific and then a theological
commission of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. The vote of this commission is forwarded to the
episcopal members of the Congregation whose affirmative vote is communicated to the Holy Father.
- Supreme Pontiff: Decree of a Miracle
- The consent of the Holy Father to the decision of the Congregation results in a Decree of a Miracle.
Canonization is now possible.
- Supreme Pontiff: Canonization
- By the Rite of Canonization the Supreme Pontiff, by an act which is protected from error by the Holy Spirit,
elevates a person to the universal veneration of the Church. By canonization the Pope does not make the person a
saint. Rather, he declares that the person is with God and is an example of following Christ worthy of imitation
by the faithful. A Mass, Divine Office and other acts of veneration, may now be offered throughout the universal
- If the saint has some universal appeal he may be added to the general calendar of the Church as a Memorial
or Optional Memorial. If the appeal is localized to a region of the world, a particular nation, or a particular
religious institute, the saint may be added to the particular calendars of those nations or institutes, or
celebrated by the clergy and faithful with a devotion to the saint with a votive Mass or