Catholic Saints and sainthood how it works

Posted: June 22, 2009 by datechguy in catholic

In a previous thread a question was asked concerning saints. Namely does God make saints or does man?

The short answer is; Since man has free will we must conclude saints are made by their own actions and devotion with the assistance and inspiration of God. This does seem a good opportunity to explain exactly how Catholic sainthood in particular works.

I invite any more knowledgeable Catholic such as Fr. Tim Finigan to correct me if I get any points of doctrine wrong.

With the exception of specific angels that are recognized as saints. (Such as Michael the Arch Angel) saints are simply the holy souls in heaven. When we refer to the “communion of saints” that includes all souls in heaven and purgatory since they are destined for heaven.

The only difference between a canonized saint such as St. Anthony di Padua (the patron of my parish) and an uncanonized saint is the certain knowledge that the specific person is in heaven. Any relative you have that has made heaven is in fact a saint, the church just doesn’t specifically know it.

Some saints have been passed down via tradition such as St. Dymphna where we have very little if any historical background other than early writings that refer to her veneration. Others like St. Katherine Drexel are well known as she died only 54 years ago.

Born an heiress in Philly in 1858 she rejected wealth, became a nun and founded a religious order dedicated to the betterment of poor blacks and American Indians. By the time of her death in 1955 hundreds of nuns were teaching in dozens of schools throughout the United States.

For a saint to be “Canonized” a “cause” is created and the person subject to canonization is subjected to scrutiny. If a person is a teacher or holds some form holy orders writings would be closely examined. Until recently there was a position called a “devil advocate” who’s primary job was to find fault with the cause.

If the person passes that stage then two miracles from the intercession of said saint must be documented (although the pope can wave the first). The rules for something to be accepted as a miracle are pretty stiff and can be examined for decades.

It is not unknown for decades or centuries to pass for these hurdles to be surmounted. Once they are completed and the process is accepted then a ceremony takes place recognizing the canonized saint. As a rule the feast day of a saint is their date of death since that is when they join God in heaven.

A much more detailed account of the process is available here.

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