The Process of Canonization


The canonization process has existed in Catholic religion for centuries. This process is steeped with history, as well as tradition, and rewards people for their unwavering commitment and faith to Catholicism. The process is long, arduous, expensive, and eventually requires authorization from the highest of Catholic officials. This paper will review the history, requirements, and financial expenses involved in the process of canonization into sainthood.

History Saints are human, like us, but they personify divine power and have privileged contact with the supernatural. Saints perform miracles, receive visions, and are in love with the spirit. They truly are “the chosen few” (Dunn-Mascetti, 1994). As Catholics we refer to saints as people who are extremely holy; living their lives as perfect Christians, thus allowing them the right to serve God, on a personal level, in heaven (Schreck, 2004).

Canonization is the process in which the pope declares a deceased constituent of the faithful is projected as a model and intercessor to the Christian principles and recognized as a saint due to living their life in a heroic manner or becoming a martyr because of their continued faith to God (Molinari & O’Donnell, 2000).

This persons name is then inducted into the canon of saints, citing those who are to be given veneration universally into the church. Canonization is an earthly decision, meaning it honors them as a saint on earth, not their entry into heaven (Bunson, M. , Bunson S. & Bunson, M. , 1998). According to Molinari & O’Donnell (2000), canonization originated during the early formulation of the Christian doctrines of worship, invocation, and intercession. The faithful believed that martyrs were true Christians and saints because they made the supreme sacrifice, by giving their lives, for God, the Gospel, and the good of the church. Their suffering earned them eternal life. Toward the end of the great Roman persecutions, the veneration of martyrs was extended to confessors, those who defended and suffered for their faith, but did not die doing so.

Those confessors who had been excellent Christians, in austerity and penance, were now eligible to be rewarded with sainthood (Molinari & O’Donnell, 2000). “The first formal canonization came in year 993, when Pope John XV raised Ulric of Augsburg to the altars during a synod at the Lateran Basilica”. As you will see, the qualifications for canonization in the later years became more stringent after previous inductees were found to be of imperfect sanctity (Bunson et al, 1998, p. 17). Requirements The process for canonization is divided into two phases; diocesan and Roman, or apostolic.

When a person dies, and it is determined they lived a perfect and holy Christian life, a formal process for canonization is initiated. In the diocesan phase, the investigation is guided by the procedural law of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, by the diocesan bishop who formally conducts the process where the candidate died. A cause defined as “recent” is one where the person’s eligibility for sainthood can be corroborated through the disposition of eye-witnesses, and can only begin after a five years following the death of the candidate.

A cause defined as “ancient” is where the evidence of virtues or martyrdom can be gathered only from written sources, subsequently, there is no time limit for this cause (Molinari & O’Donnell, 2000). The postulator, a person approved by the bishop and responsible for the presentation of evidence for authenticity, also agrees to bear the moral and financial expense of the cause. Their primary job is to supervise the investigation and to determine the candidate’s fitness for canonization, by researching their life, work, and holiness.

After the diocesan phase is complete, the postulator will reside in Rome where he will develop the formal argument for canonization with the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, which is comprised of cardinals and bishops. During this time, the postulator will create a Positio, a book containing an account of the candidate’s life and virtue (Molinari & O’Donnell, 2000). In the diocesan phase, information, both positive and negative, on the candidate’s life, work, and holiness are collected and documented to establish the validity for the petition to canonize.

In order for the nominee to advance to the next step, their published writings will be submitted for approval to two theological censors, selected by the bishop, and will be graded on doctrine and moral teachings. Other writings from the candidate will then presented to a historical commission, also selected by the bishop, which will conclude this particular phase. Evidence must clearly show that the candidate lived a life of faith, hope and charity beyond that of a common Christian (Molinari & O’Donnell, 2000). The Roman, or postolic, phase commences when the acts of the diocesan process have been turned over to the Congregation for the causes of Saints, and they have declared the cause as “valid”. At this point a “relator”, an official of the Congregation, will be appointed and will assist in the creation of the Positio. Another official of the Congregation, known as the “promoter of faith”, will be accountable for the assessment of the cause by historical and theological consultants to whom the Positio may be submitted for their endorsement.

At last, all of this information is submitted to the Congregation for the causes of Saints, who will then forward it to the pope upon their endorsement. If the pope determines the candidate as suitable for canonization, a Bull of Canonization is issued, infallibly affirming the candidate’s perfection of the saint’s life and distinguishing their role as a divine intercessor; thus becoming a saint (Molinari & O’Donnell, 2000).

Even through the long, demanding process involving in-depth research, historical study, and theological manifestation, the decision to canonize lies solely with the pope, and requires a confirmation from God in the way of two miracles, which is scrutinized heavily by the Congregation. Miracles are a product of divine intervention and reinforce the candidate’s holiness as a servant of God. Martyrs are exempt from this miracle requirement because the act of sacrificing one’s life is viewed as the perfection of charity; they need not prove their worthiness in miracles (Molinari & O’Donnell, 2000).

Financial Expense The tremendously long hours of interviews, research, travel, and other intangibles make the canonization process an exhaustive event. The thoroughness of the process comes at a steep price. After sainthood is declared, the expenses include paintings representing the new saint which is given to the pope, cardinals, and other officials of the Congregation for the causes of Saints. Other expenses include decorations of the Basilica, Pontifical Mass, Sacred Vestments, and incidental expenses that make for a sizeable bill to the postulator of the cause.

For example the final expenses for the canonization by Saint Leo XIII of Saint Anthony Maria Zaccaria and Saint Peter Fourier came to the total of 221,849. 10 Italian lira. When we convert that to the U. S. dollar, the total becomes $42,816. 87 (Beccari, 1907). Conclusion Canonization has long been a tradition in Catholicism that goes all the way back to year 993. The process is a thorough procedure that involves intensive investigation of a nominee and standard they maintained in their Christian and personal life. The requirements are tightly scrutinized, and for good reason, due to the nature of the appointment to saint.

A saint is in personal contact with God in heaven; we worship and pray to them. We rely, trust, and place our faith in the pope and Congregation to make the right decision, to allow only the most deserving and most holy to be rewarded with the highest honor the church can bestow upon a human being. The cost is great, but the return on the investment is heavenly.