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Random Fun Facts: Becoming a Saint

God shows to men, in a vivid way, His presence and His face in the lives of those companions of ours in the human condition who are more perfectly transformed in the image of Christ. He speaks to us in them and offers us a sign of this kingdom to which we are powerfully attracted, so great a cloud of witnesses is there given and such a witness to the truth of the Gospel. It is not merely by the title of example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; we seek rather that by this devotion to the exercise of fraternal charity the union of the whole Church in the Spirit may be strengthened.  ~  Vatican II  (Lumen Gentium No. 50)

Giotto di Bondone St Francis & St Clare 1279-1300 Aunt Heather Piper
Saint Francis & Saint Clare a Fresco by Giotto di Bondone 1279-1300

With the dual canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, Pope & Saints it got me thinking, ‘How exactly does one become a saint?’, not that I am in the running for that honor, and certainly not a candidate, but merely an interested party.

With my roots strongly planted in the Catholic faith, (I’m no expert on religion nor am I the poster child for a perfect Catholic specimen)  I know some popular qualifications, but never the entire process.  The canonization of these Popes two Sunday’s ago sparked my curiosity.

Over the years, I’ve had others ask me the very same thing.  Ashamed, I did not know the entire answer, I thought it was about time I did.  Through a little bit of reading and reviewing, this is what I’ve found.  Exactly how true it is, I’m not really sure, but some of my sources are legit and some of it sounds familiar, like it has been taught to me before.

Apparently, the process of canonization was established in 1234 by Pope Gregory IX.  Prior to that time, saints were honored upon their deathbeds, usually due to martyrdom.  Over the years, since some were falsely honored with the prestigious title of saint, but did not quite live up to the standards and were only done so through hearsay and legend, a standard process needed to be established.  Way to to Pope Gregory IX!  I couldn’t agree more.

This process has been followed and refined year after year.  It starts with the candidate for saint who dies with “fame of sanctity” or “fame of martyrdom.”, which is not gender specific.  The Bishop of the Diocese initiates an investigation to find one piece of any special favor or miracle granted through the potential saint’s actions.  Basically, did divine intervention happen for all to witness through the prayers and direct actions of this person.

Yes, the Catholic church does a real uncovering of the life and good works accomplished by said candidate.  There needs to be proof in the pudding so to speak.  This also includes any writings and teachings from this potential saint.  They are looking for “purity of doctrine”, to ensure the faith was upheld and not bastardized or disregarded in any way.  This does not include the entire life of the candidate.  Believe it or not, some saints began their roots in the not-so-pure of heart.  Of course we are all human and sinners alike, even saintly figures, but sometimes a life fell more on the impure side.  However, during the saint’s conversion, the church is looking to see if they upheld the teachings and the faith.  It’s true, some canonized saints’ backgrounds were not holy, yet along their journey they answered God and chose a different path to follow, never to return to their unholy beginnings.

All this information that is required and collected, is appropriately and faithfully recorded and placed in a formal document to be submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

The Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, formally known as the Congregation of Rites manages and monitors the entire process.  Thanks to Pope Sixtus V, in 1588, he gave this duty to this organization and it has remained in its jurisdiction since.

Angelico Story of St. Nicholas The Death of the Saint Aunt Heather Piper
The Story of St. Nicholas: The Story of the Saint done in tempera & gold on panel by Fra Angelico 1447-48

However, this is all just preliminary work.  The Congregation needs to accept this candidate as worthy to continue the investigation proceedings.  If the hopeful saint is worthy, now the nature of his or her death is fully uncovered.  If that person died a martyr, then it has to be determined the true intentions of his or her death.  Did they die for the love of Christ and the church?  Was there evidence of a life of self sacrifice and complete dedication and servitude toward God?  Did they live an extraordinary life of walking with Christ?  Did they serve the community gallantly and wholeheartedly with high moral standards, leading by example for the sake of God and not ones own personal gain?

Believe it or not, these actions are scrutinized and picked apart to raise doubts and criticisms.  The Congregation takes this potential saint and places them under the microscope, picking apart their every action.  Then, they find the answers to justify the proposed saint’s intentions, answering all skepticism and apprehension to possibly declare this candidate as Venerable.

Moving onto the next step, Beatification.  Mother Teresa is in this stage currently.  “A martyr may be beatified and declared “Blessed” by virtue of martyrdom itself.” or the candidate needs to have performed or be associated with a miracle.  There is two ways of looking at this, either God, Himself performed the miracle or He used the blessed one to intervene on His behalf.  Big difference and that’s what the Congregation tries to uncover.

Once the candidate is Beatified, yet another miracle needs to be proven to complete the final process.  Sometimes this could take years upon years, hence why the process is so long.  I would think it’s easier to prove actions rather than the true intent of the person at the focus of the investigation.  Actions do speak louder than words, yet intentions are the heart and soul of the matter.  Sometimes the miracle could also takes years to reveal itself.

Miracles could take on many different forms.  It could be something as jaw dropping like Saint Alphonsus Liguori who would levitate when preaching at Foggia; or Saint Francis of Assisi who suffered from the stigmata.  Those are extremes, however they don’t have to be.  Sometimes miracles could be modest and almost over looked like with Saint Edith/Teresa Benedicta.  She interceded for a little girl who almost died from a Tylenol overdose some forty years after Saint Edith’s death.  Again this is why a very detailed investigation takes place with each potential saint, and that’s also why there are so many steps and protocol to follow in this process.

Another question that popped into my head, ‘Can a non-Catholic become a Saint?’  I found this excerpt:

But the fathers of the Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, (paragraph 16) admitted the possibility of extraordinary grace when they noted that “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.” This principle can also be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 847.

My old CCD Teacher once said, there are people who do not attend mass, they may not even really know a lot about religion or God, yet they have an innate grace and Godly presence about them.  They are truly good people and lead by example, even though they don’t know it.  I believe that!  For the opposite can be said.  There are those who attend church regularly, read the bible and so on and so forth, yet are shortsighted by their arrogance or righteousness and holier-than-thou attitude.  Going to church doesn’t make you holy, it’s whats in your heart and your intentions that do.

Receiving the Stigmata Angelico 1429 Aunt Heather Piper
Receiving the Stigmata done in tempera on wood by Fra Angelico 1429

Those declared as Saints seemed to cover all bases, humility and charity and a deep understanding of the faith and a personal friendship with the Lord.

On a side note, I want to debunk a misleading idea perceived about the Catholic church.  We do NOT pray to saints.  That would be worshiping a false god, breaking one of the top three commandments.  Nope, we pray for the saint to intercede on our behalf.  We ask the saints to pray for us, a tour guide if you will, leading us in the right direction and putting in a good word.  Personally, I think the saints have more pull with God Almighty.  It’s no different than asking a friend or a relative to pray for you.  Usually we select a specific saint that focuses on a certain area of interest, i.e. Our Lady of Guadalupe (honored on my birthday) is the patron saint of the Americas / Mexico and Saint Nicholas (Kyle’s confirmation Saint) is the patron saint of children.

Another item for the checklist in the canonization process, is what I call the death test.  When exhuming a body of the potential saint, it is found free of rot and decay.  No composition has taken place like any other normal body.  The corpse is usually still juicy and almost preserved.  Believe it or not the body has a sweet fragrant smell, not one of decaying corpse.  I also read about the liquefaction process, whereas the dried blood liquefies on the feast day.  This was new information to me, but I have heard of the host bleeding during the Eucharist prayer during mass.

I think this process is needed and, yes I do believe there are those that should be honored on a high esteem of sainthood.  They earned that title for their dedication to God on a different level then I could ever fathom.




Saunders, Rev. William. “The Process of Becoming a Saint.” Arlington Catholic Herald.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

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