How Does Someone Become a Saint? A 5-Step Process

With the recent news of Pope Francis’ decision to canonize both Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, many people have asked the question: How does someone become a saint?

How does someone become a saint?

To answer the question directly, the Catholic Church believes thatanyone can become a saint—that is someone who makes it to heaven. Whether you are a priest, a married women, a single man, a religious sister, etc., the Catholic Church calls all men and women, whatever their state in life, to seek holiness and sainthood. This idea has been given more attention recently and maybe most significantly during Vatican II and the released of the document Lumen Gentiumthat outlined what the Catholic Church calls the Universal Call to Holiness.

Why does the Catholic Church choose one person over another to be a saint?

Sometimes we can casually say that the Church is making him or her a saint. But, technically, the Church does not make saints; it recognizes someone who is in heaven. In addition to this, the Church is looking for folks whose lives are worth imitating and to such a degree that they should be held up as an example to the Church. Knowing these criteria can help people understanding the process for how the Catholic Church recognizes saints.

[Pope Francis released his first encyclical! Check out this summary with 48 of our favorite quotes.]

What is the process of being recognized as a saint in the Catholic Church?

This is probably the question most people are really asking when they are asking: How does someone become a saint? Just this week it was announced that Pope John Paul II would be canonized a saint (along with John XXIII). But, similar news about John Paul II becoming a saint was released about two months ago. Why was this news announced twice? There were two announcements (maybe more) because people who become canonized saints go through several processes to become a saint and announcements about the potential saint are released after each one.

5 Steps to Sainthood

First, the person’s local bishop investigates their life by gathering information from witnesses of their life and any writings they may have written. If the bishop finds them to be worthy of being a saint, then he submits the information that he gathered to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Second, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints can choose reject the application or accept it and begin their own investigation of the person’s life.

Third, if the Congregation for the Causes of Saints approves of the candidate, they can choose to declare that the person lived a life heroically virtuous life. This isn’t a declaration that the person is in heaven, but that they pursued holiness while here on earth.

Fourth, to be recognized as someone in heaven requires that a miracle has taken place through the intercession of that person. The miracle is usually a healing. The healing has to be instantaneous, permanent, and complete while also being scientifically unexplainable. Miracles have to be first verified as scientifically unexplainable by a group of independent doctors, then the person is approved by a panel of theologians, and then the final approval lies with the pope. If this is the case, a person is declared a blessed.

Fifth, a second miracle is needed in order to declare someone a saint. The confirmation of a second miracle goes through the same scrutiny as the first.

Notes on the recent declarations of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II:

1. It was reported twice in the last couple of months that Pope John Paul II would be canonized because two months ago the group of doctors approved of the second miracle. This is seen as the hardest step in the process, so when it is accomplished it looks like full steam ahead to sainthood. This past week, the panel of theologians and Pope Francis approved as well which brought in the final steps and thus a renewed excitement about an upcoming canonization.

2. It should be noted that Pope Francis sidestepped some of this process by recognizing Pope John XXIII as a saint without a second miracle.

3. No date has been officially set for their canonizations although it has been said that it will happen in 2013.

How does someone become a blessed, venerable, or servant of God? What is the difference between a blessed, venerable, servant of God and a saint?

Servant of God – When someone is officially considered for sainthood by Congregation for the Causes of Saints (Step 2 above), then they can be called a Servant of God.

Venerable – When someone is declared that a person lived a life heroically virtuous life (Step 3 above). As mentioned earlier, no declaration is made regarding whether or not they are in heaven.

Blessed – A blessed is recognized as someone in heaven by the proof of one miracle through their intercession.

Besides the number of miracles attributed to them, the difference between is a blessed and a saintis that the scope of devotion for a blessed is narrower – usually limited to a specific group of people or a particular region of the world while a saint is held up for devotion for the universal Church.

Question: Any more questions about saints or the canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII?