How Does Someone Become A Saint In The Roman Catholic Church?

Beatification and canonization are some of the highest honors a Catholic Christian can attain while on earth.

Roman Catholic Saints

In Catholicism, a saint is a person who, during life, displayed god-like qualities and high degrees of holiness. The church recognizes these exceptional people by declaring them saints after death which is achieved through a canonization process. Their lifetime achievements are used as an inspiration to congregations and a reminder of the fundamental Christian belief in living a life like the belief in Jesus. Many saints are considered patron saints which mean they are dedicated to a particular issue. These issues may involve professions, natural disasters, locations, illnesses, or customs. Followers of this religion seek out these specific saints and pray to them, asking that they carry a message to God.

History Of Sainthood

The first saints of Catholicism were considered martyrs of the faith due to their execution by Romans. This occurred a few hundred years after the birth of Jesus. By the 4th century, the religion had grown, and practitioners began to recognize people who had not died for the faith, but who had carried out a holy-like life. Local towns honored these grave sites like those of the martyrs. Not canonized by the church, these saints are considered locally canonized and venerating their lives must be approved by the local bishop. By the 6th and 7th centuries, the number of people recognized for living a saintly life was nearly uncountable. Pope Alexander III criticized this criteria-less practice and around 1200 AD declared that only the Pope could determine who would become a saint. By the 17th century, the Vatican had specified standards for sainthood.

Standards For Sainthood

Today, naming a saint requires that several procedures are carried out. First, candidates must be proven to be a servant of God. A bishop within the locality where the candidate passed away or was laid to rest must permit an open investigation into the virtues of their life, typically five years after their death. An organized group is assigned to the case and researches any speeches or writing done by the candidate. The group writes a biographical account of their life and interviews personal acquaintances. The local bishop then presents all of this information to the Roman Curia, an administrative department of the church, which then assigns it to a member of the department who then further investigates the candidate. This investigation includes exhuming and examining the body.

Second, the Pope declares that the candidate has heroic virtue, based on the investigation and on the recommendation. This is to say that the person lived a life of faith, prudence, justice, and charity. After the Pope’s declaration, the person is referred to as “Venerable”. At this stage, followers may pray to the venerable for a miracle.

Third, the church makes a beatification statement which claims the deceased has been blessed with entry into heaven. If the candidate was a martyr, the Pope simply makes a statement. If, however, the candidate is a non-martyr, a miracle must take place as a result of prayers to the venerable. Once it has been proven that the miracle was caused by God, the candidate is referred to as “Blessed”.

An additional miracle must occur before the Blessed can become a saint. If something happens as a result of prayer to the candidate and the occurrence cannot be explained by medical or physical science, it is considered a prayer.


Once the candidate has achieved the previously identified standards, canonization can happen. The Church issues a statement that the person is blessed with “beatific vision”, the ability to communicate directly with God. Beatific vision also means that the person has achieved perfect salvation. After this statement, the church designates a day to celebrate the now Saint. This day is permitted to be celebrated anywhere. Followers of the Saint are also permitted by the Vatican to build a church or other memorial in their honor.

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