So how do you become a saint, then?

Saint Maria(Imagine the title in the voice of Monty Python’s constitutional peasants)

If you’re not a Catholic or a religion nerd/tragic, you may not be aware that there’s a very specific qualification to be canonized by the church (in other words, to become a saint). It’s quite hilariously formalised and complicated, as only Roman Catholic doctrine can be, and consists of four steps.

First, once they’ve been dead for a while, a bishop may begin an investigation into the person’s life to make sure that they were good (for Catholic values of good), and that no heretical cult is currently worshipping them (as if that affected their worthiness). During this process, the candidate is known as “Servant of God”, and their body will be exhumed so that relics can be taken. Seriously. It’s not all beer and skittles being a saint.

GravestonesThe next hurdle is to become Venerable. This means the investigation has concluded that the candidate was “heroic in virtue”, and this has been approved by the Pope. At this point, the church still refuses to guess whether the candidate is even in heaven, and they don’t have a special feast day, but you’re allowed to pray to them. (Prior to this, such an act would presumably make you part of a heretical cult.)

Once you’re Venerable, the next step is beatification. This is when the church agrees that you’re probably in heaven, and it’s done by either recognition of your martyrdom, or proof of a miracle after someone prayed to you. Once you’re over this hurdle, you’re known as Blessed, and you get a feast day, but only to be observed in particular ways by people with a special connection to you.

Finally, to be canonized, and to be known as a saint, at least two miracles must have been performed in your name after your death. For this, you get a full feast day, churches may be dedicated to you, and all Catholics are allowed to venerate you (but not worship) without any restrictions, and without being accused of membership of a heretical cult.

I hope that’s clear.

I mention this partly for information, because it comes up every so often and the actual mechanism is so utterly bizarre, and partly because I’m intending to write some more around this topic, and I want to be sure that we’ve covered the basics.

Images courtesy of mzacha and BeverlyLR, used with permission

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

4 responses to “So how do you become a saint, then?”

  1. Daz says :

    and that no heretical cult is currently worshipping them

    I’ve just come up with this really cunning plan for when Ratzinger dies…

  2. Barbara Backer-Gray says :

    Well, I’m glad that’s cleared up!

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