Although saints and versions of sainthoods exist in many religions, the ideas most people hold about saints, and in particular Patron Saints, are those of the Roman Catholic church. The Roman Catholic Church has over 10,000 saints.
The Pope Takes over Choosing and Naming Saints
Saints were once chosen by the democratic method of public acclaim, however, the people being chosen by this method were often elevated by legend and in some cases there are doubts they even existed. To tackle this problem the Vatican, and the Pope, took over choosing and naming Saints in the 10th Century. They did this via a process called canonization. This process was further amended in 1983 by Pope John Paul II and now follows three main stages. To oversimplify the process it is a case, as George Orwell once said, of “saints should always be judged guilty until they are proven innocent”.
Stage 1 Veneration
The first stage begins after the death of the candidate. The candidate will be a Catholic who was regarded as being particularly holy in life. A local Bishop will first examine their life, works and holy virtues for evidence of saintliness. If he feels them a likely candidate the findings will then be passed to a panel of theologians at the Vatican and then to a group of Cardinals called the Congregation for the Cause of Saints. After these three levels of scrutiny they will then finally be named “venerable” by the Pope, meaning that they are heroic in nature and have reached the first level of being sacred.
Stage 2 Beatification
The second stage is called “beatification” and is a stage necessary for non-martyrs only. A martyr in this sense of the word is someone who has been murdered or put to death in the name of their Christian faith. For this stage evidence is needed of one miracle which has happened after the candidate’s death and as a result of a specific request to them. This is seen as proof that they can intercede for those on earth and act as their voice in heaven. “From our lips to God’s ear” so to speak.
The candidate will then be proclaimed as “beatified” and so can be venerated by a region or group for whom the candidate’s life holds special significance (much like a Patron Saint).
Stage 3 A Final Miracle
The third and final stage is for both martyrs and non-martyrs alike. For this stage one more miracle is required. The candidate is then canonized and officially named as a saint by the Pope.
A New Saint
Once a person becomes a saint their name is added to the catalogue of saints, they are invoked in public prayers, churches can be dedicated to their memory, Mass can be offered in their honour, feast days celebrate their memory, images of them may have a halo and their remains become holy relics which are publicly honoured.
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