The call to sainthood is a call given to everyone, actually anyone can become a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. This is a universal call to holiness (cf Genesis 17: 1; Matthew 5: 48; Lumen Gentium 40). However, this status is only granted after death and for one to achieve this status he must have lead a heroically virtuous life embracing charity, faith, hope and other virtues. In the Roman Catholic Church one becomes a saint through a process called canonisation which is a formal papal decree that the candidate is holy and in heaven with God. The canonisation process must begin at least five years after a person’s death. This waiting period insures that the person has an enduring reputation for sanctity among the faithful. However, the Roman Pontiff can make exceptions to this rule and this has been done on two occasions already. Pope John Paul II waived three years of the waiting period in the case of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope Benedict XVI waived all five years in the case of Pope John Paul II.
After the five years have concluded or earlier if all or some of the period is waived, the Bishop of the diocese in which the individual died can petition the Holy See to allow the initialisation of a Cause for Beatification and Canonisation. If there is no objection by the Roman Dicasteries, in particular the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith the permission or nihil obstat (nothing stands on the way) is communicated to the initiating Bishop. Hence it is only after receiving this decree from the Holy Father that the process of canonisation may begin.
Step 1: Servant of God.
This is where the process of naming a saint gets put into motion. Once a Cause has begun, the individual is called a Servant of God. During this first phase the Postulation established by the diocese or religious institute to promote the Cause must gather testimony about the life and virtues of the Servant of God. All the public and private writings must be collected and examined. This is the documentary phase. This phase concludes with a judgement from the Diocesan Tribunal and ultimately a decision of the Diocesan Bishop that the heroic virtues of the Servant of God have been demonstrated or not. The results along with the bound volumes of documentation are now send to the Congregation for the causes of Saints. The Congregation now appoints a Relator whose task is to superintend the Cause throughout the process working together with the theological commission established by the Congregation. As part of this process a person called a “devil’s advocate” is also appointed and his role is to raise questions and objections to the candidate’s sainthood to make sure that all aspects of the person’s life is examined The Relator summarises the life and virtues of the Servant of God and the theological commission the votes and their recommendation is then given to the Congregation who also vote. Their vote determines whether the Cause lives or dies. If the vote is affirmative, the recommendation of a decree of heroic virtues is sent to the holy Father. Whose judgement is final.
Step 2: Venerable.
Once the candidate’s heroic virtues have been recognised by the Pope he or she is now referred to as venerable e.g Venerable Servant of God John Paul II. At this stage intercession is an important point in the process. There is need to have a miracle approved in the diocese where it is alleged to have occurred not necessarily in the diocese of the Cause unless it is the same. This miracle has to be proved scientifically and theologically, that there is no natural explanation for the alleged miracle. The miracle could be any of type however those exclusively proposed for Causes are medical. These must be well-documented both as regards the disease and the treatment. It is the role of the theological commission to ascertain whether the healing was a miracle in the strict sense, that is it can only be attributed to God. The theological commission must also determine whether the miracle resulted through the intercession of the Servant of God alone. If the theological and the scientific commission have approved the miracle it is now taken to the Congregation whose affirmative judgement is forwarded to the Holy Father. When the Holy father approves the miracle with a Decree then the Servant of God can now be Beatified or blessed.
Furthermore, it must be noted that in cases of martyrdom the miracle required for beatification is waived because martyrdom is understood as a miracle of grace.
Step 3: Blessed
At this stage the candidate may receive public veneration at the local or regional level only. To make this stage a ceremony must be held usually in the candidate’s home town or home country. At this stage the Church looks for a second miracle. Again at this stage the miracle is studied by scientific and theological commissions in the diocese in which it is alleged to have happened. The theological commission will forward it findings to the Congregation for the Causes of faith whose affirmative vote is communicated to the Holy Father. The consent of the Holy Father to the decision of the Congregation results in a Decree of a Miracle and at this stage canonisation is now possible.
Step 4: Saint
This is the last and final stage referred to as Canonisation. When all the three stages have gone through successfully then the candidate can now be called a saint. By the Rite of canonisation the Supreme Pontiff, by an act which is protected from error by the Holy Spirit elevates a person to the universal veneration of the Church. At this point a Mass, divine Office and other acts of veneration may now be offered throughout the universal Church.