Canonization Process: Key Terms and Definitions
There are essentially three phases associated with the canonization process
according to the canon of the Roman Catholic Church.
A candidate for canonization must be deceased for at least five years before a formal cause for canonization can be opened by the Church,
unless the Pope grants an exemption to this waiting period as Pope Benedict the XVI recently did for Pope John Paul II.
The phases associated with the canonization process are:
Each phase has distinctive characteristics and activity associated with it. Each phase builds upon another. Terminology and characterizations matter in regard to the canonization process. Misrepresentations can lead to significant setbacks for an otherwise legitimate devotional effort that is motivated by the Holy Spirit.
“Faith and work make a triumphant combination.”
Servant of God Father Edward Joseph Flanagan, 1886-1948
- Pre-Diocesan Phase
- Diocesan Phase
- Roman Phase
- Key Definitions
This phase marks the period of time in which a spontaneous or groundswell of devotion emerges among the laity toward someone whom they consider holy and whom they hold up for inspiration and enjoin with intercessory prayers. The laity are known as actors in this process. While the clergy may guide and participate in this devotion, it cannot in anyway be directed by the Church.
The Father Flanagan League Society of Devotion is a formal and organized embodiment of actors who facilitate the flow of information and communication among actors throughout the world. The League also helps to document potential evidence of a groundswell of devotion that will eventually be used for consideration of opening a formal cause for canonization by the Church.
Neither the actors, nor a groundswell of devotion can be called a cause or movement. Only at the next phase can the devotional effort be officially characterized as such. See the Prayer and Devotion page to learn more about devotion and examine the evidence of the groundswell of devotion for Father Flanagan.
This phase begins when the actors retain a Postulator who on behalf of the actors will approach the bishop as a Petitioner to consider evidence in opening a cause.
If the bishop accepts the petition he will seek permission of the Holy See to form a tribunal to hear from witnesses and examine the concrete facts on the candidate’s exercise of Christian virtues considered heroic. This tribunal has two parts, a Episcopal Commission and Historical Commission.
The bishop will consult with bishops on a regional or national level to gain their opinions on the merit and timeliness of introducing a cause. If the evidence demonstrates merit the candidate will be declared a Servant of God by the bishop and the cause is opened.
All materials reviewed by the tribunal are crated and affixed with the bishop’s seal and sent to the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints at the Vatican to begin the Roman Phase.
This phase is a trial of sorts where the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints impanels clergy and other subject matter experts to review the files submitted by the bishop. This review is exhaustive and will probe even deeper into the life and potential miracles that can be attributed to the Servant of God. The postulator serves as the actors’ prosecutor for the cause of beautification and eventual canonization, while the Dicastery is represented by an Advocate, who may argue against the cause in defense of the virtue and holiness of the Church.
After initial examination of the Servant of God it can be recommended that the Servant of God is worthy of greater praise within the Roman Catholic Church the title of Venerable may be attributed to the Servant of God. This honor is given to a Servant of God whose heroic virtue has been declared by the pope.
This stage of the of the process occurs at the conclusion of the rigorous investigation into the person’s life and writings to determine whether he or she demonstrates a heroic level of virtue or suffered martyrdom. A miracle attributed to the person’s intercession must be proved.
Once the two decrees are promulgated (heroic virtue and the miracle), the pope decides on beatification, which is a concession of limited public veneration usually only in the diocese, region in which the Servant of God lived.
The candidate receives the titled of Blessed with beatification.
Another miracle that is attributed to the intercession of the Blessed is required and it must occur after beatification. The methods of affirming the second miracle are the same as for the first. Canonization is understood as the concession and requirement of public veneration in the Universal Church. Once canonized, the blessed acquires the title of Saint.
For more information on the canonization process use these link or view the pdf:
Formal Canonization Process Steps
The final step in declaring a person a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. The designation of “Saint” is official recognition by the Church that God has declared the person holy and the person may be venerated in the universal Church.
The Church definitively recognizes God’s declaration that the Servant of God is a saint through the manifestation of at least two miracles. One is needed at Beatification and a second at Canonization.
After the person has been declared a Servant of God in the Diocesan Phase and the cause has moved to the Roman Phase, if the examination of the materials demonstrates the heroic virtue of the person and a miracle is validated, the title of Blessed is bestowed. In the mid 1930’s, when Father Flanagan chose saints for the stained glass windows in the new Catholic Chapel at Boys Town, he selected two who were designated “Blessed” at that time: Herman Joseph of Steinfeldt (1150-1241), not canonized until 1958, and Martin de Porres (1579-1639) who was eventually canonized on May 6, 1962.
A canon lawyer hired by the actors to petition the Bishop to accept the candidate (which initiates the Diocesan Phase of the process) and to present and facilitate the cause before the Dicastery for Causes of Saints in the Roman Phase of the canonization process.
Reverence shown to a holy person. This is not adoration, which is due to God alone, but recognition that the person is close to God and can inspire us to desire more intimate union with God. When a Servant of God is declared “Venerable,” public prayer is allowed in the diocese where the cause originated.