Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Primary: Canonization

Alternate(s): canonize canonizing

A "canonization" is the official declaration of the Catholic Church that a person is a saint in heaven.

Only the Pope has the authority to authorize a canonization, and the declaration is a formal statement of the Church's judgment, generally recognized as infallible. A canonization comes only after an exhaustive investigative process, which is handled by the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

The process leading up to a canonization-- known as a "cause"-- includes an investigation into the candidate's virtues, writing, public statements, and reputation. The Vatican first authorizes a preliminary investigation in the diocese where the candidate died. If the results of that investigation are favorable, the case if forwarded to Rome, where a panel of theologians is formed to consider the cause. After studying the candidate's life, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints may prepare, for the Pope's approval, a decree that the candidate lived a life of "heroic virtue." With the issuance of that decree, the candidate if formally known by the title of "Venerable," and the approval of a miracle attributed to his beatification is then the only further requirement for his beatification. [See the separate Glossary entry for "beatification."]

After beatification, only the approval of a new miracle-- taking place subsequent to the beatification ceremony-- is required to pave the way for final canonization.

With the canonization of a new saint, that person is officially listed in the catalogue of saints, or Martyrology. He may then be venerated in public, churches may be dedicated in his name, a feast day will be assigned, and veneration of his relics will be formally approved.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (828) teaches: "My canonizing some of the faithful, i.e. by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God's grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors.