This question has two parts. Part one is the official canonization process the Church uses to declare a person a saint. Part two is how one is to live their life to become a saint.
Part One – Canonization
The official process for becoming a Saint is called “Canonization”, but before 1234 there was no formal process for being declared a saint. Martyrs and those deemed as holy were declared saints by the Church at the time of their deaths. Before the legalization of Christianity in 313 tombs of martyrs were marked and venerated. Anniversaries of their deaths were remembered and after legalization churches and shrines resurrected over the tombs.
As time progressed the Church formalized and added some scrutiny to the process. In 1234, Pope Gregory IX established procedures to investigated the candidate’s life along with any claimed miracles. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V gave the responsibility to oversee the process to the Congregation of Rites which was later named the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. Pope Urban VIII revised the canonization process again in 1634 which many Popes have done since to continually improve upon the process.
Today when a person dies who has “fame of sanctity” or “fame of martyrdom,” the local Bishop usually initiates an investigation. A key element in the process is whether any miracle has occurred through the candidate’s intercession. In addition the Church will investigate the candidate’s writings to see if they had “purity of doctrine,” and to ensure nothing heretical is present. All the information is gathered and a transumptum is created and submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. A transumptum is considered to be a faithful copy which is authenticated and sealed.
The cause then has to be accepted by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints and then further investigation is conducted. For martyrs it’s determined whether the candidate died for the faith and truly offered their life in a sacrifice of love for Christ and the Church. Candidate’s submitted for their sanctity are investigated for their motivation and charity towards their neighbor. Did they practice the virtues in an exemplary manner and with heroism? During the investigation a “general promoter of the faith,” or devil’s advocate is appointed. It is their job to raises objections and doubts which must be resolved. Once a candidate is declared to have lived life with heroic virtue, they may be declared Venerable.
Beatification is next. A martyr may be beatified and declared “Blessed” by virtue of their martyrdom. Otherwise, the candidate must be credited with a miracle. In the case of John Paul II a miracle was required since he was not martyred for the faith. In verifying the miracle, the Church looks at whether God truly performed a miracle and whether the miracle was in response to the intercession of the candidate. Once the miracle is confirmed the candidate may be beatified and will be given the title of “Blessed” and venerated but with restriction to a city, diocese, region, or religious family. The Pope would provide a special prayer, Mass or proper Divine Office to honor the Blessed. Beatification is the last step before canonization. After beatification, another miracle is required for canonization and formal declaration of sainthood.
Part Two – How To Become A Saint
The best answer to this question I think is to imitate and follow Jesus Christ. The answer is as simple as it is complicated. If we look at that process defined above there are two main things that are looked at; one’s sanctity, and if applicable, one’s martyrdom. Let’s start with martyrdom. This isn’t considered dying to self this is actual death. One might think the odds of dying for the faith are slim to none but before you discount it consider that there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in all the prior centuries combined. And for those living in countries in the Middle East and Africa with large Muslim populations the odds are increased exponentially. Christians in both Egypt & Nigeria have even been martyr at Mass within the past year. As for one’s sanctity we must be dedicating ourselves to daily prayer, the sacraments, and corporal and spiritual works of mercy. No matter where we are in our life if we truly repent of our since and have faith in Jesus Christ we will become Saints. The works or fruit we produce will be beyond measure for our love of Jesus Christ.
How do you plan to become a saint? Is it your highest priority? Do you have a plan? Please leave your comments and suggestions below we’d love to hear from you.