The Church and canonization of Saints
The Catholic Church has canonized so many of her children as Saints. Very interesting and beautiful thing to do as Catholics, but to none Catholics and even some few Catholics, the idea of creating Saints raises a whole lot of questions. By the way, what does the Church means by “Saint”?
Literally, the word “saint” means “holy”. This word can be used in both broad and narrow senses. Saint Paul used the word in a broad way. He often addressed his epistles to the “Saints” in a particular city (Eph. 1:1, 2Cor. 1:1 and he visited the saints Acts 9:32). For him, the saints are followers of Christ Jesus. I strongly believe he did not use the word in ignorance, he knew the meaning of the word. Using the word the way he did is an expression of faith in the transforming power of following Christ; he who follows Christ in spirit and in truth is transformed by Christ. So, when Paul used the word “Saint”, he is simply referring to believers in Christ.
The Catholic Church uses the word in a narrow sense. In her usage, the meaning is not changed but restricted. This is not a denial of the Pauline transformation but in agreement with him. The word “saint” means “holy”, and in following Christ in truth and in spirit we are made holy. However, the Church in her usage of the word “saint” restrict the holiness to members of the Church triumphant and not the Church militant. This is even in agreement with Pauline thinking, because he himself confirms the fact that no one is holy (Rom.3:10).
My point in this article is not actually to argue about the broad and narrow usage of the word “saint”, though it is very necessary to explain the difference. My aim is to reflect on how the Church declares one a saint. This is something the none Catholics and even some Catholics may not know. The Church does not create saints, the grace of God does. The Church may declare one a saint, but she is only declaring what God had declared. Yes; this is true, but it does not answer the question asked by some very inquisitive minds. They want to know how the Church gets to find out who God has declared a saint, or who succeeds in making heaven.
The Church is so blessed and heavily directed by the Holy Spirit that I am not shaken when questions like this are thrown to the Church.She does not just do things for doing sake, she is directed, influenced and guided by the Holy Spirit.
The process of declaring a saint in the Catholic Church is called canonization. This process does not begin until after the fifth anniversary of the death of the individual or group as the case may be. The process may take the Church a good number of years, discerning the Spirit. But God does not wait for the Church, the Church rather in her human weakness gradually follows the lead of the Holy Spirit.
In the earliest days of the Church, there was no formal process of declaring a saint. Martyrs especially were declared saints at the time of their death. Their tombs were marked and shrines and basilicas were built on them just as St. Peter’s basilica in Rome is built on St. Peter’s tomb. The process we have today gradually developed after the legalization of Christianity by Emperor Constantine.
Today, when a member of the Church who is considered to have lived a worthy life, dies. The bishop of the diocese may decide to initiate the process of his or her canonization. It involves a whole lot of investigations. The person’s words, written and spoken are investigated to be sure they contain purity of doctrine. Miracle must also be associated with the person’s intercessory power. These findings and other necessary information are put together and sent to the congregation for the causes of the saints. At this level, the person is addressed as the “servant of God”.
Once the cause is accepted by the congregation for the causes of the saints, they begin another round of investigation which must involve at least a miracle associated with the person being investigated. The devil’s advocate raises objection to this cause and these objections must be resolved. if at the end, it is agreed that the person lived a life of heroic virtue, he is declared Venerable.
The next step in the process of canonization is beatification. Beatification may be seen as an administrative act, it is the declaration that the deceased or the individual being investigated led a holy life. This declaration is reserved for the Pope, and the beatification gives the investigated the privilege of being honoured and venerated at least within a diocese, city or Country as the case may be. A good example is the Blessed Tansi of Nigeria.
The last step is the actual canonization. This is done at least after a miracle is associated with the blessed. This miracle may include the incorruptibility of the body as in the case of St. Catharine of Siena who died in 1380. 600 years later when her body was exhumed, the body was still intact without any preservative.
The canonization is the inclusion of the name of the deceased worthy member of the Church in the canon of saints. A day may be set aside in the Church’s calendar to celebrate him or her, and members of the Church are encouraged to emulate the person’s life style and ask for his or her intercessions.
The process of canonization is not as easy as presented in this summarized article. It takes the Church years in her human weakness to discern the Holy Spirit and follow his lead. But for some saints, the process is not very long, but all to the glory of God.
There are so many unknown saints in heaven. Some other orthodox Churches like Anglicans and others also named their saints. The Catholic Church only canonizes few with the help of the Holy Spirit and present them to us as models.
Since they made heaven, we too can make it through Christ our Lord. Amen