Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the Blessed and the Saints, as the first case of
beatification in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in Estonia has been opened in the
Estonian Apostolic Administration – the beatification of Archbishop Eduard Profittlich, S.J. It
is therefore reasonable to clarify some of the terms of canonization and explain its nature.
The goal of all Christians is holiness – the pursuit of holiness. But some of those who have
left us have already become saint or blessed. In general, these people have lived with Christ
in great charity and virtue and are currently in heaven with Jesus Christ.
In formal ecclesiastical procedures, there are three steps to declaring a saint: the candidate
becomes "venerable," then "blessed," and then "saint." "Venerable" is the title given to a
person who has left us and for whom the Pope has officially acknowledged that he had lived
virtuously. To be declared a blessed, a miracle performed under the intercession of the
candidate is necessary in addition to the characteristics of heroic virtue or martyrdom.
Canonization also requires another miracle after the beatification, although the Pope may
waive these requirements.
There is an exception for martyrs. No miracles are expected for the beatification of a martyr,
but for canonization. The word ‘martyr’ means a blood witness referred to by the Greek word μάρτυς, mártys, ‘witness’. Martyr was already with his blood a witness of faith in Christ, which is like a miracle.
Beatification and canonization
Beatification and canonization are different concepts. Beatification is a stage in the process
of canonization that takes place after a thorough investigation by the diocese and the
Congregation for the Causes of Saints of the person's life and writings to determine whether
he possessed heroic virtues or suffered martyrdom. The miracle attributed to the
intercession of the holy person must be proved. This proving presupposes the corresponding extraordinary commission work at the Holy See. ‘Blessed’ is the title given to a person who has been declared blessed and has the limited right to be honored, i.e., within the local diocese. The act of beatification takes place during Holy Mass in the diocese where the Servant of God, the future 'blessed', lived. The Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints is responsible for the beatification on behalf of the Pope.
Canonization is the official process by which the Church declares a person a saint who
deserves reverence throughout the worldwide Church. The beatification takes place by the
Pope in Rome during Holy Mass in St. Peter's Square (or St. Peter's Basilica, as the case may be).
The whole process, both beatification and canonization, is led by the Congregation for the
Causes of Saints.
The Congregation for the Causes of Saints is an institution of the Roman Curia, established
by Pope Sixtus V in 1588, originally as the Congregation for the Rites, and renamed the
Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 1969 by Pope Paul VI. The congregation's statutes
were renewed in 1983 by Pope John Paul II. Since then, canonization has been a theological-
historiographical study. When the investigation of the candidate for the beatification or
canonization under the leadership of the congregation is completed, it is proposed to the
Pope of Rome to declare the Servant of God saint or blessed. The Pope of Rome either
declares the candidate blessed and saint or rejects him for further investigation. The
Congregation is also responsible for the authentication and preservation of sacred relics.
There have been times in the history of the Church when the canonization was born on the
principle of vox populi, i.e., with the common acclamation of the church people. It was
based on the acts of martyrs during the early church, as well as the growing respect of
believers for their pastors. For example, Antonius of Padua was canonized by Pope Gregory
IX on May 30, 1232, at the urging of the people, only eleven months after the death of St.
Anthony. To curb the uncontrolled cult of saints, ecclesiastical norms and procedures for
consecration were developed. The first known official canonization as a result of an investigation commissioned by Pope John XV was in 993 in connection with Bishop Ulrich of
Ausbrug. In 1634, Pope Urban VIII called for the involvement of the Vatican in all processes
The exact number of all who have been canonized since the first centuries is unknown. Even
before the end of the 10th century, the ten-volume menology of Simeon Metafrastes with
acts of martyrdom had been completed. In 1988, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints
published its first Index ac Status Causarum. This Latin collection and its subsequent
supplements are considered a complete register of all causes submitted to the Congregation
since its establishment. Volumes of this index indicate that there are 3,464 processes
The process of canonization
Stage 1 – investigation of the life of the candidate of the saint
Phase 1: at the diocesan level
The process can start five years after the candidate's death. This rule makes it possible to
achieve greater balance and objectivity in the assessment of the case and to allow the
emotions of the moment to dissipate. The Pope may waive this waiting period (For example,
the case of the martyr of the 21st century, the French priest Jacques Hamel, executed by
Islamic terrorists in 2016, the diocesan phase of the process ended in March 2019 and all
documents were sent to Rome as early as April 2019).
The bishop of the diocese where the person died is responsible for initiating the
investigation. The diocese, parish, religious congregation, or association requesting the
opening of the process asks the postulator appointed by the bishop to begin the
investigation. The bishop may also begin the process on his own initiative. After receiving
nihil obstat of the Holy See, the bishop forms a diocesan tribunal for this purpose. Witnesses
are invited to speak to the tribunal about specific facts about Christian virtues considered
heroic (or the martyrdom of a Servant of God): it means the theological virtues of faith,
hope, and charity, and the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance,
and the other virtues of his life. In addition, all documents written by the candidate must be
collected and reviewed.
The bishop also consults with the regional bishops' conference, or at least the bishops of his area, to seek their views on the merits and timeliness of starting the process. He also
consults the public, asking all those who are aware of the candidate to make themselves
known. In addition, all possible archival documents concerning the life of a Servant of God are
Phase 2: Congregation for the Causes of Saints
When the diocesan investigation is completed, the documents are forwarded to the
Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Then the Roman phase begins and the project of the beatification, or Positio, is written.
Positio is a comprehensive summary of all documents; in this context, there are two: one
summarizes the investigation of the candidate's life and heroic virtues or martyrdom, and the other the part of alleged miracles when a miracle is attributed to the Servant of God.
Positio is compiled by the postulator in Rome with an expert from outside the Congregation
for the Causes of Saints. All Positio compilation work in the curia is controlled by the relator.
Positio is reviewed by nine theologians who cast their votes for Positio. If most theologians
are in favor, the process is referred to the Board of Cardinals and Bishops of the Congregation for investigation. If their assessment is positive, the prefect of the Congregation will present the whole process to the Pope, who will give his consent and authorize the Congregation to draw up a decree declaring the Servant of God blessed or saint. This is followed by a public reading and announcement of the decree.
Stage 2 – beatification
The beatification of the Servant of God requires a miracle attributed to his intercession after
his death, which has been verified. The miracle must be proved by appropriate canon
investigation, following a procedure analogous to that of heroic virtues. This investigation
will also be terminated by an appropriate decree. When two decrees have been promulgated (in connection with heroic virtues or martyrdom and miracle), the Holy Father decides on the beatification, which means a limited concession of public reverence — usually only in the diocese, region, or religious community where the Servant of God lived. By beatification, the candidate receives the title of ‘blessed’.
Stage 3 – canonization
Canonization requires another miracle attributed to the intercession of the blessed, which
has taken place since his beatification. The methods of affirming a miracle are the same as
those with beatification. Canonization is understood as a concession and requirement of
public reverence for the universal Church. With canonization, blessed acquires the title
Concepts related to canonization.
Positio – the comprehensive summary of all documents; in this context, there are two: one
summarizes the investigation of the candidate's life and heroic virtues or martyrdom, and
the other the alleged miracles.
Postulator – the person assigned to direct and monitor the process. One of them monitors
the process at the diocesan level (Phase 1); the other, a Roman resident appointed by the
Congregation for the Causes of Saints, oversees all aspects of Phases 2 and 3.
Prefect – the leader of a papal congregation, usually a cardinal.
Relator – the person appointed by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to collect
historical records on a candidate's specific location and era.
Saint – the title given to someone who has been officially canonized by the Church and is
therefore presented for public reverence.
Servant of God – the title given to a candidate of a saint whose process is still under
investigation before the beatification.
Venerable – another honorary title given to a candidate of a saint whose process has not yet
reached the stage of beatification, but whose heroic virtue has been recognized by the
Miracle – an event that is confirmed by the senses, but taht is probably born outside the
laws of nature. The Church recognizes authentic miracles as divine providence in the
Compiled by Marge-Marie Paas
• Angelo Amato. Libro di Testo dello Studium. Vatican, 2018.
• Robert Sarno. Saints. USA Episcopal Conference. http://www.usccb.org/about/public-affairs/backgrounders/saints-backgrounder.cfm
• Sanctorum Mater. Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Instruction, 2007.
• Normae Servandae in Inquisitionibus ab. Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints,