Question from Beth Newton on 09-30-2003:
I teach 5th grade at a St. Leo Catholic School. I myself, am Catolic. I need help answering a question during a discussion in my religion class. Can you give me a brief history of beatification, how it is done, and what it means? Please make it as simple as possible so I may explain it to my students.

Thank You,

Beth Newton

Answer by Matthew Bunson on 10-09-2003:
Dear Beth: I will try my best to write this in terms that are easily followed. My apologies if I do not succeed. Proclaiming saints can be traced to the earliest times in the Church, but throughout the centuries, the Church has always been careful in how it honors saints, Our Lady, and God. It is important to remember that Catholics worship only God. Special honor is accorded to the saints, but they are not worshipped as God is; similarly, a special place is given to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but she too is not worshipped.

As for the process of beatification, it dates back to the early days of the Church also when St. Paul asked people on earth to pray for them, and the Church started to ask for the prayers of the saints and martyrs in heaven. As the members of the Church suffered death by martyrdom at the hands of the Romans, it became a common practice for Christians to venerate those who had died with valor, such as St. Ignatius of Antioch. Such public honor needed to have an official recognition to insure that the respect paid to the saints was not improperly conducted or that someone not really worthy was called a saint. Over the centuries, this official recognition became what is now called the process of canonization, meaning simply the many steps that are taken to insure that someone truly was a saint. Today, the process is usually started by a local bishop, who receives permission from the Vatican in Rome to launch what is called a cause. If he receives the blessing of other Church leaders, the bishop appoints officials to study the life, and death, and the virtues of the proposed candidate. Eyewitness accounts are recorded and writings are read carefully. Once everything is gathered together, it is sent to Rome where more officials study it and decide that this is enough to proceed.

If the officials agree with the local findings, the man or woman being considered is given the title "Servant of God." An investigator is then appointed, called a postulator, who serves as the guiding force of the cause, moving it through the various stages.

Miracles are also required for each step of the process, from venerable status to canonization, and these miracles must be authenticated by competent sources, such as medical practitioners and competent consultations. If a miracle takes place through the intervention of a possible saint and if it is verified by Church officials and doctors, then the person is declared ready to move to the next stages. In the case of Mother Teresa, for example, a miracle was approved for her, so she was declared ready to be proclaimed a “blessed,” that is, she will be beatified later this month. If another miracle takes place and is found to be authentic, then she will be eligible for canonization, that is she will be declared a saint.

The term beatification comes from the Latin, beatificatio, meaning the state of being blessed, and is derived from the word beatus, or happy. Beatification itself is an act performed by the pope that tells the world that a deceased person lived a holy life and should be venerated by the faithful. As we have seen, such a pronouncement is a very serious one and is made only after years of investigation by the proper authorities, and it is still only one step leading to canonization.

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