This post is written by a guest blogger. Let me introduce you to my "cloistered brother", Steve. We are putting together an issue of eLumenate, highlighting Pere Marie Jean-Joseph Lataste, O.P., who will be beatified, June 3, 2012. Brother Steve thought that he would explain the process of canonization. Hence this post.
In the early days of the church, cults grew amongst the followers of certain holy persons, of which nearly all the martyrs were considered saints. Though without approval of the local bishop their recognition was not official. For nearly 1200 years, the authority to declare a person a saint lay with the local bishop.
In 993, the first official canonization by a Pope was made by John XV, when he elevated St. Ulric of Augsburg to sainthood. Not until 1171, was the process of canonization reserved to the Holy See by Pope Alexander III. The present process dates to 1588, when Sixtus V established the Sacred Congregation of Rites,, now handled by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints (CCS). In 1983, Pope John Paul II made several changes to the canonization process, most notably the elimination of the "Devil's Advocate."
The process of Canonization can be lengthy and normally begins five years after the death of the Servant of God (waived in 1999, for Mother Teresa). Thereupon, the local bishop investigates the life and writings of the candidate and sends this information to the vatican. After approval of a panel of nine theologians, and the bishops and cardinals of the CCS, the Pope may then proclaim the candidate "Venerable."
Upon confirmation of a miracle (not necessary for martyrs), the person or persons are beatified, or "blessed", which allows veneration by a particular group or region. (Pere Lataste is at this stage.)
Only after the proof of one more miracle (martyrs included), the Pope will canonize the saint. Whereupon, his or her names (s) will be enrolled in the Canon of the Saints, and presented to the entire Church for veneration and emulation.
Nota Bene: Canonization does not "make" a saint; it only recognizes what God has already done.