By Susan Northway, Diocesan Director of Religious Education
Reverend Langes J. Silva, JCD, STL, Judicial Vicar and Vice-Chancellor
The recent beatification of Pope John Paul II and the opening of the cause for sainthood, on a diocesan level, of Cora Louisa Yorgason Evans, a native of Utah, are giving us the opportunity to present a summary of the process of canonization according to the current Code of Canon Law and the particular pontifical laws regulating these types of procedures. This article would be divided in five parts. This Part I will provide a brief introduction and present the significance of canonization.
Let us begin by saying that the veneration of saints has been a common practice since the early Church, because the Church has been always concerned with presenting models of conduct and behavior to the faithful to persevere in the values taught in the Gospels and the virtues of an authentic Christian life. It was only gradually that the identification of who is a saint came to be regulated by bishops and popes. Beginning in the 10th century, the Roman Catholic Church asserted that no one could be venerated as a saint without its approval. The first recorded canonization of a saint is Ulrich of Augsburg by Pope John XV in 993.
Canon 1403 of our current Code of Canon Law regulates the process of canonization of saints:
1. Special pontifical laws govern the causes of canonization of the servants of God.
2. The prescripts of this Code, however, apply to these causes whenever the special pontifical laws refer to the universal law, or norms are involved which also affect these causes by the very nature of the matter.
The process of canonization became a part of canon law in the Roman Catholic Church and developed into a long and complex process. This process was simplified by Pope John Paul II through the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister of Jan. 25, 1983. In addition, the Congregation for the cause of the Saints has its own norms to regularize the processes.
Curiously, the process of canonization of saints is slightly more informal in the Orthodox Church. Saints are usually canonized by the synod of bishops within a particular autocephalous church, but sometimes saints come to be popularly venerated without official canonization.
The Significance of Canonization
The primary purpose of canonization is to officially authorize veneration and intercession of a particular saint. The investigation process prior to canonization seeks primarily to ensure that the person lived an extraordinary life through the ordinary events of life, that the person is in heaven and that God is working through him/her intercession bringing favors and granting petitions to the people of God.
Being canonized as a saint means that:
1. The saint’s name is added to the catalogue of saints (meaning that veneration is authorized);
2. The saint is invoked in public prayers;
3. Churches may be dedicated in the saint’s memory;
4. The Mass can be offered in the saint’s honor;
5. Feast days are celebrated in the saint’s memory;
6. Images of the saint are made in which his or her head is surrounded by a halo;
7. The saint’s relics (remains) are enclosed in vessels and publicly honored.
Through the Apostolic Constitution Divinus Perfectionis Magister the Church expresses its awareness to this reality with the following words:
"In all times, God chooses from these many who, following more closely the example of Christ, give outstanding testimony to the Kingdom of heaven by shedding their blood or by the heroic practice of virtues."
Parts II and III of this series will describe the steps and stages of the process of canonization.