How the Catholic Church makes saints

Pope John Paul II

(CNN) — On Sunday, for the first time in history, the Catholic Church will canonize two popes on the same day.

Pope Francis will preside over a special ceremony that is expected to draw upwards of a million pilgrims, who will gather in St. Peter’s Square to witness Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII enter the celestial community of Catholic saints.

Here’s a bit about the Catholic Church’s canonization process.

What is a saint, and how many are there?

Catholics believe a saint is someone who lived a holy life and who’s already in heaven. Saints are considered role models for people still on Earth, and are capable of interceding with God on someone’s behalf when a request for help is made in prayer.

The actual number of saints is impossible to calculate. One well-known work called “Lives of the Saints” lists 2,565 Catholic saints, but that doesn’t count thousands of others celebrated in local regions all over the world. The Catholic Church has a feast, All Saints’ Day, on November 1 to honor the countless saints who aren’t formally canonized.

So how does one become a saint?

In one sense it’s a democratic process, beginning with a grassroots conviction that a given person lived a holy life. From there, things unfold in three stages. First, Church officials make a study of the person’s life. In John Paul’s case, a four-volume study stretching over more than 2,000 pages was produced, including testimony from more than 100 witnesses.

Next, one miracle after the candidate’s death is required for be beatification – and another for canonization. Usually the miracles are healings, which must be instantaneous, permanent, and complete, in addition to scientifically inexplicable. Catholics see the miracle as God’s seal of approval, a way of verifying that the saint really is in heaven.

As pope, John Paul II made the sainthood process faster and simpler — but it’s still not cheap. The biggest expenses are usually the ceremonies for beatification and canonization. When St. Josemaría Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, was canonized in 2002, Opus Dei estimated that it had spent roughly $1 million on the process from beginning to end, stretching over three decades.

Was that process strictly followed for Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII?

In a word, no.

John Paul’s beatification is the quickest in modern times, made possible because Pope Benedict XVI waived the normal five-year waiting period after death to get someone’s beatification rolling. Benedict was responding to crowds who chanted “Santo Subito!” (Sainthood Now!) at John Paul’s funeral Mass and to a petition signed by the cardinals who elected Benedict.

In one way, the pace of John Paul’s cause is a result of his own policies. He sped up saint-making in 1983, a move meant to lift up contemporary role models of holiness. Since then, at least 20 candidates have been beatified within 30 years of their death. For the record, John Paul’s is not the most “fast-tracked” sainthood of all time. That distinction belongs to St. Anthony of Padua, who died in June 1231 and was canonized less than a year later.

John XXIII, known to many Catholics as “Good Pope John,” had a relatively short papacy – from 1958 to 1963 – but his influence on the church was enormous.

He convened the Second Vatican Council during the 1960s, which brought the Roman Catholic Church into the modern world, and the modern world into the Roman Catholic Church.

As a result of the council, modern music and local languages – including English – replaced Gregorian chants and Latin prayers in many churches. Lay Catholics were encouraged to take leadership roles in the church, and the church’s relationships with the Jewish community and with Protestants improved dramatically after liturgical and doctrinal changes.

Beyond that, Pope John XXIII was known as a holy – and very funny – man. When a reporter once asked how many people work at the Vatican, he answered, “About half.”

John has been credited with one miracle, the healing of an Italian nun in 1966, but Pope Francis waived the requirement for a second miracle – as is the papal prerogative.

Still, some sticklers say Francis should have waited for the second miracle to canonize John XXIII.

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2 comments

  • Vasu Murti

    It’s possible historically that Christianity, like Buddhism, began as a pacifist and vegetarian religion, but was corrupted over the centuries, beginning, perhaps, with the apostle Paul. Secular scholar Keith Akers writes in his as of yet unpublished manuscript, Broken Thread, The Fate of the Jewish Followers of Jesus in Early Christianity:

    “The ‘orthodox’ response to vegetarianism has been somewhat contradictory…The objection to meat consumption has been taken as evidence of heresy when Christians have been faced with outsiders; however, vegetarianism met with a kinder reception among the monastic communities…Vegetarianism does attain a certain status even in orthodox circles.

    “Indeed, a list of known vegetarians among the church leaders reads very much like a Who’s Who in the early church. Peter is described as a vegetarian in the Recognitions and Homilies. Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius, said that James (the brother of Jesus) was a vegetarian and was raised as a vegetarian. Clement of Alexandria thought that Matthew was a vegetarian…

    “According to Eusebius, the apostles–all the apostles, and not just James–abstained from both meat and wine, thus making them vegetarians and teetotalers, just like James. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Basil, Gregory of Nanziance, John Chrysostom, and Tertullian were all probably vegetarians, based on their writings…they themselves are evidently vegetarian and can be counted on to say a few kind words about vegetarianism. On the other hand, there are practically no references to any Christians eating fish or meat before the council of Nicaea.

    “The rule of Benedict forbade eating any four-legged animals, unless one was sick. Columbanus allowed vegetables, lentil porridge, flour, and bread only, at all times, even for the sick. A fifth-century Irish rule forbids meat, fish, cheese, and butter at all times, though the sick, elderly, travel-weary, or even monks on holidays may eat cheese or butter, but no one may ever eat meat.

    “The Carthusians were especially strict about vegetarianism. The origin of their order is related by the story of St. Bruno and his companions, who on the Sunday before Lent are sitting before some meat and are debating whether they should eat meat at all.

    “During the debate, numerous examples of vegetarians among their monastic predecessors are mentioned–the Desert Fathers, Paul (the Hermit), Antony, Hilarion, Macharius, and Arsenius, are all cited as vegetarian examples. After much discussion, they fall asleep–and remain asleep for 45 days, waking up when Archbishop Hugh shows up on Wednesday of Holy Week! When they wake up, the meat miraculously turns to ashes, and they fall on their knees and determine never to eat meat again.

    “It is true that the church rejected the requirement for vegetarianism, following the dicta of Paul. However, it is interesting under these circumstances that there are so many vegetarians. In fact, outside of the references to Jesus eating fish in the New Testament, there are hardly any references to any early Christians eating meat.

    “Thus vegetarianism was practiced by the apostles, by James the brother of Jesus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Basil, Gregory of Nanziance, John Chrysostom, Tertullian, Bonaventure, Arnobius, Cassian, Jerome, the Desert Fathers, Paul (the Hermit), Antony, Hilarion, Machrius, Columbanus, and Aresenius–but not by Jesus himself!

    “It is as if everyone in the early church understood the message except the messenger. This is extremely implausible. The much more likely explanation is that the original tradition was vegetarian, but that under the pressure of expediency and the popularity of Paul’s writings in the second century, the tradition was first dropped as a requirement and finally dropped even as a desideratum.”

    In her 2004 book, Vegetarian Christian Saints: Mystics, Ascetics & Monks, Jewish scholar Dr. Holly Roberts (she has a Master’s degree in Christian theology) documents the lives and teachings of over 150 canonized vegetarian saints:

    St. Anthony of Egypt; St. Hilarion; St. Macarius the Elder; St. Palaemon; St. Pachomius; St. Paul the Hermit; St. Marcian; St. Macarius the Younger; St. Aphraates; St. James of Nisibis; St. Ammon; St. Julian Sabas; St. Apollo; St. John of Egypt; St. Porphyry of Gaza; St. Dorotheus the Theban; St. Theodosius the Cenobiarch; St. Sabas; St. Fugentius of Ruspe; St. Gerasimus; St. Mary of Egypt; St. Dositheus; St. Abraham Kidunaja; St. John the Silent; St. Theodore of Sykeon; St. Lups of Troyes; St. Lupicinus; St. Romanus; St. Gudelinis; St. Liphardus; St. Maurus of Glanfeuil; St. Urbicius; St. Senoch; St. Hospitius; St. Winwaloe; St. Kertigan; St. Fintan; St. Molua; St. Amatus; St. Guthlac; St. Joannicus; St. Theodore the Studite; St. Lioba; St. Euthymius the Younger; St. Luke the Younger; St. Paul of Latros; St. Antony of the Caves of Kiev; St. Theodosius Pechersky; St. Fantinus; St. Wulfstan; St. Gregory of Makar; St. Elphege; St. Theobald of Provins; St. Stephen of Grandmont; St. Henry of Coquet; St. William of Malavalle; St. Godric; St. Stephen of Obazine; St. William of Bourges; St. Humility of Florence; St. Simon Stock; St. Agnes of Montepulciano; St. Laurence Justinian; St. Herculanus of Piegaro; St. Francis of Assisi; St. Clare of Assisi; St. Aventine of Troyes; st. Felix of Cantalice; St. Joseph of Cupertino; St. Benedict; St. Bruno; St. Alberic; St. Robert of Molesme; St. Stephen Harding; St. Gilbert of Sempringham; St. Dominic; St. John of Matha; St. Albert of Jerusalem; St. Angela Merici; St. Paula; St. Genevieve; St. David; St. Leonard of Noblac; St. Kevin; St. Anskar; St. Ulrich; St. Yvo; St. Laurence O’Toole; St. Hedwig; St. Mary of Onigines; St. Elizabeth of Hungary; St. Ivo Helory; St. Philip Benizi; St. Albert of Trapani; St. Nicholas of Tolentino; St. Rita of Cascia; St. Francis of Paola; St. John Capistrano; St. John of Kanti; St. Peter of Alcantara; St. Francis Xavier; St. Philip Neri; St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi; St. Jean-Marie Vianney; St. Basil the Great; St. Jerome; St. Ephraem; St. Peter Damian; St. Bernard; St. Catherine of Siena; St. Robert Bellarmine; St. Peter Celestine; St. Olympias; St. Publius; St. Malchus; St. Asella; St. Sulpicius Severus; St. Maxentius; St. Monegundis; St. Paul Aurelian; St. Coleman of Kilmacduagh; St. Bavo; St. Amandus; St. Giles; St. Silvin; St. Benedict of Aniane; St. Aybert; St. Dominic Loricatus; St. Richard of Wyche; St. Margaret of Cortona; St. Clare of Rimini; St. Frances of Rome; St. James de la Marca; St. Michael of Giedroyc; St. Mariana of Quito; St. John de Britto; St. Callistratus; St. Marianus; St. Brendon of Clonfert; St. Kieran (Carian); St. Stephen of Mar Saba; St. Anselm; St. Martin de Porres; St. Procpius; St. Boniface of Tarsus; St. Serenus.

    In the (updated) 1986 edition of A Vegetarian Sourcebook, Keith Akers similarly observes: “But many others, both orthodox and heterodox, testified to the vegetarian origins of Christianity. Both Athanasius and his opponent Arius were strict vegetarians. Many early church fathers were vegetarian, including Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Heironymus, Boniface, and John Chrysostom.

    “Many of the monasteries both in ancient times and at the present day practiced vegetarianism…The requirement to be vegetarian has been diluted considerably since the earliest days, but the practice of vegetarianism was continued by many saints, monks, and laymen. Vegetarianism is at the heart of Christianity.”

    According to Father Ambrose Agius:

    “Many of the saints understood God’s creatures, and together they shared the pattern of obedience to law and praise of God that still leaves us wondering. The quickest way to understand is surely to bring our own lives as closely as possible into line with the intention of the Giver of all life, animate and inanimate.”

    The Reverend Alvin Hart, an Episcopal priest in New York, says:

    “Many Georgian saints were distinguished by their love for animals. St. John Zedazneli made friends with bears near his hermitage; St. Shio befriended a wolf; St. David of Garesja protected deer and birds from hunters, proclaiming, ‘He whom I believe in and worship looks after and feds all these creatures, to whom He has given birth.’ Early Celtic saints, too, favored compassion for animals. Saints Wales, Cornwall and Brittany of Ireland in the 5th and 6th centuries AD went to great pains for their animal friends, healing them and praying for them as well.”

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