How do you become a saint?

A common question people have in the Church is about the process of becoming a saint. We outline the process here – and explain why the saints are great people to learn about.

A common question about the Catholic Church is how do you become a saint? We outline the process here - and why the saints are great people to learn about.

“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'”

1 Peter 1:15-16

We’re all called to be saints – to a heroic, virtuous life

God calls all of us to be saints, to live our lives following the example of Jesus. Jesus was saintly by nature we are saints as we get closer to him.

A canonised saint was someone that lived a heroic, virtuous life on Earth. And by heroic, we don’t mean fighting armies or a big opponent. We have saints that did grander things, like Saint Paul who travelled all around and helped build the early Church.

But we also have saints like the recently canonised parents of Saint Therese of Lisieux, who simply raised a family, but a holy family that always put God first. Perhaps we more used to seeing saints that are priests or nuns, because of their lives being entirely dedicated to God, so more “chances” of achieving sainthood. But a saint can be any type of person: man, woman, adult, child, king, pauper, scientist, monk etc.

A bit of history on the process

The official process for declaring someone a saint is called canonisation. Before the year 1234, the Church didn’t have a formal process of canonisation. In this year 1234, Pope Gregory IX established procedures to investigate the life of a candidate saint and any attributed miracles. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V created the Congregation of Rites (later named the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints) to supervise the entire process. Beginning with Pope Urban VIII in 1634, various popes have revised and improved the norms and procedures for canonisation case. Before, only popes could initiate a cause for canonisation but now also bishops have this authority.

Step 1 – Make sure they’re dead

The first step in order to consider someone a saint is making sure that the person has died. This may seem like an obvious thing, but it is important. Declaring someone a saint is not just saying they are a good person or that a lot of people like them, but that they are in heaven, united with God. In order to do this, they must have died.

When a person dies who has “fame of sanctity” or “fame of martyrdom,” the bishop of the diocese usually initiates an investigation. They investigate everything about this person – their life, family, friends, any writing that they might have done, if there are any miracles attributed to them. All this information is put together and sent to the Congregation. At this point, the person receives the title of Servant of God. Once the cause is accepted by the Congregation, more thorough investigations begin.

What if they’re a martyr?

If the candidate was a martyr, the Congregation determines whether he died for the faith and truly offered his life in a sacrifice of love for Christ and the Church. Or the congregation investigates to see if the candidate was noble, and practiced the virtues in an exemplary manner and with heroism.

Becoming Venerable

Throughout this investigation, the “general promoter of the faith,” or devil’s advocate, raises objections and doubts which must be resolved. Once a candidate is declared to have lived life with heroic virtue, he may be declared Venerable. This is the most important and hardest part of the process. Everything about the candidate must be investigated to minute detail.

Once a person is declared Venerable, all investigations and research stops. There are no more doubts or questions. The hardest part is done. It’s already decided that this person lived a holy life and is an example for the Church. Now we need miracles!

Time to find a miracle…

The next step is to be declared Blessed. For this, the person will need a miracle to be attributed to their intercession. If the person was declared Venerable by martyr he does not need to go through this process and automatically receives the title of Blessed. Of course, the miracle is also thoroughly investigated and checked.

… and then a second miracle

After that, the next and last step is to be declared a saint. For that, the candidate will need another miracle. It doesn’t matter if during the previous processes multiple miracles were recognised. To be canonised, one miracle needs to be attributed to the candidate after he is declared Blessed. Once a miracle is confirmed after the title of Blessed has been given, a ceremony is arranged in the Vatican with the pope and the person is named Saint, receiving a feast day to be celebrated all over the world.

You don’t have to be perfect

That doesn’t mean all people declared Saint were perfect and with no flaws. But they were people that tried to live their lives in according to Jesus’ teaching, no matter the consequences, always trusting in God’s mercy. Saint Augustine and Saint Francis of Assisi were living very different lives and did pretty crazy stuff before giving their lives to God, becoming two of the biggest saints of the Church.

Our saints are here to help

The saints provide us with good examples on how to live our lives. They are not idols, but to be venerable and paid respect for their amazing life and giving their all to God and the Church.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, on paragraph 956, on the intercession of the saints, it says, “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness… They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on Earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus… So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.” Just like we ask our friends and families to pray for us, we can ask the saints to intercede for us in heaven.

The saints are a great gift of the Church and a great help in our personal journey of faith. So let’s not waste them, but discover this treasure and be inspired by these people who can teach us so much about God, the Church and the good life.

To learn more about the lives of many of the most well-known saints, check out our Saints section >