The process of documenting the life and virtues of a holy man or woman cannot begin until 5 years after death. This waiting period insures that the person has an enduring reputation for sanctity among the faithful. It can be waived by the Supreme Pontiff, and has been done on two occasions. Pope John Paul II waived 3 years of the waiting period in the case of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Pope Benedict XVI waived all five years in the case of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
After the five years have concluded, or earlier if all or some of the period is waived, the Bishop of the diocese in which the individual died can petition the Holy See to allow the initialization of a Cause for Beatification and Canonization. If there is no objection by the Roman Dicasteries, in particular the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the permission, or nihil obstat (nothing stands in the way), is communicated to the initiating Bishop.
SERVANT OF GOD
Once a Cause has begun, the individual is called a Servant of God, e.g. the Servant of God Karol Wojtyła or the Servant of God Pope John Paul II.
Diocesan Tribunal: Informative Process
During this first phase the Postulation established by the diocese, or religious institute, to promote the Cause must gather testimony about the life and virtues of the Servant of God. Also, the public and private writings must be collected and examined. This documentary phase of the process can take many years and concludes with the judgment of a diocesan tribunal, and the ultimate decision of the bishop, that the heroic virtues of the Servant of God have or have not been demonstrated. The results, along with the bound volumes of documentation, or Acta (Acts), are communicated to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
Congregation for the Causes of the Saints: Positio
The Acta resulting from the documentary or informative phase of the process are committed by the Congregation to a Relator appointed from among the Congregation’s College of Relators, whose task is to superintend the Cause through the rest of the process. Working with a theological commission established by the Congregation, the Relator ensures that the Positio summarizing the life and virtues of the Servant of God is properly prepared. When the Positio is finished, the theological commission votes affirmatively or negatively on the Cause. This recommendation is then passed to the cardinal, archbishop and bishop members of the Congregation who in turn vote. Their vote determines whether the Cause lives or dies. If the vote is affirmative, the recommendation of a Decree of Heroic Virtues is sent to the Holy Father, whose judgment is final.
Supreme Pontiff: Decree of the Heroic Virtues of the Servant of God
Once the person’s Heroic Virtues have been recognized by the Pope, they are called Venerable, e.g. Venerable Servant of God John Paul II, or Venerable John Paul II.
Diocese: First Miracle Proposed in Support of the Cause
The remaining step before beatification is the approval of a miracle, evidence of the intercessory power of the Venerable Servant of God and thus of his or her union after death with God. Those who propose a miracle do so in the diocese where it is alledged to have occurred, not in the diocese of the Cause, unless the same. The diocese of the candidate miracle then conducts its own tribunals, scientific and theological.
The scientific commission must determine by accepted scientific criteria that there is no natural explanation for the alleged miracle. While miracles could be of any type, those almost exclusively proposed for Causes are medical. These must be well-documented, both as regards the disease and the treatment, and as regard the healing and its persistence.
While the scientific commission rules that the cure is without natural explanation, the theological commission must rule whether the cure was a miracle in the strict sense, that is, by its nature can only be attributed to God. To avoid any question of remission due to unknown natural causation, or even unrecognized therapeutic causation, theologians prefer cures of diseases judged beyond hope by medicine, and which occur more or less instantaneously. The disappearance of a malignancy from one moment to another, or the instantaneous regeneration of diseased, even destroyed, tissue excludes natural processes, all of which take time. Such cases also exclude the operation of the angelic nature. While the enemy could provoke a disease by his oppression and simulate a cure by withdrawing his action, the cure could not be instantaneous, even one day to the next. Much less can he regenerate tissue from nothing. These are, therefore, the preferred kinds of cases since they unequivocally point to a divine cause.
The theological commission must also determine whether the miracle resulted through the intercession of the Servant of God alone. If the family and friends have been praying without cease to the Servant of God exclusively, then the case is demonstrated. However, if they have been praying to the Servant of God, to the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph and others, then the case is clouded, and probably cannot be demonstrated. Thus, the task of the theological commission is two-fold, judge whether the cure was a miracle, and judge whether this miracle is due to the intercession of the Servant of God. The decision is forwarded to the Congregation in Rome.
Congregation: First Miracle Proposed in Support of the Cause
As occured at the diocesan level, the Congregation for the Causes of the the Saints establishes both scientific and theological commissions. The affirmative vote of the theological commission is transmitted to the General Meeting of the cardinal and episcopal members, whose affirmative judgment is forwarded to the Supreme Pontiff.
It should be noted that in cases of martyrdom the miracle required for beatification can be waived – martyrdom being understood as a miracle of grace. In this case, the vote of the Congregation would establish the death of the Servant of God as true martyrdom, resulting in a Decree of Martyrdom by the Holy Father.
Supreme Pontiff: Decree of a Miracle
With the Holy Father’s approval of a Decree of a Miracle, the Servant of God can be beatified.
Supreme Pontiff: Beatification
With the beatification rite, conducted on the authority of the Supreme Pontiff, the Venerable Servant of God is declared Blessed, e.g. Blessed John Paul II.
Blesseds may receive public veneration at the local or regional level, usually restricted to those dioceses or religious institutes closely associated with the person’s life. “Public veneration” in this use of the term doesn’t mean that it is done in public; rather,that it is an act done by the clergy, or delegated laity, in the name of the Church (Mass, Divine Office, images in churches etc.), even if done in private. On the other hand, “private veneration” means veneration by individuals or groups acting in their own name, even if done “in public.” While the Church restricts the public venration of Blesseds, Catholics are free to privately venerate them.
The reason for this distinction and its disciplinary norm is that beatification is not considered an infallible papal act, and so it is not yet appropriate that the entire Church give liturgical veneration to the Blessed. Perhaps to reinforce this distinction, Pope Benedict XVI has restored the practice, in use prior to Pope Paul VI, of having the Prefect of the Congregation conduct the beatification, rather than the Pope doing it himself. He has made exceptions, one of which is his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.
In the case of Blessed John Paul II, the Holy See in a Decree Concerning the Liturgical Cult of Blessed John Paul II has determined that public veneration is lawful in the Diocese of Rome and the nation of Poland. Other nations, dioceses and institutes may petition the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments for the Indult to render cultus (veneration) to the Blessed. Without an Indult, however, public veneration is illicit, and even harms the possiblility for Canonization of the Blessed.
Diocese: Second Miracle Proposed in Support of the Cause
After beatification the Church looks for a second miracle before proceeding to canonization. The process is the same as it was for the miracle which made beatification possible. The alleged miracle is studied by scientific and theological commissions in the diocese in which it is alleged to have occurred.
Congregation: Second Miracle Proposed in Support of the Cause
After the diocesan process is concluded the proposed miracle is studied by a scientific and then a theological commission of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. The vote of this commission is forwarded to the episcopal members of the Congregation whose affirmative vote is communicated to the Holy Father.
Supreme Pontiff: Decree of a Miracle
The consent of the Holy Father to the decision of the Congregation results in a Decree of a Miracle. Canonization is now possible.
Supreme Pontiff: Canonization
By the Rite of Canonization the Supreme Pontiff, by an act which is protected from error by the Holy Spirit, elevates a person to the universal veneration of the Church. By canonization the Pope does not make the person a saint. Rather, he declares that the person is with God and is an example of following Christ worthy of imitation by the faithful. A Mass, Divine Office and other acts of veneration, may now be offered throughout the universal Church.
If the saint has some universal appeal he may be added to the general calendar of the Church as a Memorial or Optional Memorial. If the appeal is localized to a region of the world, a particular nation, or a particular religious institute, the saint may be added to the particular calendars of those nations or institutes, or celebrated by the clergy and faithful with a devotion to the saint with a votive Mass or Office.