Holy Redeemer Catholic Church
Since this column was due March 17, St. Patrick's Day, and will be printed March 19, Solemnity of St. Joseph, I thought that I would go to catholic.org/saints and take the information given there for insight and understanding for this column.
How does the Church choose saints?
Canonization, the process the Church uses to name a saint, has only been used since the 10th century. For hundreds of years, starting with the first martyrs of the early Church, saints were chosen by public acclaim. Though this was a more democratic way to recognize saints, some saints' stories were distorted by legend and some never existed. Gradually, the bishops and finally the Vatican took over authority for approving saints.
In 1983, Pope John Paul II made sweeping changes in the canonization procedure. The process begins after the death of a Catholic whom people regard as holy. Often, the process starts many years after death in order give perspective on the candidate. The local bishop investigates the candidate's life and writings for heroic virtue (or martyrdom) and orthodoxy of doctrine. Then a panel of theologians at the Vatican evaluates the candidate. After approval by the panel and cardinals of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the pope proclaims the candidate "venerable."
The next step, beatication, requires evidence of one miracle (except in the case of martyrs).
Since miracles are considered proof that the person is in heaven and can intercede for us, the miracle must take place after the candidate's death and as a result of a specific petition to the candidate. When the pope proclaims the candidate beatied or "blessed," the person can be venerated by a particular region or group of people with whom the person holds special importance.
Only after one more miracle will the pope canonize the saint (this includes martyrs as well).
The title of saint tells us that the person lived a holy life, is in heaven, and is to be honored by the universal Church. Canonization does not "make" a person a saint; it recognizes what God has already done.
Though canonization is infallible and irrevocable, it takes a long time and a lot of effort. So while every person who is canonized is a saint, not every holy person has been canonized. You have probably known many "saints" in your life, and you are called by God to be one yourself.
When did the Church start honoring saints?
By the year 100 A.D., Christians were honoring other Christians who had died, and asking for their intercession. Many people think that honoring saints was something the Church set up later, but it was part of Christianity from the very beginning. As a matter of fact, this practice came from a long-standing tradition in the Jewish faith of honoring prophets and holy people with shrines. The first saints were martyrs, people who had given up their lives for the Faith in the persecution of Christians.
Is keeping statues or pictures of saints idolatry?
Look at the pictures of your loved ones in your wallet or around your home or office. Why do you keep these particular pictures? You might answer that you carry those pictures to remind you of people you love, to help you feel that they're close to you when you're not together, or to share with people you meet. But you probably didn't say you worshipped them. Those are some of the same reasons we have statues and pictures of saints. Seeing a statue of St. Therese of Lisieux who lost her mother when she was a child might make us feel less alone when we are grieving. A picture of St. Francis of Assisi might remind us of how much he loved God's creation and make us more aware of our environment.
Do Catholics pray TO saints?
We pray with saints, not to them.
Have you ever asked anyone to pray for you when you were having a hard time? Why did you choose to ask that person?
You may have chosen someone you could trust, or someone who understood your problem, or someone who was close to God. Those are all reasons we ask saints to pray for us in times of trouble.
Since saints led holy lives and are close to God in heaven, we feel that their prayers are particularly effective. Often we ask particular saints to pray for us if we feel they have a particular interest in our problem. For example, many people ask St. Monica to pray for them if they have trouble with unanswered prayers, because Monica prayed for 20 years for her son to be converted. Finally her prayers were answered in a way she never dreamed of - her son, Augustine, became a canonized saint and a Doctor of the Church.
Exactly how many saints are there?
There are more than 10,000 named saints and beati from history, the Roman Martyology and Orthodox sources, but no definitive "head count."