Becoming a saint in Roman Catholicism is an arduous task. Everyone in your family may have called your great-aunt Edna a saint, but if they want to make if official, it's going take some serious legwork.

For one, don't even think about approaching your parish priest with this idea if Edna's still fresh in her grave. Rule #1 is: No one is even considered for sainthood until they've been gone for a five year minimum. The one exception may prove to be Mother Teresa, who passed through the pearly gates in time to welcome the late Princess Diana. Word has it that she's on the fast track.

The next step is to win some grassroots support for Edna. To do this, you should form a Actor Causae or "promoter group" consisting of other members of the congregation, parish and diocese. The promoters will bring Edna's case to the bishop of her diocese . It is his responsibility to begin the investigation, so after that, it's basically out of your hands.

The bishop will form what's called a diocesan tribunal. Witnesses will be called before the tribunal to recount indisputable facts on those of Edna's Christian virtues considered heroic, such as: faith, hope and charity, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude, and others specific to her state in life. Once all the documentation is gathered and approved, Edna gains the title of "Servant of God".

When the diocesan investigation is finished, the documentation is passed on to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. In Rome nine theologians study the documentation and vote. If a simple majority approves it, Edna's caused is passed on for further examination by cardinals and bishops hold meetings twice a month. If their judgment is favourable, the prefect of the congregation presents the results to the Holy Father, who gives his approval and authorizes the congregation to draft what is called a "relative decree."

If Edna is to graduate from "Servant" to beatification, it must be proven through an investigation that she caused a miracle to take place. This miracle (in addition to Edna's heroic virtues) are the evidence the Holy Father uses to decide on beatification, which is the concession of public worship, limited to a particular sphere. With beatification the candidate receives the title of Blessed

6. Finally, for complete canonization another miracle is needed, but this one needs to have happened after Edna's beatification. If this test is passed, Edna the Blessed becomes Edna the Saint.

The main problem with the canonization process is that it typically takes more than a hundred years. There are exceptions of course (e.g., St. Francis of Assisi was canonized one year after his death, or St. Maximillian Kolbe was canonized very quickly--but in his case it was because Pope John Paul II wanted him canonized), but as a rule it takes so long that the person who starts the process is rarely the person who brings it to completion.

That is the main reason why most Catholic Saints are deceased members of one or the other religious order (i.e., monks, nuns, friars, etc): An order can afford to have a member who dedicates his/her life to working on the canonization of its members. A diocese rarely has such a luxury, especially in these days of fewer and fewer priests.

As for the miracles, the way I remember it, you need two for beatification, another two for canonization.

As a curiosity, I overheard during my years in Rome that Opus Dei had doctor-signed documents about miraculous healings caused by the intercession of their "deceased" founder while he was still alive. Nothing like being prepared!

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