The Catholic Church especially remembers the dead in the month of November with All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. It is a month for contemplation of the lives of those who have passed before us and a time for reflection on our own lives. Some of the dead are officially designated by the Church as saints, and others are designated to be “on the way” to official sainthood. However, there are (almost) countless others who have died and seem to have lived “heroically virtuous lives” who must also be saints - including Grandma whose sainthood is asked about in the title. Read more below about the definition of a saint; the process of designating a saint; the number of official saints; special feast days in the month of November; and the Church’s teaching on the veneration of saints.
What is a Saint?
The Church defines saints as “persons in heaven (officially canonized or not), who lived heroically virtuous lives, offered their life for others, or were martyred for the faith, and who are worthy of imitation”. This definition provides a lot of room to include Grandma among the pantheon of saints – the Church says that all Christians are called to be saints. The process to become an officially recognized saint has evolved over time. In the early history of the Church, saints could be declared by a proclamation of the people, i.e. by popular vote! The process has become much more formalized with the first steps starting in the sixth century requiring the intervention of a local bishop to assess the life and works of a person (review of causes) before declaring a dead person to be a saint (canonization). The process for canonization continued to develop with Pope Sixtus V’s initiation in 1588 of the Congregation for Sacred Rites which supported the Pope in review of causes. In 1917, a universal Code of Canon Law contained numerous sections outlining the process and causes for canonization. This process was superseded with the 1983 Code of Canon Law which outlined the current process and norms for canonization which is still in effect today.
Current Process for Canonization
The procedure in the Church for officially designating a saint is called the “process of causes of canonization”. There are three designations which a departed person’s “cause” must pass to be declared a saint. The first assessment is done by the local Diocese or Eparchy before moving to reviews in Rome. If the process is “successful” at the Diocese or Eparchy level, then a departed person’s cause is assessed for beatification and sainthood by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, a part of the Roman Curia, before an official approval by the Pope. In addition to these assessments, two miracles (one miracle in some cases) are required to come about through the intercession of the departed person. The following are the designations of the person at each stage.
- Venerable: Formal recognition by the Pope of a historically virtuous life, or martyrdom. (A departed person is called a Servant of God during the time that the cause is under investigation – prior to designation as “Venerable”.)
- Blessed: A person is considered “beatified” when in addition to item 1, one miracle has occurred through the intercession of a candidate. (Note: if a person is declared a martyr, a miracle is not required to be beatified.)
- Saint: In addition to items 1 and 2, a second miracle occurring through the candidate’s intercession is required before the candidate can be declared a saint by the Pope. (Note: The Pope does not make the person a saint. He is officially declaring that the person is with God; and is an example worth imitating.)
As outlined above, one or two miracles are required to occur prior to the designation of sainthood. A miracle is defined as “something that has occurred by the grace of God through the intercession of a Venerable, or Blessed which is scientifically inexplicable”. The miracle must be proven to occur as a result of the candidate’s intercession through canonical investigation. Most miracles are unexplained medical cures which are verified by outside experts to ascertain that the cure was not attributable to a natural cause.
There is a five-year waiting period before the process for the assessment of sainthood can begin, although this time frame can be waived by the Pope.
How Many Official Saints are there?
There is not a precise count of how many of the departed have been officially designated by the Church to be saints, however, there is a document called the “Index ac Status Causarum” (written in Latin) which provides a list of all of the “causes” which have come before the Church’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints for assessment. Over 10,000 is the most cited estimate of the number of saints designated by the Church. That number does not include those who have been designated as “Venerable” or “Blessed”; and is quite a small number compared to the estimated 117 billion people who have lived on the Earth in understood human history.
All Saints Day
The Feast of All Saints (a Holy Day of Obligation) is the day where the Church honors the officially recognized saints in heaven and the myriad of saints who have not been officially canonized. The feast is thought to have originated early in the seventh century by Pope Boniface IV when a Roman temple dedicated to Roman gods was changed into a Christian temple honoring the Blessed Virgin and All the Martyrs. The day of the feast was designated as November 1 by Pope Gregory III in 741.
All Souls Day
November 2nd is the day established by the Church to commemorate and pray for the faithful departed. It was initiated toward the end of the tenth century by St. Odilo, the Abbot of the Monastery Church of Cluny, France.
Veneration of Saints
Catholics venerate (give great respect, or reverence, to) saints and look to them as examples on how to live their lives. Some saints are associated with certain occupations such as Saint Joseph, the carpenter, the Husband of Mary, and the guardian of the Family of Nazareth. Some are invoked for particular causes such as Saint Jude, the patron of impossible/hopeless causes; and Saint Peregrine for those suffering from cancer.
The Baltimore Catechism (Lesson 17) allows for the honor of saints in heaven, as long as they are not given the honor that belongs to God alone.
A visit to a Catholic Church will provide great sources of contemplation of saints and many churches are named with a saint as patron. See many examples of saints and churches named for saints at https://churchwonders.com
Baltimore Catechism - https://www.catholicity.com/baltimore-catechism/lesson17.html
EWTN - https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/halloweens-origins-2874
National Catholic Register - https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/everything-you-need-know-about-popes-and-saints
Population Reference Bureau - https://www.prb.org/articles/how-many-people-have-ever-lived-on-earth/
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops - https://www.usccb.org/offices/public-affairs/saints
Note: Consistent with the most common usage, the word “saint” is capitalized here only when used before the name of a canonized saint, or if the word is used in a title, or if at the start of a sentence.