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What is meant by Beatification?

Questions and Answers

Beatification and Canonisation have a long history. They evoke many a question with the critical observer. As with other questions about tradition it is beneficial to be aware of the background, to be able to better classify and appreciate it justly. We attempt in this contribution to answer those question from a Catholic point of view.

What are Saints and Beatified (Blessed)?

Saints and the Blessed are Christian witnesses of Faith. They have manifestly realised their faith in an exemplary manner. They have been able to make their faith come alive in their respective time and place. By living especially virtuous lives in imitation of Christ, by a special spiritual strength or through their deaths they followed their own personal way of faith to become one with God. Not all are necessarily examples for us to follow today – their ways of life were far too individual and peculiar to their times. But they can encourage us, to reflect on our own faith and life.

What is the difference between Saints and Beatified (Blessed)?

A beatification can be the precursor to a canonisation, but does not necessarily have to be. The Blessed are not venerated world-wide, but just in a certain place or region, or a certain ecclesiastical community, – a limitation which disappears with canonisation.

How many Saints and Blessed are there?

That is very hard to quantify. The Martyrologium Romanum is the official register of all Saints and Blessed of the Roman-Catholic Church. It lists 6650 Blessed and Saints by name, as well as 7400 Martyrs killed during persecutions of the Christians and whose names remained unknown, sometimes an even more exact number. The book has been re-published in 2004, its first edition dating to 1584. Before that time there existed some local registers, but also beatifications and canonisations of a local nature, making the determination of an exact number no longer possible.

Are not all Christians Saints?

In the New Testament the terms Saints and Christians are often used synonymously, like in an address to a community in the Letters of Paul. We refer to the Church as the Community of Saints, as in the Creed. Christians are called “holy”, because they are united with God through Faith and Baptism and thus are part of God’s holiness. In that sense all Christians, living or dead, are Saints. At the same time, Christians at all times have been painfully aware that this did not automatically mean they led holy lives. There is sin among Christians, yes, also among saints, as Martin Luther repeatedly stressed. These tensions in the lives of men are meant to be overcome and one is encouraged to give more to the things of God. We may be helped by people, the Saints, who succeeded in all of this, but ultimately we have to rely on God’s grace. Justification and Canonisation thus form the two sides of a coin.

Are not the Blessed and Saints unreachable for us?

The Blessed and the Saints are not pious parents. They didn’t even want to be something out of the ordinary, in the sense that they placed themselves above others. To the contrary: They often felt sinful, unworthy or helpless. And no beatification is going to them Über-Christians, but will make us see that people, despite turmoil, wants and sinfulness, - can walk the way of Jesus Christ. And by that become great.

Do we pray to the Blessed or Saints?

No! The Blessed and the Saints are venerated, but by no means “prayed” to, that we can only do to God. The Second Council of Nicaea 787 clarified the difference for the whole of Christendom. The Council of Trient after the reformation elucidated that Christ alone is Redeemer and Saviour, but hat the Saints may be called upon and venerated. Veneration means to value someone, to respect and look up to him or exalt him, not to idolize. That would be totally wrong and not in the teaching of the Church.

Must a Catholic venerate the Beatified and Saints?

For the Church as a whole it is right and fitting to keep alive the testament of these people, to have an example of Faith and Life and to experience the Church as a community across the centuries. Thus, it becomes possible to ask the Saints for their protection and help or their intercession, which has been attested since the third century. However, the individual need not deduce this to be an obligation; he has the choice to include the veneration in his own expression of piety or not.

May I ask the Blessed to intercede with God on my behalf?

Naturally, everyone can place his concerns before God at any time. To ask for an intercession, however, is by no means unusual for a Christian. Already the Bible tells us, that the Apostles prayed for each other, and who hasn’t asked a friend for help in a difficult situation: Pray for me! The Church has at all times seen itself as a community, embracing the living and the dead, the Church as a community even beyond Death. Thus, we can ask the Christians of times gone by, to pray for us and intercede with God on our behalf.

Don’t the Blessed divert us from Jesus Christ?

That may, unfortunately, be the case with some people, but it is an aberration. The Blessed and the Saints are meant to lead us to Christ. In the life of a Saint is the Light of Christ. No Saint has led his life in a way, to ennoble himself. Each one, in his own way, has tried to imitate Christ, and many a one has quarrelled. We can see in the Saints, how we ourselves could succeed to follow God trustingly, because that is the focus in life of a Saint.

Why can the Church just decide, to make someone “blessed”?

The Church doesn’t. The conception of „beatification“can cause misunderstandings. One might think that the Church only makes some-one a Saint or a Blessed by beatification. This is not so. Persons may, by the way they have conducted their lives following Jesus Christ, or on occasion through the circumstances of their death, be considered to have had a special connection with God, to be “holy” in a comprehensive sense. We may therefore be certain, that this person is close to God. However, this person is already “Blessed” or “Holy” after death, not only after the act of “Beatification”. The Church merely declares that it is certain of the fact. The Church makes that declaration in the ceremony of Beatification.

Can the Catholic Church beatify Lutheran Christians?

The Catholic Church only beatifies or canonises Catholics. Not because Catholics believe only Catholics to be suited or worthy, but because they respect the perceptions and faiths of other Churches or denominations.

What is the Process?

Firstly, the candidate must be deemed to be „holy-like” by believers; which may have been demonstrated by a virtuous life or dying as a martyr. Only then can the local bishop start the process. In the first instance the life and any written legacy of the candidate are examined by the diocese initiating the process, and witnesses interviewed. If this initial process confirms that the person in question has lived „holy-like“, the documentation is then forwarded to the Vatican Congregation for Process of Beatification and Canonisation. A “promotor” (Prosecutor) will also present reasons, why a candidate should not be beatified, just to keep things above board. The Congregation examines all the documentation and delivers its “Votum”. Finally, the matter is put before the Pope, who must give his approval. The solemn declaration of Beatification then normally occurs locally in the diocese.

What do other denominations have to say on the subject?

Not just the Catholic Church is acquainted with the veneration of Saints. Orthodoxy has Saints as well. Some of them have never been canonised officially, but are simply venerated by the believers as such. These days canonisations are proclaimed by a bishop. The Lutheran Churches decline the interceding function of Saints, but accept their function as examples on how to conduct one’s life and the interpretation of holiness as witnessing grace in their creeds and lately also emphasize the connection of Church and the Community of Saints.


Text: Sebastian Fiebig
English Translation: Hans-Heinrich Boeker, Wyoming, Australia

Candles © Fiebig