Canonization, the process the Church uses to name a saint, has only
been used since the tenth 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, beatification, 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 beatified 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
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.
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.
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 Saint 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 Saint Francis of Assisi might remind us of how much he loved God's creation
and make us more aware of our environment.
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 Saint Monica to pray for them if
they have trouble with unanswered prayers, because Monica prayed for twenty
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.
Well, yes and no. The official Roman calendar of feast days for celebration
by the Universal Church (in other words, all over the world) does not have
a saint's feast day every day. The Church chooses saints to be celebrated
worldwide very carefully -- they must have a strong message for the Church
as a whole. That doesn't mean that other saints are somehow less holy --
although some of the saints that have been dropped were legendary and there
is little evidence they existed.
Religious orders, countries, localities, and individuals are free to
celebrate the feast days of saints not listed on the universal calendar
but which have some importance to them. And there are indeed feast days
for saints every day of the year. As a matter of fact there are at least
three saints for almost every day.
Butler's Lives of the Saints has the most complete listing of saints'
feast days I have found, though I advise care in choosing the edition.
Recent changes have been made to the calendar that would affect feast days.
Before the 1969 reform of the Roman calendar, Christopher was listed
as a martyr who died under Decius. Nothing else is known about him. There
are several legends about him including the one in which he was crossing
a river when a child asked to carried across. When Christopher put the
child on his shoulders he found the child was unbelievably heavy. The child,
according to the legend, was Christ carrying the weight of the whole world.
This was what made Christopher patron saint of travelers. His former feast
day is July 25.
Before the formal canonization process began in the fifteenth century,
many saints were proclaimed by popular approval. This was a much faster
process but unfortunately many of the saints so named were based on legends,
pagan mythology, or even other religions -- for example, the story of the
Buddha traveled west to Europe and he was "converted" into a
Catholic saint! In 1969, the Church took a long look at all the saints
on its calendar to see if there was historical evidence that that saint
existed and lived a life of holiness. In taking that long look, the Church
discovered that there was little proof that many "saints", including
some very popular ones, ever lived. Christopher was one of the names that
was determined to have a basis mostly in legend. Therefore Christopher
(and others) were dropped from the universal calendar.
Some saints were considered so legendary that their cult was completely
repressed (including St. Ursula). Christopher's cult was not suppressed
but it is confined to local calendars (those for a diocese, country, or
For a very well done website on Saints, click