In a word

Saint

Mon, Apr 28, 2014, 01:00

What is a saint ? By any other name, an extraordinary human being. The word comes from the Latin sanctus , which means “holy”. From which word ( sanctus ) was descended the Old French saint, seinte , the Old English sanct , Dutch sint, and German sanct . Which just goes to prove, were such proof needed, just how rooted in Latin are so many European languages.

Becoming a saint is not easy and should not be attempted at home. Like so much else, it was easier in the past. Back in those BS (Before Standards) days when all that was necessary for someone to be declared a saint was public acclamation of same.

Proof was not required, just the overwhelming opinion/desire of the masses. Then, it must be emphasised that according to the Catholic Church saints are not made, they are recognised. (“You lookin’ at me?”). And so, of the first 50 popes, 48 were declared saints. Pope Francis is number 266.

And that was the way until medieval times. Before then there was no formal process for determining that someone was a saint . Since when, more or less, only the pope can authorise canonisation. It was Pope John Paul II, himself declared a saint yesterday, who established the current procedures leading to sainthood, in 1983. Since when there are five steps to that particular heaven. So to speak.

No sooner than five years (unless a Pope decides otherwise) after the relevant virtuous person’s death, a bishop may open an investigation into his/her life in response to wishes of the faithful. Details of this “Servant of God” are then presented to the Congregation for the Cause of the Saints in Rome, where a postulator is appointed to investigate further.

Should the evidence warrant it the person may then be proclaimed “Venerable”. Proof of one miracle and he/she can then be declared “Blessed”, and proof of two such miracles means he/she . . . “goes marching” in with all the other saints. In instances, as with John XXIII yesterday, the Pope may decide proof of just one miracle is adequate before agreeing to canonisation.

The canonisation of a Pope has become rare in Catholicism with just one, Pius X, declared a saint in all of the 20th century. He died in 1914 and became a saint in 1954. Never before in the history of human endeavour have two popes been canonised at the one time, as with John XXIII and John Paul II yesterday.

inaword@irishtimes.com