On November 1 we celebrate the feast of All Saints—a celebration not just of all the canonized Saints but of all the unknown, unnamed and/or forgotten saints who have gone before us in faith but with whom we are still intimately connected through the Communion of Saints. So, this month we are going to take a little time to think big, like "all saints" big, and think about how the idea of saints and living a holy life are part of who we are, even when we might not think so.
First, in this particular phrase, the word “saints” is used even more broadly than you might typically think as it refers to all those—living and dead—who are united through space and time by the bond of our participation in the love of God in Christ. You are probably familiar with Paul's address in his letters of “brothers and sisters” but did you know that he also addressed Christians (the living!) as “saints” or “holy ones”? Why? Well, holiness isn’t really a quality of ours as much as a sharing in God’s holiness for only God is Holy (you could say, holiness is ours by association). In addressing other Christians as “holy ones,” Paul highlights that we are made holy by our incorporation into the body of Christ through our baptism, not by any merit of ours.
So with all that said, what is the communion of saints? Essentially, it is the Church in the broadest terms for it is all of us, living and dead, those in heaven, purgatory and on earth, who are united with each other in Christ.
The current process dates to 1983. It begins at the local level when someone is recommended to the bishop as a possible candidate for canonization. The bishop conducts a thorough examination into the life of this candidate and, if he deems there is sufficient cause to proceed, he forwards the cause to the Congregation for the Cause of Saints and the candidate is now called Servant of God. The Congregation takes up the cause and further examines the material provided and puts together an Acta, or Life of the Servant of God, highlighting how the candidate is an example of heroic virtue. This is brought before a panel for study and, if approved, the candidate is declared Venerable, meaning, she or he has been found to be a good role model, possessing Christian virtues, and may be officially prayed to for intercession. If, through the intercession of this Servant of God a miracle is granted, the Servant of God is declared Blessed. A second miracle is needed in order for a Blessed to be declared a Saint.
Want to learn more about the canonization process? Have a look at Making Saints: How The Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes A Saint, Who Doesn't, And Why by Kenneth L Woodward.
Looking for a patron saint? Visit this page.
For a quick tour from All Hallow's Eve to All Saints Day to Saints in our lives, check out this video from Fr. James Martin. Don't worry–it's short and entertaining.
Read more. Browse the books about saints on the table under the Year of Faith bulletin board in the Gathering Space. Check back here again soon for a bibliography of some good reads on saints.