In the early days of the Catholic Church, there was no established norm for canonization -- the process of declaring a person a saint. Pope Gregory IX established the first formal beatification and canonization procedures in 1234. These procedures have been modified several times since, most recently in 1983 by Pope John Paul II. Beatification is the third of of four parts in the canonization process. A person who has been beatified is not yet considered a saint, but is referred to as "Blessed" while the Catholic Church waits for evidence of the person's sainthood.

The Process Begins

The process of beatification and canonization usually begins in the diocese in which the proposed saint died. The person must have died at least five years before the proposal, unless the pope personally waives this requirement. In the history of the Catholic Church, only two popes have waived this requirement -- Pope John Paul II waived it for Mother Teresa, and Pope Benedict XVI waived it for Pope John Paul II. When beatification is proposed, a bishop heads a "diocesan tribunal," which is tasked with gathering evidence of the proposed saint's virtue and the heroic nature of his or her faith. This is done by reviewing the person's life and writings; the process usually takes several years. During this process, the proposed saint is referred to as "Servant of God."

Congregation for the Causes of the Saints

If the diocesan tribunal believes a Servant of God should be considered for beatification, it forwards its recommendation to a special group of cardinals, archbishops and bishops in the Vatican known as the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. The Congregation for the Causes of the Saints reviews the tribunal's findings and votes on whether the Servant of God should be recommended for beatification. If the congregation approves the candidate, its recommendation is passed on to the pope. The pope then makes a final decision concerning whether the Servant of God should be further examined for sainthood. If the Pope approves the Servant of God's for the beatification process, the proposed saint is referred to as "Venerated."

Approval of First Miracle

In most cases, the beatification process continues when a miracle is attributed to the venerated individual. The only time this can be waived is in the case of martyrdom, which Catholics regard as a miracle, and it can only be waived by the pope. Miracles are proposed and examined in the diocese in which they are alleged to have taken place. The alleged miracle is examined scientifically and theologically to determine its validity. Most proposed miracles involve healing of an incurable medical condition. To pass the scientific validation, the alleged miracle must be something that cannot possibly be attributed to natural or scientific causes. To pass the theological validation, it must be determined that the person receiving the miracle had prayed about the matter exclusively to the venerated person. If the diocesan tribunal determines that a miracle is attributable, it passes its findings to the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints, which repeats the examination process.

Beatification Begins

If the Congregation of the Causes of the Saints approves the attribution of a miracle, it may recommend beatification to the pope. If the pope approves, he performs the Rite of Beatification, in which the venerated individual is recognized as beatified and referred to as "Blessed." Once a person has been beatified, he or she may be publicly venerated -- that is, adored or asked for intercession -- in areas or churches closely associated with the blessed individual's life. Churches or dioceses that are not directly associated with the blessed individual also may petition the pope for permission to venerate the individual in their liturgies.

Beyond Beatification

A beatified person is not considered a saint until he or she has been canonized. To be canonized, a second miracle must be attributed to the beatified individual and the pope must perform the Rite of Canonization. After a beatified person is canonized, he or she is given the title of "Saint" and appointed a feast day. This feast day may be publicized locally or worldwide, depending on the appeal of the saint. Once a person has been canonized, he or she may be publicly venerated by any Roman Catholic Church.