A Guide To Catholic Saints
Saints may be those who have lived lives of extraordinary or heroic virtue or martyrs, those who have been killed for professing the faith. Saints are classified in one of nine categories: virgins, apostles, martyrs, confessors, prophets, patriarchs, penitents, the chaste, and the married. A saint’s feast day is celebrated on the date of their death.
A martryology is a list of saints, blesseds, and martyrs arranged by feast day. The Roman martyrology is the official calendar of saints recognized and venerated by the Roman Catholic Church. The most recent Roman Martyrology was published in December 2004 but is updated as new saints and blesseds are proclaimed. The martyrology recognizes 10-20 saints per day and includes some biographical information that can be read or sung as part of the Liturgy of the Hours or during the Mass. The Roman Calendar includes those saints whose cult is celebrated by the entire church. Individual countries, religious orders, or regions may include local saints in their own calendars. All saints recognized by the Church are included in the Roman Martyrology.
The Catholic Church teaches that saints are venerated, or shown honor and respect (in Latin, “dulia”). This is distinct from the worship given to God (in Latin, “latria”). Not all cults are officially recognized. Popular devotion may be shown locally to a deceased holy person with or without the approval of the local bishop but not be recognized by the Vatican. Early saints were “canonized” in this way. The local congregation recognized their holiness and began venerating them as saints after their death and the cult was then accepted by the local bishop. Often these local cults centered on the veneration of the saint’s relics, usually the bones or special objects associated with the saint. Occasionally the saint was brought to the attention of Rome and was officially canonized. The centralization of the canonization process began under Pope Urban II in 1089 and in 1107 Pope Alexander III decreed that only the Supreme Pontiff could declare a person a saint. Pope Gregory IX incorporated this decree into Church law in 1234. Popular cults not officially recognized by the Pope provide a reasonable certainty that the person in question is in heaven. The declaration of a saint by the Pope is held to be an exercise of papal infallibility, which protects the Church from recognizing unworthy candidates as saints and provides assurance that the saint is in heaven.
Canonization is the process by which a holy person is declared a saint. A prospective saint’s cause for canonization may be opened five years after the person’s death. A postulator collects information on the person, including their correspondence and interviews with friends, family, and associates. After concluding that the person did lead a life of heroic virtue, the person is given the title “Venerable” or “Servant of God”. The faithful can then ask the intercession of the Servant of God. If a miracle occurs through the intercession of the person, it is investigated and verified by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. If the miracle is genuine, the Pope beatifies the Servant of God and he is then called “Blessed”. Blesseds are included in the Roman Martyrology and their feast day may be celebrated by their local church or their religious order. A second verified miracle is necessary for canonization, when the person becomes a saint.
Patron saints are saints who, through tradition, custom, or by declarations of the Church, are considered special protectors of certain occupations, types of people, or places, usually because of a particular attribute or biographical detail. Saints are invoked against illnesses or conditions. For example, St. Blaise is invoked against diseases of the throat because he saved a child from choking to death on a fish bone. Saints are also the patrons of occupations or types of people. For example, St. Vincent Ferrer is the patron of plumbers and St. Joseph is the patron saint of married couples. Saints can also be the patron of a church, a city, a diocese or archdiocese, a country, or a continent.