Question about Sainthood

Hello all,
I am a Protestant evangelical who would like to run something by you that I heard on a local Catholic radio station where I live (Oklahoma) that puzzles me. I was hoping you could shed some light on it and help me better understand the context and meaning.

On the Catholic radio station, at least a couple times a day a recording comes on where a local priest asks for prayer for the canonization of a former Oklahoma priest – Stanley Rother – who was murdered in 1981 in Guatemala. In short, the priest asks God to allow him to be proclaimed as a martyr and saint by the Universal Church.

Why would this issue be considered so important for people to publicly ask for such an action to take place?

I presume the priest was a true man of God who loved the Guatemalan people so much that he risked his life to serve them and was killed while doing so. I also presume he is with God in heaven now and has received his heavenly reward.

I guess I am trying to understand why it is so important to proclaim him a saint. Do Catholics believe that he will receive a higher reward in heaven than he already has if the Catholic Church proclaims him to be a saint? Just trying to understand the context of this request a little better from the Catholic perspective. Forgive my ignorance on this matter.


By way of analogy… you know how some people petition the government to have a medal given to someone posthumously? Like a purple heart or bronze star that they were overlooked for? Maybe it is relatives or someone that knew him. They take up his cause and bring it to the attention of others and gather momentum and then maybe it goes to the Congress or the President…

Then their name goes on a memorial somewhere, they have a school named after them… whatever.

Well, that’s sort of an imperfect analogy.

The bishop and others who knew him personally have opened a cause for canonization. This means they believe he should be venerated publicly and have a feast day on the calendar and so forth. They know of his personal holiness, contribution to the church, life, and death. So, they are asking others to join in that cause and pray for his canonization. They are also publicizing his life in this way so that-- just like you-- others may go Google him and learn more about him and be inspired by him or learn about his cause in some other way. This is the way that momentum is built and ordinary people are brought to the attention of the Church.

Right now my own diocese has opened a cause for a priest of our diocese who went to South America and started an orphanage. He didn’t die a martyr, but his personal sanctity is well known and our bishop has opened his cause. The diocese produced a video of his life and sent it out across the diocese and put it online so that others could learn about this wonderful holy man we knew in our own little corner of the world.

Unless and until someone is declared blessed (beatified) or a saint (canonized) they cannot be publicly venerated. When they are blessed but not yet a saint, veneration and celebrations of feast days are limited to things like the local diocese or country. If/when they are canonized then it is a feast of the universal church. Church buildings could be named after them, their feast day celebrated, etc.

It’s a way of formally honoring someone and holding them up as an example to the faithful.

Thank you very much, 1ke. That really helps put things in context. I liked your analogy, by the way. It helped me better understand why they might be doing it.

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7)

It is one of the ways Catholics observe this Biblical command of remembering those who led exemplary Christian lives and who have proved themselves to be effective Christian intercessors in heaven.

Being proclaimed a Saint is basically the way the Church says this person is in heaven. If the Church canonizes you a Saint, it means people on earth can have 100% confirmation and assurance that this person is in heaven. If not canonized, we don’t know if this person is in heaven or not.

There is a vetting process that is conducted by the Church. This happens so that the faithful can have confidence in following the person as an example in the faith.

Others gave good answers. I’d like to add a bit from my experience as a convert. When I was a Protestant the pastor would often include some story in his sermon. This story would necessarily involve individuals. Many times the people weren’t named or if they were I had no idea who they were.

One great thing about the Saints is that by the nature of the practice you get a name and life story to remember. It simply stands out more that a person is a Saint, and it is likely you’ll hear about them many times over a life, especially if you attend daily Mass, and repetition is good. For instance, I likely would have never heard of St. Charles Lwanga and his companions who were martyred in Uganda had I not gone to daily Mass on his memorial. I did and was interested in his story so after Mass found out more about him.

The practice also is good because you encounter Saints who had displayed different heroic virtues. For instance you might have a Saint who is remembered in part for his heroic chastity. It is good to be reminded of specific virtues, and not just a general holiness. And it is really good to be reminded of things like chastity, which gets ignored in our modern world (and even sadly might not otherwise be mentioned from the pulpit).

Finally the practice is good because it extends through the entire history of the Church. There are Saints from the early days as well as recent. One serious problem I had as a Protestant was it seemed like the Church started in sixteenth century.

Keep in mind that two miracles have to be attributed to the intercession of the saint in order for them to be canonized.

That’s one way we know they are in Heaven.


Thanks, everyone for the clarifying answers.

I am not aware of any miracles attributed to Stanley Rother as listed in the Wikipedia article, but assume there are some since they are seeking sainthood and martyrdom for him.

One thing I found a bit odd is that the Wikipedia article says that his congregation in Guatemala literally cut out his heart after he was murdered to keep it under the altar of their church. Is that kind of thing common? I assumed they received permission from his family to do that. I am guessing that is a symbolic act that expresses his heart and love was for that people.

I know some saints (like St Peter and others) were buried at the cathedral or church named after them, but I didn’t realize that some congregations cut out/off certain human organs to keep as relics, but I admit I am weak in knowledge regarding the whole topic of relics.

There are many paths to beatification and sainthood, and it has changed over the years.

If a person is confirmed to have been martyred for the faith, a miracle is not required for beatification.

Relics of saints are often distributed to churches that bear their name, or to others that have some connection with the saint. Even before sainthood, yes, it might be the case that his heart is buried where he worked (a rather literal version of “I left my heart in San Francisco”) and his body in OK.

It’s not unheard of, and it’s not new, and it’s not really restricted to saints. For example, Richard the Lionheart is buried in Fontevraud Abbey in France, but his heart is in the cathedral in Rouen. And he lived over 1000 years ago. There are other such examples.

I’m not sure if he was a diocesan or religious priest and I’m also not sure that it was up to his family. It could have been a decision of his bishop or religious superior. But I really don’t know.

Hair, bones, etc, are more common. But, I believe that the heart is a very appropriate symbol since he loved his Guatemalan people so much.

Well, not exactly. They don’t “have to” be, because they can be dispensed by the Pope. And, if he is found to have been martyred for the faith, then no miracle is needed for beatification.

The current document governing beatification and canonization (keeping in mind the Pope can do whatever he wants and can dispense or change these requirements)

Thanks once again, 1ke. Along the line of hair, my mother kept a lock of my grandmother’s hair in a family book of keepsakes, so I can relate to that one especially.

Second class relics are common too, items the saint owned or used personally. In our diocese one church has a pair of gloves that belonged to St. Gianna Molla (who, of course, being a lady in the first half of the 20th century wore gloves regularly).

There are relics of saints such as their rosary or other religious items.

oh, and the bones, heart, etc, being buried under or encased in the altar goes back to the first century when the Christians said mass in the catacombs-- literally on the burial vaults of the martyrs.

When they emerged from the catacombs, they took this 3 century old custom with them as they were able to freely build churches and worship openly.

Another example from modern time is the great Catholic Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, Otto von Habsburg. His body is buried in the Imperial Crypt and his heart at an abbey. He died in 2011.

Miracles are associated with the mortal remains of saints, such as the one associated with bones of Elisha in 2 Kings 13:21. Miracles are also associated with items that were used or touched by saints, such as the handkerchiefs or aprons mentioned in Acts 19:12.

Thanks, Todd, and to everyone else who contributed to this thread, especially 1ke. You all helped put all of this into proper focus for me and I appreciate it.

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