Canonization

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Canonization (or canonisation) is the act by which the Catholic Church or another religious group declares a deceased person to be a saint and is included in the canon, or list, of recognized saints. Originally, individuals were recognized as saints without any formal process.

Canonization, whether formal or informal, does not make someone a saint: it is only a declaration that the person is a saint and was a saint even before canonization.

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Historical development of the process

The first persons whom the Christian Church honored as saints were the martyrs. Pious legends of their deaths were considered to affirm the truth of their faith in Christ, and formalization and celebration of these legends served to legitimize and propagate the doctrines of the Church and serve as examples.

The Latin Rite Canon of the Mass contains the names only of martyrs, along with that of the Virgin Mary and, since 1962, that of Saint Joseph.

By the fourth century, however, "confessors"--people who had confessed their faith not by dying but by word and life—began to be venerated publicly. Examples of such people are Saint Hilarion and Saint Ephrem the Syrian in the East, and Saint Martin of Tours and Saint Hilary of Poitiers in the West. Their names were inserted in the diptychs, the lists of saints explicitly venerated in the liturgy, and their tombs were honoured like those of the martyrs. Since the witness of their lives was not as unequivocal as that of the martyrs, they were venerated publicly only with the approval by the local bishop.

This approval was required even for veneration of a reputed martyr. In his history of the Donatist heresy, Saint Optatus recounts that at Carthage a Catholic matron, named Lucilla, incurred the censures of the Church for having kissed the relics of a reputed martyr whose claims to martyrdom had not been juridically proved. And Saint Cyprian (died 258) recommended that the utmost diligence be observed in investigating the claims of those who were said to have died for the faith. All the circumstances accompanying the martyrdom were to be inquired into; the faith of those who suffered, and the motives that animated them were to be rigorously examined, in order to prevent the recognition of undeserving persons. Evidence was sought from the court records of the trials or from people who had been present at the trials.

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