Beatification and canonization are acts of the Roman Catholic Church declaring that a deceased person led a holy life. People still living can then request the blessed (if beatified) or saint (if canonized) to intercede with God on their behalf. The blessed or saint is honored and revered due to their actions while living, but they are not worshiped as God is. Honors may include feasts and masses performed in their name, as well as images and relics displayed to inspire the worshipers.
Beatification is an administrative act whereby a nominee is authorized to have a “cultus” or a specific group of people who identify with, and request favors from, the beatified. The nominee can be a martyr killed in the service of Christ or a confessor. A confessor’s life and writings must be inspected for heroic virtue (bravery and distinction marked by godly motives and not human desire), sanctity, and adherence to Roman Catholic doctrine. The deceased confessor must also have had part in a verifiable miracle. The presence of an unauthorized cultus disqualifies both the martyr and confessor from consideration.
The formal process for confirmation has changed greatly in the last several hundred years. Originally, the church required fifty years between the time of the nominee’s death and the beginning of the investigation. This has been decreased to five years. After a long inquiry, the pope authorizes the beatification, the newly beatified person is labeled “blessed,” and people of the area identified with the beatified are allowed to perform limited actions in the blessed’s name.
Canonization is a decree announcing a person has qualified for sanctification. The decree publicly declares the nominee is holy and in heaven with God. Where the veneration of the beatified is limited in scope, canonization binds the universal church to honor the saint. The qualifications include all those included in beatification plus another miracle occurring due to the intercession of the person, which is seen as God’s confirmation of the nominee’s sanctity. Additional honors include specific liturgies performed and churches dedicated in the saint’s name.
The core of beatification and canonization is in the belief that very good people of the church go straight to heaven, rule with Jesus, and intercede with God on behalf of the people on earth and in purgatory. James 5:16 is used to justify the practice: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” But nowhere does the Bible encourage seeking the attention or favor of those who have died, and praying to the dead is strictly forbidden.
Beatification, singling someone out for special status among the deceased believers, is unbiblical. All believers, whether dead or alive, are called “saints” in Scripture (1 Corinthians 1:2; Acts 9:13, 32; Ephesians 4:12). All believers are equally holy and righteous, not by our own acts, but by virtue of the righteousness of Christ imputed to us at the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). All believers are equally precious in the sight of God and there is none who can boast of any special place before Him. Finally, developing a “cultus” (from which we get the word “cult”) around a deceased person to whom we offer prayers and petitions borders on necromancy, (consulting the dead) which is also strictly forbidden in Scripture (Deuteronomy 18:11).
Beatification and canonization are rites and traditions of the Roman Catholic Church and are based on a misunderstanding and/or misinterpretation of Scripture. Saints are the body of Christ, Christians, the church. All Christians are considered saints. All Christians are saints—and at the same time are called to be saints. In Roman Catholic practice, the saints are revered, prayed to, and in some instances, worshiped (although this is vehemently denied by Catholics). In the Bible, saints are called to revere, worship, and pray to God alone.