The canonization process is a long and arduous one. It involves beatification, the most difficult step toward sainthood. Beatification comes from the word “blessed,” and is distinct from full canonization in that the individual is at least locally, but not ecclesiastically, venerated. The Catholic Encyclopedia offers no less than 20 steps for the beatification process, but the Handbook of Spirituality gives three succinct steps—examinations of the individual’s writings, virtues, and miracles.
First, the individual’s writings are collected, translated into Italian, and read over by the cardinals of the Congregation of Rites. If nothing in the writings is found to be contrary to the faith and morals of the Catholic doctrine, then the appointment is debated and, if the decision is favorable, the pope signs a decree with his baptismal name, which gives the servant of God a new title: Venerable.
After Cardinal Fulton Sheen was declared Venerable in June (2012), a replica of the massive positio was released and can be seen here on Brandon Vogt’s excellent blog, The Thin Veil.
The second step is the examination of the individual’s virtues–which is a complicated process of attaining remissorial letters for the bishops and beginning an inquiry into the sanctity of the individual. Then the question of whether there’s evidence that the venerable servant of God practiced virtues both theological and cardinal to a heroic degree must be discussed. This question is of the utmost importance and is determined in three separate meetings, including one presided over by the pope. Should the answer turn out favorably, the pope signs another decree, but only after praying on the matter.
The last step of beatification requires that two miracles of the first class be proven. The miracles are discussed and debated based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, and the Congregation of Rites need only discuss the miracles once. If the final decision is favorable, the pope issues a brief, which permits the veneration of the Blessed (beatified) individual.
The final step of canonization, to be made a true saint, requires that at least two miracles are worked at the intercession of the blessed individual. After this is proven, the pope issues a Bull of Canonization which commands worldwide veneration of the newly made saint.
Catholic Terms 101:
Positio—the body of work off of which the inquiry of an individual’s virtue is based.
Beatification—the second and most difficult step toward becoming a saint, beatification involves local, but not universal veneration.
Canonization—the final step of sainthood, proven through 2 intercessions.