What exactly is the difference between saints and blesseds? All most of us know is that a saint is definitely in heaven whereas a blessed is… well, I guess they’re something lesser? For years, I couldn’t get a clear answer from anyone.

So I decided to do some digging for everyone’s sake!

Communion of Saints by José Luiz
Communion of Saints Courtesy of José Luiz

A Quick History Recap

The Catholic Church has venerated holy men and women since the beginning. They were so holy that Christians couldn’t help but imitate their lives.

As the Church improved its organization, veneration of saints became more official.

In the 11th century, the Church began to think the pope should allow public veneration. This became official in 1234 A.D. with Pope Gregory IX.1

In the 14th century, the pope began to allow local areas to venerate “Servants of God” in public. This helped ease their burdens as they waited for them to become an “official” saint.2

This laid the groundwork for what we know as “Blesseds.”

After Pope Sixtus IV in 1483, the title “Blessed” became official.3

St. Teresa of Calcutta with the Reagans
St. Teresa of Calcutta with the Reagans – 1985

What is a Canonized Saint?

The Catholic Church recognizes that a canonized saint:

  • practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace4
  • Is a model and intercessor5

That’s pretty impressive. Saints need to go through a long process to make sure that they actually did live lives of heroic virtue. The Body of Christ6 that unites us on earth also extends to heaven. If I ask my friend here on earth to pray for me, why would I not ask also ask someone in heaven?

It just makes sense.

Pope Bl. Paul VI - 1963
Pope Bl. Paul VI – 1963

What is a Blessed?

Well, there isn’t an official definition to point to. Here’s what we do know:

  • A certain area receives an indult (a fancy word for permission) from the pope to venerate the blessed. This area could be as small as a city or even a whole diocese. This differs from a saint, who the universal church venerates.
  • The blessed displayed heroic virtue worth imitating in their lifetime.
  • The blessed is one approved miracle away from canonization.

Saints vs. Blesseds – What Do We Do Now?

For saints:

  • Ask for their prayers!
  • Read up on their lives. St. Ignatius of Loyola experienced his conversion by reading the lives of the saints. A little spiritual reading led to a whole new religious order!
  • Imitate their lives of personal holiness and heroic virtue.
  • Strive to become a “canonizable” saint yourself!

For blesseds:

  • Ask for a miracle! They are only one miracle away from canonization after all.
  • Imitate their lives. Like their canonized counterparts, they are also worth imitating.
  • Spread the word. Usually, blesseds don’t receive as much publicity as the saints. Let your friends know how awesome they were, too!

Who are your favorite or underrated saints and blesseds? Let us know in the comments!

Further Reading:

  1. New procedures in the Rite of Beatification – Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, C.M.F. – Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Catechism of the Catholic Church – Paragraph 828
  5. Ibid.
  6. Catechism of the Catholic Church – Paragraphs 787-795