The term originates from the line at the end of
Saint Paul ‘s Letter to the Galatians where he says, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” (Gal.6:17).
Stigmata is the plural of the Greek word στίγμα (stigma), which means a “mark”. It is also the root word for the term stigmatize.
Many reported stigmatics are members of Catholic religious orders. St. Francis of Assisi was the first recorded stigmatic in Christian history. And for over fifty years, St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin reported stigmata which were studied by several 20th-century physicians.
The Church takes a very critical and — with good reason — very rigorous look at specific cases before talking about this topic. This is why it has made a positive pronouncement only in a few cases and after rigorous medical and theological studies. Meaning, it is only considered a supernatural happenings, if science cannot explain it.
The stigmata represent a sign of Christ’s sufferings during the Passion, and therefore they constitute a theological statement; that is to say, they are a faithful reproduction in certain people of Jesus’ wounds at the moment of his crucifixion, above all in what refers to the place of the wounds (feet, hands, side and head).
In the cases the Church has approved, the stigmata are a grace of God granted to few saints; the stigmata are physical manifestations of Christian mysticism.
We must keep in mind that when the Church recognizes a phenomenon as authentic, it accepts the phenomenon but in no case does it propose that it be believed as a doctrine of faith.
The Church doesn’t canonize anyone just because they have the stigmata. What the Church does when it canonizes is recognize the exemplary Christian life of a saint, whether or not he or she has the stigmata.
The phenomenon of the stigmata is a sign of the reality of Christ’s passion on the Cross. By God’s will, certain saints who have loved and meditated on the sacrifice of Christ crucified have participated in his sufferings. They offer those sufferings with the same spirituality as Saint Paul, who said, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” (Colossians 1:24).