Beatification is bestowed by the Catholic Church on those individuals who have been deemed to have ascended to heaven and can intercede for mankind. It is often a step towards canonization and sainthood, which are considered to be greater honors. The Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say about beatification and canonization:
Canonization, generally speaking, is a decree regarding the public ecclesiastical veneration of an individual. Such veneration, however, may be permissive or preceptive, may be universal or local. If the decree contains a precept, and is universal in the sense that it binds the whole Church, it is a decree of canonization; if it only permits such worship, or if it binds under precept, but not with regard to the whole Church, it is a decree of beatification.