Every Catholic Church’s altar has a relic (a piece of bone) of some saint in it. If possible, the relic is from the saint that the Church was named after when it was built. If not possible, then the Vatican sends the relic of another saint.
The next time you’re in a Catholic Church, ask the priest to show the place where the relic is placed in the altar. You may not be able to see it, but you will be able to see where it is embedded in the altar.
What a relic is: A relic is either part of the physical remains of a holy person after his or her death, or an object which has been in contact with his or her body. The most important relic is that of the Cross of Jesus Christ, which is traditionally held to have been discovered by St. Helena during her famous pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 326 A.D..
The veneration of relics is found in many religions and is rooted in the natural human instinct to treat with reverence anything connected with those we love who have died.
Relics in Catholic Church history
The New Testament speaks of healings worked by handkerchiefs that had been in contact with St. Paul’s body (Acts 19:12).
From earliest times the bodies of the martyrs were held in special veneration. The relics of St. Polycarp (69–155), for example, were described as being “more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold.” In Rome, prayer services were held in the catacombs, and from the fourth century, the Eucharist was celebrated over the tombs of the martyrs.
St. Jerome (345–420) explained that the relics of the martyrs are honoured for the sake of him whose martyrs they are. St. Augustine (345–430) added that their bodies were worthy of veneration since they served them during their lifetime as organs of the Holy Spirit. The Second Council of Nicaea (787) laid down that no Church should be consecrated without relics of saints being placed in the altar stone. This was re-affirmed by the Catholic Church in the 1977 “Rite of Dedication of a Church.”
More than bones: An Irish bishop, reflecting on the visit of St. Thérèse’s relics to Ireland in 2001, stated that the casket contained “not just bones” but “the remains of a burnt-out love for God.”
Why Catholics Venerate Relics Today
There are two main reasons for venerating relics today:
1. Catholics believe that God shows his approval of the veneration of relics by granting healings and other graces. This is the case with St. Thérèse, where miracles began happening at her tomb soon after her death, and have continued wherever her relics have travelled.
2. Catholics believe that God uses a variety of physical things to strengthen their spiritual life. The creation itself helps them know something of his wisdom and love. The sacraments use bread, wine, oil, water and other physical things to give Catholics spiritual life, provided they receive them in faith. Relics help Catholics feel close to a holy person, thus making them more aware that the saints are their friends, and fostering in them a desire for holiness.
Pope Benedict XVI: “By inviting us to venerate the mortal remains of the martyrs and saints, the Church does not forget that, in the end, these are indeed just human bones, but they are bones that belonged to individuals touched by the transcendent power of God. The relics of the saints are traces of that invisible but real presence which sheds light upon the shadows of the world and reveals the Kingdom of Heaven in our midst. They cry out with us and for us ‘Maranatha!’ – ‘Come Lord Jesus!’” (Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Young People at Cologne, 2005).
Catholic shrines include historical sites associated with Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and various saints; the locations of relics associated with Christ or a saint; and the sites of visions, miracles or miraculous statues.
Relics Used in the Catholic Church: The present teaching of the Church, with documentary evidence, on fixing relics of the saints at the altar of Holy Mass is found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 302, which contains the following statement: “The practice of placing relics of Saints, even those not Martyrs, under the altar to be dedicated is fittingly retained. Care should be taken, however, to ensure the authenticity of such relics.”
The following statements summarizes the more detailed treatment found in other documents such as the Roman Pontifical, Dedication of a Church and an Altar, and in the Ceremonial of Bishops. No. 866 of this latter book indicates the basic norms for relics. The tradition in the Roman liturgy of placing relics of martyrs or other saints beneath the altar should be preserved, if possible. But the following should be noted:
a. such relics should be of a size sufficient for them to be recognized as parts of human bodies; hence excessively small relics of one or more saints must not be placed beneath the altar;
b. the greatest care must be taken to determine whether the relics in question are authentic; it is better for an altar to be dedicated without relics than to have relics of doubtful authenticity placed beneath it;
c. a reliquary must not be placed upon the altar or set into the table of the altar; it must be placed beneath the table of the altar, as the design of the altar permits.”
Other numbers such as 876-877 describe some details as to the vesture and form of the entrance processions and the contents of the copy of the record of the dedication to be placed in the reliquary.
Later, in No. 900, the Ceremonial describes the rite of depositing of the relics: If relics of the martyrs or other saints are to be placed beneath the altar, the bishop approaches the altar. A deacon or presbyter brings the relics to the bishop, who places them in a suitably prepared aperture. Meanwhile Psalm 15 (14), with the antiphon ‘Saints of God’ or ‘The bodies of the saints,’ or some other suitable song is sung. “During the singing a stonemason closes the aperture, and the bishop returns to the chair (cathedra).”
The Pope’s Veil: The purpose of the veil placed on the face of Pope John Paul II before his coffin was sealed, hails from the venerable traditions of the Eastern Churches, to explain that this veil is a common custom for priestly funerals, often accompanied by an anointing with blessed oils. In the Byzantine funeral-liturgy for a priest, the large veil (the one used to cover chalice and paten) is placed on the face of the deceased. It is on the one hand a symbol of the strength and protection of God, on the other hand a symbol of the tomb of Christ.” Other readers attest similar practices in other rites such as the Melkite and Ruthenian.
In the early Eastern churches at every Divine Liturgy, the priest would fan his chalice veil over the eucharist gifts during the Creed (a practice that endures to this day). During this fanning of the gifts, the priest is not to look over the top of the veil to the other side, a symbolic sign that, here on earth, he has the faith to believe what, after he dies, he will come to see.
“After the death of the priest, the veil would be placed over the face of the priest, with the front side of the veil, which faced away from him during the Creed, touching his face. This veiling of the priest’s face was symbolic of the fact that, now that the priest was dead, he now saw what before he only believed.” A bishop commented that “the veil was requested by the Holy Father and points to the Scripture by St. Paul: ‘We do not see clearly, as through a veil, but then (at the end of time) clearly.’ At the resurrection, the commentators added, when the Pope’s body is resurrected, he will remove the veil to see God face to face as a soul reunited with his body.
According to the Ordo, ritual Masses are not permitted on the Sundays of the Advent, Lent and Easter seasons.” “A papal inauguration Mass held on fifth Sunday of the Easter? … We give a lot of theological and liturgical reasons to explain the importance of the liturgical season; however, we break it when we like. … Also will the “new” (or ancient) style of pallium used for other metropolitans?”
The Pope is the supreme legislator and is able to dispense from a liturgical law for a justifiable reason. Such dispensations have already been granted for other just causes such as the celebration of the Immaculate Conception in Spain and Italy and that of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. These feasts are celebrated even if they coincide with a Sunday of Advent, as the dates are intimately tied up to the religious practice of the people in these countries and are also celebrated as civil holidays.
Our correspondent might want to place his objection in perspective. A Mass of papal inauguration probably occurs about six or seven times a century; a funeral could happen every week. The danger of a papal inauguration undermining the theology of the liturgical year is scant and the occasion more that justifies an exception to a liturgical norm.
The significance of the triple coffin, the coins and the biography placed alongside the body, and the nine days of mourning; the nine days is a fairly traditional period of mourning in many countries although not universal as some traditions have 30 days or another period. The triple coffin probably originated from practical concerns to protect the body, especially as most popes were interred in an above-ground sarcophagus.
The use of some means of identification of the deceased were customary practices that arose in earlier times, above all, for the burial of nobility and monarchs. Such identification has resulted necessary at times. Tombs can be moved, over time, and nothing is permanent. It is enough to think that the first St. Peter’s basilica, finished about the year 330, was almost completely demolished to make way for the present structure over a thousand years later.
Relics and the Incorruptibles: See fisheaters.com
Relics are part of the body of a saint or a thing closely connected with the saint in life. In traditional Christian belief they have had great importance, and miracles have often been associated with them. Members of the Orthodox Eastern Church have generally followed St. John of Damascus in teaching that the earthly body of the saint has a kind of permanent grace, but in the Roman Catholic Church the miracles are held to be performed by the intercession of the saint in heaven on the prayer of the living; relics therefore are to be revered as memorials, and belief is not required in any particular relic as authentic or miraculous.
Roman Catholic altars (even portable ones) contain a relic, a rule coming from the time of the persecutions in Rome, when Mass was said over the martyrs’ graves.
Famous relics include the pieces of the True Cross; the veronica ; the Holy Nails in the iron crown of Lombardy (Monza, Italy); the Holy Lance (St. Peter’s, Rome); the Holy Coat (Trier, Germany); and the Precious Blood of Bruges. These are all called relics of the Passion. Celebrated shrines are often depositories of relics, e.g., of St. Peter and St. Paul at St. Peter’s, of St. James at Santiago de Compostela, Spain, of St. Thomas à Becket at Canterbury, of St. Edward the Confessor at Westminster Abbey.
Many relics are duplicated, i.e., there are rival claims of genuineness. Since the Middle Ages, close accounting of relics has been maintained in Western Christendom; the creation of false relics or the buying or selling of genuine relics is prohibited under penalty of excommunication. relics part of the body of a saint or a thing closely connected with the saint in life.
In traditional Catholic Christian belief they have had great importance and miracles have often been associated with them. Members of the Orthodox Eastern Church have generally followed St. John of Damascus in teaching that the earthly body of the saint has a kind of permanent grace, but in the Roman Catholic Church the miracles are held to be performed by the intercession of the saint in heaven on the prayer of the living; relics therefore are only to be revered as memorials, and belief is not required in any particular relic as authentic or miraculous.
Roman Catholic altars (even portable ones) contain a relic, a rule coming from the time of the persecutions in Rome, when Mass was said over the martyrs’ graves. Protestants have abandoned relics. Veneration of relics as miraculous dates from the 3d cent. See: newadvent.org
Pope approves sainthood for Montreal’s Brother Andre
At the time of his death, the Archbishop of Montreal, George Gauthier, suggested reviving a little known custom of the Middle Ages. In medieval France and Italy, when people of note passed away their hearts were often removed from their bodies before burial and preserved as a token of admiration or recognition. It was decided to preserve Brother Andre’s heart in a reliquary at the Oratory.
During the night of March 15, 1973, someone removed the reliquary containing the heart of Brother Andre from its shrine. Eventually, it was discovered in the basement of a home in South Montreal on December 21st, 1974, based on a tip received by the police. It was put back on display with the addition of a security system, so that it could continue to serve as an object of contemplation for pilgrims.