Why do Catholics keep saints’ bones, hair, clothes or even their blood in gold shiny boxes? Well, that tradition of venerating relics has biblical roots.
What are relics?
Relics are material items that are connected to a saint. They can be classified into three;
- A first-class relic- is all or part of the physical remains of a saint. A piece of bone, a vial of blood, a lock of hair, a skull and an incorrupt body belong to this category.
- A second-class relic- is any item that the saint frequently used e.g. clothing.
- A third-class relic- is any item that touches a first or second-class relic.
Where in the Bible are relics?
Do you recall the miracle that happened in the second book of Kings that featured the use of relics?
“And so Elisha died and was buried. At that time of year, bands of Moabites used to raid the land. Once some people were burying a man, when suddenly they saw such a raiding band. So they cast the man into the grave of Elisha, and everyone went off. But when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and got to his feet.” (2 Kings 13:20-21).
Also remember the woman who was healed because she touched Jesus’ cloak as seen in the Gospel of Mark.
“She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.’ Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.” (Mark 5.27-29)
Do relics have power?
The relic is an instrument for God’s miraculous power, a bone doesn’t have the power to heal on its own. It is important to recognize that the relic’s source of power is God and therefore no one should worship relics rather lift your soul to God.
Has the Church supported this practice throughout the ages?
The church conducts the various forms of popular veneration of the relics of the Saints, such as kissing, decorations with lights and flowers, bearing them in processions and so on.
The Church has defended the veneration of relics since the very beginning. A letter written after the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp in 156 AD explains how the faithful venerated his bones and took special care of them.
“We took up the bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together as we are able, in gladness and joy, and celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom.”
with great dignity motivated by faith.
In sum, God uses these material objects to impart special graces to faithful souls. They are never to be worshiped, and are meant to lead us to the ultimate worship of the one God.
Summarized by Theresa Frances