Catholics venerate saints’ relics to ask their intercession - Catholic Courier
Saints’ relics are contained in reliquaries.

Relics of St. Gertrude the Great and St. Albert the Great are seen at Our Mother of Sorrows Church in Greece. (Courier photo by Jeff Witherow)

Catholics venerate saints’ relics to ask their intercession

GREECE — On a sunny day, stained-glass windows lend a blue tint to the light filtering into the Oratory of Our Lady at Our Mother of Sorrows Church. The blue hues make the red backgrounds of two illuminated display cases stand out against their surroundings.

Inside the cases, ornate reliquaries hold relics of more than a dozen saints, as well as fragments of the cross Jesus died upon, his crown of thorns and the veil worn by his mother, Mary.

Many of the relics were donated by a parishioner’s family member and installed in the oratory in 2018, according to Father William Coffas, pastor of Our Mother of Sorrows and Holy Cross Parish in Charlotte. There was a noticeable change in the atmosphere in the oratory after the relics were added, he said.

“It’s interesting. Before we put the relics in that space, it was just a regular room. I remember the night we put them in there. It’s not a eucharistic presence that you feel, but it is a presence,” Father Coffas mused.

“It’s a sanctified space. I feel the presence of God and the saints in there,” added parishioner Jennifer Lozy-Lester.

Relics are physical items that provide tangible connections to saints or martyrs

Lozy-Lester catalogued the donated relics, prepared them for display and put together information about each of the saints and relics represented. She said relics have always fascinated her and were the subject of the thesis she wrote while earning her master’s of theology from St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Pittsford.

A relic is a sacred, material item that exists after the death of a saint or martyr and provides a real and tangible connection to that person, Lozy-Lester said. Relics are categorized into three different classes, she noted.

“First-class relics are usually a piece of the body or bone of the actual saint. Second-class relics are things that were used or owned by the saint. For example, a Bible they prayed over every day or something that had great meaning to the saint would be a second-class relic,” she said.

A third-class relic would be any item that a saint touched, or that has been touched to another first, second or third-class relic, she added.

Among the first-class relics in the oratory at Our Mother of Sorrows are particles of bone from St. Peter, St. Patrick, St. John Neumann, St. Benedict and St. Gerard Majella, as well as a small particle of flesh from St. Francis of Assisi.

Catholics venerate relics to forge connections with saints and ask for their intercession

Non-Catholics — and even some Catholics — may find the idea of looking at a bone fragment or particle of flesh from a long-departed saint to be rather odd, Lozy-Lester said. However, venerating saints’ relics is a way for Catholics to connect with real human beings who lived heroic lives of virtue or died for their faith, and whom the church has declared are in heaven, she said. By venerating saints in this way, people can build relationships with saints and ask for their intercessions, Lozy-Lester added.

“One important thing to note is when we venerate a relic, we’re not worshipping a saint. Only God gets worship,” she said. “We are recognizing their connection to God and their sanctity, but we’re praying to them just like we would pray to our relative in heaven.”

The knowledge that saints in heaven are praying for them brings a sense of peace to many Catholics, she added.

Relics are associated with healing but are not magic

Healing also takes place whenever relics are mentioned in Scripture, noted Father Carlos Martins, director of Treasures of the Church, an evangelization ministry based in Detroit that provides people throughout the world with opportunities to venerate relics and learn more about them.

One of the earliest scriptural references to relics is found in the Old Testament’s second book of Kings, he said. When a recently deceased man was being buried in a grave that already contained remains, the man’s body inadvertently came into contact with the bones of the prophet Elisha, and the man immediately came back to life and rose to his feet, Father Martins said.

And according to an account in the Acts of the Apostles, people who were sick or afflicted by demons were healed after being touched with a handkerchief or apron that had touched St. Paul, he said. In fact, in every relevant scriptural reference, touching a relic is what leads to healing.

Yet this does not mean that relics are magic or have any power of their own separate from God, he said.

“Nevertheless, God likes to act through relics because he is a proud parent, and he likes to draw attention to his saints because they are his beloved children. Working through relics is one of the major ways he accomplishes that,” Father Martins said.

Tags: Feast Days & Saints, Priests, Why do Catholics?
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