Two saints arrived today. Actually, their relics arrived and with their papers. A friend sent me the relics of Saint Casimir and Saint Pius X.
What is a relic? The word “relic” comes from the Latin “relinquo” meaning “I leave” or “I abandon.” Typically a relic of a saint is a bone or piece of hair if it is a first class relic. Something owned by the saint, like clothing or a piece of a desk, is a second class relic and something touched by the relic is a third class relic.
We only adore Jesus Christ. We honor, that is, venerate, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints. There is a difference. The distinction is shown in the fact that we don’t pray to a crucifix or a statue or a relic. Our prayer is directed to the one whom the crucifix, statue or relic indicates. The power to do miracles rests with God alone, Mary and the saints intercede on our behalf.
An early and frequently cited account of Christians venerating relics is that regarding Saint Polycarp’s death in AD 155, of whom it is said, “When the pyre was ready, Polycarp took off all his clothes and loosened his undergarment. He made an effort also to remove his shoes, though he had been unaccustomed to this, for the faithful always vied with each other in their haste to touch his body. Even before his martyrdom he had received every mark of honor in tribute to his holiness of life.” With this event we have the nascent observance of a “feast day.”
Why do Catholics have relics if they believe in the resurrection of the body at the end of time?
Scripture has a several points to follow:
Saint Jerome was clear on the teaching of the Church when, in his Letter to Riparius, he wrote, “We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the Creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore Him whose martyrs they are.”
The Council of Trent which tried to respond to the Protestant reform’s critique of the Catholic practice of venerating relics when the Council Fathers taught, “…the holy bodies of the holy martyrs and of the others who dwell with Christ…are to be honored by the faithful.”
The same Council also taught that that a Catholic is not formally bound to the veneration of relics as a de fide obligation, but one can’t hold that veneration is of relics is forbidden. Your salvation is not bound to the veneration of relics.
Dom Bernardo Cignitti taught, “In a religion as spiritually centered as Christianity, the remains of certain dead are surrounded with special care and veneration. This is because the mortal remains of the deceased are associated in some manner with the holiness of their souls which await reunion with their bodies in the resurrection.”
According to the tradition of the Fathers of the Church like Augustine and Gregory the Great, and now confirmed as the normal practice in the Law of the Church, relics are forbidden to be sold.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law states, “The ancient tradition of keeping the relics of martyrs, and other saints under a fixed altar is to be preserved according to the norms given,in liturgical books” (1237.2).
So, for me, I now have the relics of two heavenly patrons who point to Jesus and show me the path to follow. Saints Casimir and Pius X, pray for us.