Relics of Saints: What You Need to Know
Have you ever felt attached to a saint and wished you could get closer to them? Well, be not afraid! If you haven’t heard of relics, they’re a great way to cherish the saints you love! Let’s break down what we know about relics.
What Is a Relic?
A relic is a fragment of the body or physical possession of a canonized saint that can help us grow closer to God. Relics are divided into three classifications. A first class relic is a body part of a saint, such as bone, blood, or flesh. Second class relics are possessions that a saint owned, and third class relics are objects that have been touched to a first or second class relic or the saint has touched him or herself.
Veneration, or an act of honor or respect (not worship), of relics from martyrs dates back to beginnings of the Church, but Catholic churches didn’t expose relics until the 1100s. In fact, churches were often built on the remains of Christian martyrs and current saints to provide more blessings.
The most famous relic—and probably the most controversial—is the Shroud of Turin, which is a burial cloth that many believe depicts the face of Jesus Christ. Other well-known relics include the pieces of the cross that Jesus was crucified on, fabric from the veil of Mary, Mother of Jesus, and the Crown of Thorns.
The bodies of some saints are incorruptible, or preserved from natural decomposition of human remains. Even after hundreds of years, saints like John Vianney, Francis Xavier, and Catherine of Bologna have not fully decomposed and inspire many to learn more about the missions they carried out for God.
Many believe that certain relics signify good health and protection. A vial of blood from St. Januarius, the patron saint of Naples who was born in the third century, was stored after he was persecuted for his Christianity and beheaded. On the Feast of San Gennaro in Italy each year, his blood, which is crusted against the side of the vial, miraculously liquifies. Many Italians believe this miracle indicates a good year for Italy. Although the miracle does not happen every year, the blood also usually liquifies on two more occasions during the year: on the day that celebrates his patronage of Naples and on the day that celebrates the gathering of his relics. Sometimes, the blood additionally becomes liquid when the pope visits.
Why Do We Value What Saints Owned or Wore?
First, we need to answer why we value saints. They are more than ordinary holy figures; they teach us how to respond to Jesus’s gift on the cross through our vocation. Like all humans, saints suffered in their time on Earth. Yet, through their sufferings and despite their circumstances, they made God the center of their lives and encouraged others to do the same. Their imperfections inspire us to chase towards God even though we have our failings. With hundreds of saints interceding for us from Heaven, every person can find a story of a saint that personally appeals them. Not every saint belonged to a religious order too, which can encourage us to love God in our daily vocation.
If we look to the Scripture, we can find that God heals through physical touch and objects. Many times, Jesus would touch the sick, and they would be healed. The hemorrhaging woman who simply grabbed the hem of Jesus’s clothes was cured, and the mud that Jesus spread on a blind man’s eyes caused him to see again.
That’s why we consume the Eucharist—the flesh and blood that Jesus sacrificed for us on the cross heal us. It cleanses our souls and renews our spiritual relationship with God.
When we touch the relic of a saint, the object itself isn’t healing; rather, God’s intercession through the object performs the blessing.
The reason why we value the possessions of saints above other holy figures and leaders is because of their canonization. We have reason to believe that these saints are in Heaven because they have performed miracles on Earth that cannot be explained by science. Touching a fragment of their body to our jewelry or rosary beads will always connect their values and heavenly presence to us.
How Do I Get a Relic?
First class relics are practically impossible to own, since The Vatican desires to preserve them in Catholic churches or in the Vatican convent itself. Second class relics are difficult to come by, unless you are the relative of a saint or obtain one from a religious order.
The easiest way to obtain a relic is by touching a possession of your own to a first, second, or third class relic. The range of objects you can use are limitless, such as jewelry, ornaments, crucifixes, rosary beads, books, photos of loved ones, prayer cards, and more.
Sometimes local churches host traveling relic groups. At these events, you’ll be able to touch your possessions to tens or hundreds of relics from saints all over the world. If you express interest to your Catholic church, they might be able to book a group to visit. This is also a great opportunity to learn about saints you have never even heard of. Visiting the preserved body of an incorruptible saint is also an alternative too.
Once I Get a Relic, How Can I Grow Closer to God with It?
Think about why you hold onto a loved one’s possessions after they part from the Earth. You feel closer to them, right?
When you own a relic of saint, you have a reminder that the saint is always with you. If you convert your necklace, bracelet, or ring into a third class relic, you will constantly remember to pray and follow the saint’s values in times of tribulation.
Most saints have novenas, which are prayers that last over nine days usually for a specific intention. Hold onto your relic tightly as you say a novena. You might be surprised by what graces God shares with you.