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Saints and relics in the Catholic Church

16 May 2016, by Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA in Doctrines
The bones of a saint

The bones of a saint

I love the Catholic Church, not just because the Church is the Mother Church but also because she lives up to the expectations of her name. The Church is so organized and does nothing without good and explainable reasons, even though some none Catholics attack what we do without any effort to understand why we do what we do.

I was recently asked why Catholics keep the relics of Saints, and the person questioned the rationale behind canonization because they are not biblical for him. Well, in this write-up, I don’t really want to go into sainthood, neither will I talk about what is biblical and none biblical. I’ve written something about those topics; search this blog and read more about saints’ canonization and the Church’s tradition. This article focuses on the question of why Catholics keep relics of saints.

What are relics, by the way? The word relic comes from the Latin word relinquo, which is translated to mean “I leave” or “I abandon”. One can actually leave anything or abandon anything, good or bad. The words “leave” and “abandon” may sound negative, but in connection with relics and the Catholic Church’s understanding, they are not connected to negativity. I experienced some feelings that words cannot really explain when I stumbled at the bible my late father used, I felt his presence immediately and was thrown back to memory lane. I had a similar feeling some years back when I visited a small village called Kaya in the North East of Nigeria. I visited a parish there were the early Augustinians worked. I was greatly excited and proud to be an Augustinian when the parish priest, who is not an Augustinian, showed me some ancient stuff behind the early Augustinians. They left those things; they abandoned them but not in negativity. Those things can be called relics! But sacred relics are those things used by those canonized saints by the Catholic Church. Sacred relics are graded; first-class sacred relics are parts of the body of the saints preserved, second classes are the cloths or other things they used personally, and third class is the things they may have touched.

The keeping of sacred relics may not be scriptural as you would want it to appear. However, there are some vestiges in the scriptures; though the Church does not keep relics because of these passages of the scripture, neither does she see them as magical.

In 2kg 2:9-14, we read about how the prophet Elisha picked up the prophet Elijah’s mantle after Elijah had been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind; he worked miracle. Elijah left behind was relics, Elisha who kept the relic, did not worship it, yet Elijah’s God worked miracles through the relics.

In the same 2kg 13:20-21, prophet Elisha’s relics (His bones ) brought a dead man back to life with God’s help. A dead man was buried in the prophet Elisha’s tomb, and when there was contact between the dead body and the bones of the prophet (the relics), the man came back to life.

In Acts 19:11, God worked miracles through the handkerchiefs and aprons (relics) Paul touched, and through them, the sick were healed.

RelicsIn the Catholic Church, we do not keep relics of saints for magical reasons, though God can do whatever he wants to do through them just as he did with those of the prophets and Paul. Miracle through the relics of saints is strictly in God’s hands; he alone can do much more than we can ever expect or imagine. The keeping of relics in the Catholic Church is for a devotional reason, not to be worshiped or kept as a talisman. Keeping the relics of a particular saint becomes a constant reminder of the holy life that the saint lived and challenged us to emulate him or her. Even when we venerate the relics, we give God the glory, who gives us the grace to live a holy life. The saints are not God, their relics are not the way to heaven, but they are sanctified and can help us keep moving along the right part by continually reminding us that others have traveled safely through the difficult road we travel. We venerate their relics without shame or fear, and we need not apologize to anyone for that. It is our faith, and we are very proud of it.

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  • Maxwell Moonchild Reply

    Very interesting… I just learned something new today.

  • Mario Reply