Saints and relics in the Catholic Church
I was recently asked why Catholics keep the relics of Saints, and the person questioned the rationality behind canonization because for him they are not biblical. 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 some things about those topics, you can actually search this blog and read more about the canonization of saints and the faith or the tradition of the Church. In this particular article, I will go straight and focus on the question 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 relation to relics in the understanding of the Catholic Church, they are not connected to negativity. I experienced some kind of feelings that words cannot really explain when I stumbled at the bible my late father used, I felt his presence immediately and I was thrown back to memory lane. I had a similar feelings some years back when I visited a small village called Kaya in North East of Nigeria. I visited a parish there where 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 left behind by 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 class are the cloths or other things they used personally and third class are 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 of it 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 mantle of the prophet Elijah after Elijah had been taken up to heaven in whirlwind, and with it he worked miracle. What Elijah left behind was relics, Elisha who kept it did not worship it, yet the God of Elijah worked miracle through the relics.
In the same 2kg 13:20-21, the relics of prophet Elisha (His bones ) brought a dead man back to life with the help of God. A dead man was buried in the tomb of the prophet Elisha 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.
In 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 devotional reason, not to be worshiped or kept as a talisman. Keeping the relics of a particular saint becomes for us a constant reminder of the holy life that saint lived, and also challenges us to emulate him or her. Even when we venerate the relics, we give the glory to God who gives 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 assist us to 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.