What it Means for Catholics to Venerate Relics
This week, the heart of St. Padre Pio is visiting the Archdiocese of Boston, marking the first time a major relic of the saint has left Italy. Catholics in the Archdiocese are thrilled to have the opportunity to venerate a relic of this saint of modern times.
Venerating a body part can seem strange to people who are unfamiliar with relics. But for those who understand the Catholic teaching about relics, they can be a very powerful part of the spiritual life, as Father Carlos Martins discussed with us on This is the Day. As we prepare to welcome the heart of St. Padre Pio, we reflected on what relics are and what it means to venerate them.
There are three classes of relics. A first-class relic is the body or a part of the body of a saint. Second-class relics are objects the saint owned, while third-class relics are objects the saint has touched or that have been touched to another relic. All three classes are sacramentals, meaning that they do not confer grace in and of themselves, but can help a person in acceptance of grace and private devotion.
As Catholics, we place a lot of importance on the body. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit; they are living tabernacles for Christ. This is part of the reason we venerate the bodies of saints, who have been recognized as servants of Christ. With second- and third-class relics, we see physical objects as occasions of grace, in the same way that Jesus often used tangible materials to perform miracles in the Gospels. The concept of associating miracles with the bodies of saints goes all the way back to the Old Testament. In the Second Book of Kings, a dead man is revived when his body touches the bones of the prophet Elisha.
Skeptics might fall into the idea that relics are “magic”—that the objects themselves have special powers. However, we see that it is really God who is conferring grace, not the objects. God is using the relics as a vehicle for grace. Just as we pray to saints for intercession rather than to worship them, we venerate relics rather than adore them. Relics and the saints who produced them are means by which we can grow in our relationship with Christ, which is the ultimate goal.
Join us for Holy Mass on the Memorial of St. Padre Pio on Friday, September 23 at 7PM ET, live from Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross, as we welcome the heart of this great saint.
St. Padre Pio, pray for us.