The word relic, from the Latin reliquiae, meaning “remains”, refers to the remains of a holy person or something belonging to them. Relics are divided into three “classes.” A first-class relic is all or part of the physical remains of a saint. This could be a piece of bone, a vial of blood, a lock of hair, or even a skull or incorrupt body. A second-class relic is any item that the saint frequently used (clothing, for example). A third-class relic is any item that touches a first or second-class relic.
From the earliest times, the graves of the martyrs were recognized as holy places. Martyrs and other holy dead are in the presence of God, and relics are a point of contact with them, as well as a reminder of the glory promised to us. Relics proclaim Christ’s victory over death, and the miracles that occur due to relics demonstrate His ongoing triumph over the grave. The use of physical objects related to a holy person goes back as far as the Old Testament. Even in the New Testament we see how God uses material objects to bring about healings. In the Gospel of Mark we see how a woman is healed because she touched Jesus’ cloak.
While the Church encourages the practice of venerating relics, it is important to remember that it is not the actual object that imparts healing. God can use a relic of a saint to heal, just like he used his cloak to heal the woman with the hemorrhage. The relic is an instrument for God’s miraculous power.
The Church has defended the veneration of relics since the very beginning and continues to reaffirm this worthy practice. The relics of saints allow us to draw close to these holy men and women of the past and God uses these material objects to impart special graces to faithful souls.
(For further reading on relics, please visit www.osv.com and type “relics” on the search box.)