What are relics?

20/04/2015 9:30 am

A relic is either part of the physical remains of a holy person after his or her death, or an object which has been in contact with his or her body. The most important relic is that of the Cross of Jesus Christ, which is traditionally held to have been discovered by St. Helena during her famous pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 326.

The veneration of relics is found in many religions and is rooted in the natural human instinct to treat with reverence anything connected with those we love who have died.

The tradition of venerating relics of martyrs and saints commenced early in the history of the Church. It dates back to the second century. The early Fathers of the Church, like Augustine and John Crysostom, embraced the idea with enthusiasm. Often particular sites, where holy men and women had been buried, became places of pilgrimage and prayer, and frequently grew to become centres of healing for body and spirit. Soon the practice was introduced in the Church of removing some of the bones and distributing them as relics to be used in the consecration of altars for the celebration of Mass. Efforts were consistently made to avoid superstition and exaggeration. It has not been a common practice for relics to be carried in pilgrimage, though we have recently witnessed in this country the visit of the remains of the Little Flower, and the Cure of Ars. The arrival in the UK of the relic of Don Bosco in January continues this practice.

“Relics in the end must point beyond themselves to God, and any veneration or honour given to them is honour to God who has crowned the saints with glory, and who wishes to bless us through our love for, and appreciation of, his special friends.”
Fr Christopher O’Donnell, Order of Carmelites.