On relics and their relevance to faith
Reverence for spiritual objects and icons continues to thrive
- Andrea Tornielli, Vatican City
- Vatican City
- February 3, 2014
Don Bosco’s corpse has arrived in Milan after travelling to 130 countries across five continents and the public was enraged over the theft of a piece of cloth that is soaked in John Paul II’s blood.
The cult of relics knows no crisis and relic worship is thriving and so is the relic market on the web. This is after a significant number of relics ended up in the hands of antique dealers and collectors in the period succeeding the Second Vatican Council, for the sake of “purifying” worship.
But it’s not just Christians who take such a great interest in these “remains”, including bone fragments from saints’ bodies and objects and garments worn by them. Muslims and Buddhists do as well. And it is not just believers who worship relics either.
One need only look at how people idolize objects belonging to their favorite personalities or the reverence with which museums preserve and display certain secular “relics”, from George Washington’s hair to Elvis Presley’s nail, not to mention Lenin’s body, on display in a mausoleum in Moscow’s Red Square.
In the Church there are those who see this attachment to relics as a sign of an immature and primitive faith. But it is also true that for decades, as churches were emptying the only places that retained their popularity were the shrines linked to popular worship.
When faith doesn’t turn into obsession or superstition, clouding the real essence of faith, the worship of relics can be deeply meaningful. In fact it reminds us of a key feature of Christianity, the belief in the incarnation of God who made the body divine in some way by becoming man.
The tradition of placing the relic of a martyr or a saint beneath the altars of churches dedicated to said individuals, transforming them into a kind of tomb, shows a spiritual tie that does not exclude an element of physicality.
The popular piety which Francis espouses in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is pervaded by that humanity, that desire to “see” with one’s own eyes and to “touch”, that is so clearly described in the Gospel account of the doubting Thomas.
Source: Vatican Insider