In association to the Holy Catholic Church’s doctrines on intercession of saints and veneration of images, the Church remains to be attacked by the minions of darkness through her practice of venerating the sacred relics of saints. The heretic Martin Luther once wrote that “It is claimed that the head of St. John the Baptist is in Rome, although all histories show that the Saracens opened John’s grave and burned everything to powder. Yet the pope is not ashamed of his lies. So with reference to other relics like the nails and the wood of the cross—they are the greatest lies” (Martin Luther’s Works, Vol. 54.131). However, is the veneration of relics biblical? Should Christians continue this practice?
A relic is a piece of the body of a saint, an item owned or used by the saint, or an object which has been touched to the tomb of a saint. It is derived from the Latin reliquiae, meaning remains, and a form of the Latin verb relinquere, to leave behind, or abandon. There are three classes of sacred relics: A first-class relic is the corpse of a saint or any part of it. Second-class relics include any object sanctified by close contact with a saint or Our Lord. Third-class relics are objects or cloths touched to either first or second-class relics.
In the Old Testament, the practice is supported by the miracle associated to the bones of the great prophet Elisha where a dead man came to life after his body touched the bones of the prophet as recorded in 2 Kings 13:21 NIV — “Elisha died and was buried. At the time, bands of Moabites used to raid the land each year. Once some people were burying a man, when suddenly they spied such a raiding band. So they cast the dead man into the grave of Elisha and everyone went off. But when the man came in contact with the bones of Elisha, he came back to life and rose to his feet.” The same Elisha also took the mantle of Elijah and fashioned a miracle with it (2 Kings 2:13). These biblical accounts undoubtedly show the efficacy of the relics of God’s servants. Also, the relics of ancient Israel — the manna from the wilderness, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the Law — were all set aside, deposited and reverenced in the Ark of the Covenant (cf. Exodus 16:33-34, 25:10-16; Numbers 17:10; Hebrew 9:1-5).
Furthermore, in the New Testament, there are also several accounts where miraculous healing was associated to the objects connected to Christ and His disciples. In Matthew 9:20-22 NIV, a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years got healed after touching the edge of Jesus’ cloak. The same happened to those who were sick and begged the Lord that “they might only touch the tassel on His cloak, and as many as touched it were healed” (cf. Matthew 14:35-36; Mark 6:56; Luke 8:43-44). The sick who were brought into the streets and laid on beds and mats were healed after St. Peter’s shadow fell on them as he passed by (cf. Acts 5:15-16). God also did extraordinary miracles through St. Paul so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them (cf. Acts 19:11-12). These biblical evidences just confirm that God chooses to work miracles through material items associated with His holy men and women for “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His holy ones” (Psalm 116:15).
Thus, the Holy Catholic Church (in CCC 1674) continue her devotion in venerating the sacred relics of the saints who should be celebrated as the disciples who most faithfully imitated Christ in their deaths. But, remember, the relics are neither idols nor gods, not even worshipped and certainly do not possess any magic. Any miraculous healing associated to them came from God Himself through the intercession of the saints whom the relics are connected with, as what Christ the Lord said: “Your faith has healed you” (cf. Matthew 9:22).
Finally, the relics encourage the faithful to appreciate more profoundly not only the heroism of the saints but especially the love and mercy of the Triune God Who called them to be with Him in His Kingdom, as testified by St. John: “When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained” (Revelation 6:9).