LINCOLN (SNR) - From the earliest years of the Church relics from the bodies of the saints and martyrs have been vivid reminders to the faithful of the heroic virtue that God worked in and through their lives.
Catholics venerate relics of saints as a means of asking their intercession before the Lord. It is well documented in Christian history that credible blessings, favors, miracles and conversions have taken place to the intercession of saints.
Relics are physical objects, e.g., pieces of a saint’s body or articles of clothing that have a direct association with the saints or with God. Relics are usually broken down into three classes. First class relics are the body or fragments of the body of a saint.
Second class relics are something that personally belonged to a saint such as a shirt, prayer card, sacred vessel or vestment, or book (or fragments of those items). Third class relics are items that a saint touched or that have been touched to a first, second, or another third class relic of a saint.
Those who participate in the tour of St. Vianney’s heart are encouraged to bring articles of devotion (rosaries, holy cards, etc.) and pictures of ill friends or family members which may be touched to the reliquary as a means of intercessory prayer.
Sacred Scripture teaches that God can act through relics, especially in terms of healing and intercession. In fact, when surveying what Scripture has to say about sacred relics, one is left with the idea that healing is what relics “do.”
When the corpse of a man was touched to the bones of the prophet Elisha the man came back to life (2 Kings 13:20-21). A woman was healed of her hemorrhage simply by touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak (Matthew 9:20-22).
The signs and wonders worked by the Apostles were so great that people would line the streets with the sick so that when Peter walked by at least his shadow might ‘touch’ them (Acts 5:12-15). When handkerchiefs or aprons that had been touched to Paul were applied to the sick, the people were healed and evil spirits were driven out of them (Acts 19:11-12).
In each of these instances God brought about a healing using a material object. It is very important to note, however, that the cause of the healing is God; the relics are a means through which He acts. In other words, relics are not magic or superstitious. They do not contain a power that is their own; a power separate from God. Any good that comes about through a relic is God’s doing. But the fact that God chooses to use the relics of saints to work healing and miracles tells us that He wants to draw our attention to the saints as “models and intercessors” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 828).
How to Venerate a Relic
Ordinarily relics are housed within a sacred vessel called a reliquary. The reliquary holding the heart of St. John Vianney is an ornate, gold colored vessel about 12” x 12” x 12”.
To venerate a relic one may simply spend a few moments in quite devotion, standing or kneeling, honoring the relic. One can devoutly ask the Lord for His intercession for any intention one carries in his or her heart. Prayer cards or other objects may be touched to the reliquary. Conscious of the many people who will want to venerate the heart, one will want to be mindful of time.