Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Why Does the Church Venerate Relics? (Glad You Asked: Q&A on Church Teaching)

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Why Does the Church Venerate Relics? (Glad You Asked: Q&A on Church Teaching)

Article excerpt

Relics are still part of the Catholic liturgical tradition, but, like other pre-Vatican II practices, they're not heard about much in teaching or preaching these days. When the body of Blessed Pope John XXIII--now 38 years dead, beatified, and considered a saint by many--was displayed last year in a crystal and bronze coffin weighing a half-ton, some Catholics wondered if the veneration of a dead body (or parts of a dead body) was still a part of the faith tradition.

From the Latin reliquus, a "relic" is, literally, the physical remains of a dead body, the corpse, or a part of it; a relic can also be an object that has been in physical contact with the body. The fervor for possessing and even stealing relics during certain periods in Christian history prompted the church to curb corporal mutilation of corpses, and the church now advocates that the body of a dead Christian, even one canonized, should not be so divided up that it is no longer recognizable as a part of a human body.

Sounds gruesome to some, perhaps, but care for the human body--and its associations with the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, the Body of Christ in the assembly gathered for Mass, the body of an infant or adult plunged into the waters of Baptism and salvation--is deep in the faith. The body is not merely a means to a spiritual end, but, as was the body of Jesus of Nazareth, it is the bearer of grace, an integral part of being a Christian, imprinted by the seal of the Holy Spirit and ever a sacramental sign of the life of God in the world. …

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