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What’s the Deal About Sacred Relics?

My Pope investigates why pieces of body parts, clothing, or personal items of saints are venerated.

The Diocese of Laoag has recently acquired first-class relics of St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Nicholas of Tolentino.

According to Bishop Renato Mayugba, the sacred relics remind Ilocanos of their Augustinian roots, as the Augustinians are said to be the founders of the old Ilocos towns including the construction of the famous churches of Paoay and Santa Maria.

The relics were extracted “ex ossibus (from the bones)” of the Augustinian saints.

The first class relics of St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Nicholas of Tolentino enshrined in parish churches dedicated to them in the towns of Paoay and San Nicolas, both in Ilocos Norte. (Photo from Philippines)

What is a relic?

The word relic means “a fragment” or “remnant of a thing that once was but now is no longer.” In Catholic tradition, relics are physical objects that have a direct association with saints or with Jesus Christ. They are usually broken down into three classifications. (Read: Three Times Padre Pio Interceded Pinoys’ Prayers)

First-class relics, like the ones in Ilocos, are the body or fragments of the body of a saint, such as pieces of bone or flesh. 

Second-class relics, on the other hand, are something that a saint personally owned, such as a shirt or book. It could also be fragments of the things they owned.

Third class relics are those items that a saint touched or that have been touched to a first, second, or another third class relic of a saint.

So what’s the big deal about sacred relics?

A devotee prays at a reliquary containing remains of St Thérèse of Lisieux at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney. (Photo from Giovanni Portelli / The Catholic Weekly / Catholic Outlook)

Some might ask: What’s the big deal about tiny pieces of a saint’s body, hair, clothing, and personal items? For those of people who love history, they would understand the honor given to relics of saints. By revering these things, we venerate the saints and recognize that they are loved and favored by God.

Believe it or not, but the veneration of relics comes from the Scripture itself—especially when it comes to healing illnesses. (Read: Manila Cathedral holds public veneration for the relic of St. Pope Paul VI) For example, a woman was healed of her hemorrhage when she touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak (Matthew 9:20-22). Even the apostles performed healing—people would line the streets so that when Peter walked by at least his shadow might “touch them” (Acts 5:12-15).

In each of these instances, God used a material object—which is a clear clarification that relics are not magic and they do not contain a power of their own. Any good or healing that comes from a relic is from God. But the fact that God is using the relics of saints to perform healing and miracles tells us that these holy men and women are to be seen as “models and intercessors.”

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