In many major cities, Catholic churches are a sought-out destination for tourists, due to the beauty of the church’s architecture or the priceless pieces of art contained there. But for Catholics, many of these churches are sought out for the relics they contain (and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, of course!). From bones and tongues to chains and garments, relics are the physical remains or personal effects of a saint that have been preserved as a tangible memorial. Catholics venerate these relics and use them as a way to connect with the saints as they seek their intercession.
But some might see Catholics lining up to venerate a dead person’s heart and think it’s weird, inappropriate, or downright wrong. Recently on St. Joseph’s Workshop, Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ explained why Catholics venerate relics, and how they line up with Catholic theology and spirituality. He said:
“I love relics. I love the traditions that we have as a Church. I know some people who are not Catholics turn up their noses, or cringe, or maybe imagine that Catholics have a fascination with these things that is not appropriate.
But the way that we Catholics look at it is that, just as we have this great appreciation for our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, we realize that our bodies are meant to be raised from the dead, that there is an intrinsic connection between our bodies and our spirits that God will rejoin at the resurrection of the dead. You and I, we appreciate that reality, we honor that reality.
What I love is that, as Catholics, we appreciate so much the physicality of what it means to be a human being. That is to say that our lives, yes, include a very important spiritual component, but that we express that spiritual life in our bodies. When we go to pray, you and I sit, we kneel, we stand. We have our hands folded, we make the Sign of the Cross with our hand.
I mean, we could pray without having any of these external postures or gestures. But as Catholics we believe that we are using our whole body to pray, and we believe that our body represents, in a certain way, who we are deep down. That’s the only way we have to share with each other, by using the five senses that we have, right? And so we’re able to interact with each other in that way.
And I love that about our Church. It’s why you and I have such a great focus on the sacraments, and why Jesus Himself gives us the seven sacraments and reminds us of their importance. Because you and I have an encounter with God and encounter His grace through physicality, through external signs made present, that present an invisible reality to us.
Can we be in communion spiritually with Jesus? Yes, and we should regularly ask for that communion with Him. But we can also be in sacramental communion with Jesus as well, by receiving His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity under the forms of bread and wine. And we are able to experience very tangibly the presence of Jesus in our mouths and in our very bodies.
[Relics] are an opportunity to be in connections with saints who have gone before us for centuries. …Realize this connection that you have to your brothers and sisters, the saints, who have gone before us. Realize that they want to intercede for you, and that you and I as human beings remain united with all of those that go before us.”
Listen to the full reflection below: