The Reliquary at St. Gertrude ChurchLocated under the Main Altar of the Church.
CAN I APPROACH THE RELIQUARY?
If there is not a mass or other service going on, you may enter the sanctuary by genuflecting before the gate (open the gate by sliding the latch on the back side), then directly approach the reliquary.
You may kneel to be close to the relics.
Do not put your weight onto the reliquary, as it is on wheels, and may move on you.
You may place your rosary on the glass of the reliquary, but do not reach out to get it over a particular saint. Again, the risk of it moving, and you falling.
When you are finished, and exiting the sanctuary, bow or genuflect at the gate, be sure to close and latch the gate.
The word relic comes from the Latin relinquo, literally meaning I leave, or I abandon. 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. Traditionally, a piece of the body of a saint especially that of a martyr, may be with the permission of the local ecclesiastical authority used in solemn processions recalling the specific holy person.
It may seem strange that Christianity, which so adheres to the belief in the resurrected body after the final judgment, should attach veneration to body parts of the faithful departed. But as Dom Bernardo Cignitti, O.S.B., once wrote, in a religion as spiritually centered as Christianity, the remains of certain dead are surrounded with special care and veneration. This is because the mortal remains of the deceased are associated in some manner with the holiness of their souls which await reunion with their bodies in the resurrection.
After the death of Emperor Constantine (fourth century), cases of wood, ivory, and various metals containing relics were deposited in altars at the time of their dedication or buried near the tombs of the dead or even worn around the neck. It is well-known that altars at the time of their consecration by the bishop were to have inserted a relic of a saint, preferably a martyr, which was kissed by the priest as he began to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is still earnestly recommended that every altar possess a relic of one of the saints. (St Gertrude’s Altar has the relic of St. Gertrude in it.)
There are several scriptural passages that support the veneration of relics. For example, the Israelites took Joseph’s bones when they departed Egypt (Ex. 13:19). The bones of Elisha came in contact with a dead person who then was raised to life (2 Kings 13:21). The same Elisha took the mantle of Elijah and fashioned a miracle with it (2 Kings 2:13). The Christians of Ephesus, by using handkerchiefs and cloths touched to St. Paul’s skin, effected the healing of the sick (Acts 19:12).
To venerate the relics of the saints is a profession of belief in several doctrines of the Catholic faith: (1) the belief in everlasting life for those who have obediently witnessed to Christ and His Holy Gospel here on earth; (2) the truth of the resurrection of the body for all persons on the last day; (3) the doctrine of the splendor of the human body and the respect which all should show toward the bodies of both the living and the deceased; (4) the belief in the special intercessory power which the saints enjoy in heaven because of their intimate relationship with Christ the King; and (5) the truth of our closeness to the saints because of our connection in the communion of saints we as members of the Church militant or pilgrim Church, they as members of the Church triumphant.
Saunders, Rev. William. "Church Teaching on Relics." Arlington Catholic Herald.
Copyright © 2003 Arlington Catholic Herald
WHAT IS A RELIC?
In Catholic tradition, a relic is an object associated with a saint that may be offered to the faithful for veneration. Since the soul of a saint is united with God in heaven, an object associated with a saint is meant to draw a person closer to God. Neither the relic nor the saint is to be worshipped.
Relics are classified in three categories:
First Class – A physical part of a saint, such as a piece of bone or a lock of hair. First class relics must be authenticated by the Church before they can be publicly venerated.
Second Class – An object routinely used or touched by the saint during life, such as a piece of clothing, a book or a pen. Second class relics also require authentication before they can be publicly veneration.
Third Class –An object that is reverently touched to a first-class relic. It is kept mainly for private devotion and is not for use for public veneration.
DO CATHOLICS WORSHIP RELICS?
No. The teaching of the Church is very clear that we are never to worship anything or anyone other than God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We venerate relics as holy objects that are associated with saints who now live in God’s presence. The healing power of relics comes from God alone and never from the object.
Reference to an early form of relics can be found in the New Testament, when a women was healed by touching the hem of Jesus’ garment (Mt 9:18-26. A more developed use of relics began during the persecution of the early Church, when the faithful would retrieve the bones of martyrs and place them under the altar for Mass.
HOW TO VENERATE A RELIC?
Veneration is shown outwardly by respectfully bowing or making the sign of the cross before a saint's icon, relics, or statue.
Concordance in the Catechism. Chapter 4 (Other Liturgical Celebrations): Article 1 – Sacramentals
- Popular piety
1674 Besides sacramental liturgy and sacramentals, catechesis must take into account the forms of piety and popular devotions among the faithful. The religious sense of the Christian people has always found expression in various forms of piety surrounding the Church's sacramental life, such as the veneration of relics, … etc.
1675 These expressions of piety extend the liturgical life of the Church, but do not replace it. They "should be so drawn up that they harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some way derived from it and lead the people to it, since in fact the liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them."179
1676 Pastoral discernment …read for more guidance
Concordance in Code of Canon Law. The veneration of saints, sacred images, and relics (Canon. 1186-1190)
- To foster sanctification of the people of God, the Church commends Mary (first), and then the authentic veneration of the other saints.
- We reverence publicly only those saints the Church has officially proclaimed as such.
- Absolutely forbidden to sell sacred relics.
- Relics of great significance, or those honored with great reverence can not be alienated validly nor transferred permanently without permission of the Apostolic See.
1237.2 - The ancient tradition of placing relics of martyrs or other saints under a fixed altar is to be preserved.
Council of Trent
From the final session, XXV, which reaffirmed church teaching against the iconoclasm of the day.
“The holy Synod enjoins on all bishops, and others who sustain the office and charge of teaching, that, agreeably to the usage of the Catholic and Apostolic Church, received from the primitive times of the Christian religion, and agreeably to the consent of the holy Fathers, and to the decrees of sacred Councils, they especially instruct the faithful diligently concerning the intercession and invocation of saints; the honour (paid) to relics; and the legitimate use of images: teaching them, that the saints, who reign together with Christ, offer up their own prayers to God for men; that it is good and useful suppliantly to invoke them, and to have recourse to their prayers, aid, (and) help for obtaining benefits from God, through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who is our alone Redeemer and Saviour; but that they think impiously, who deny that the saints, who enjoy eternal happiness in heaven, are to be invocated; or who assert either that they do not pray for men; or, that the invocation of them to pray for each of us even in particular, is idolatry; or, that it is repugnant to the word of God; and is opposed to the honour of the one mediator of God and men, Christ Jesus; or, that it is foolish to supplicate, vocally, or mentally, those who reign in heaven. Also, that the holy bodies of holy martyrs, and of others now living with Christ,-which bodies were the living members of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Ghost, and which are by Him to be raised unto eternal life, and to be glorified,-are to be venerated by the faithful; through which (bodies) many benefits are bestowed by God on men; so that they who affirm that veneration and honour are not due to the relics of saints; or, that these, and other sacred monuments, are uselessly honoured by the faithful; and that the places dedicated to the memories of the saints are in vain visited with the view of obtaining their aid; are wholly to be condemned, as the Church has already long since condemned, and now also condemns them.”