Exploring Catholic Relics

By Aidan Morrissey

I recently took a trip to the Shrine of all Saints at St. Martha’s Church in Morton Grove, IL. This church holds the relics of over two thousand saints. To some this practice may seem rather creepy, but the practice dates all the way back before Jesus. So, what exactly is a relic? Relics are objects (such as clothing, bones, blood stained objects, etc.) that are directly related to saints or Jesus. In an article from The Catholic News Agency, Mary Farrow interviews Fr. Carlos Martins, CC. Fr. Martins is a member of Companions of the Cross and Treasures of the Church. These groups aim to give Catholics an experience encountering relics through exposition. Fr. Martin goes on to explain in the article that there are three classifications of relics. First class relics relate to the body of the saint. Some examples include blood stained clothing or bone fragments. Second class relics are things that were owned by the saint such as clothing. Third class relics are relics that have been touched by first, second, and/or other third class relics (Fr. Carlos Martins, CC). 

An article by the Chicago Sun Times states that in “the Art Institute of Chicago, there’s an old tooth that may be from St. John the Baptist, one of Jesus’ contemporaries.” Another local place near Chicago to check out some relics is the Shrine of All Saints that I visited. Relics are an important way to explore the carnality of the faith. They put our faith into perspective and allow us to see the fragments of those that have shaped our faith and our lives today.

The ancient use of relics and why they came about derives from the Roman tradition to place bones of Saints and Martyrs at the altar to preserve and protect them. An old letter written by the Church of Smyrna on St. Polycarp reads, “We took up the bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and joy, and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom.” We use the relics to show our love for those that we venerate. 

The understanding of relics through scripture are that of a healing remedy. In Matthew 9: 20-22 a woman who was said to be suffering from hemorrhages came up to Jesus and touched the tassel on his cloak in hopes that she may be healed, Jesus said, “Courage daughter! Your faith has restored you to health.” These healings are also talked about in Acts 19:11-12. “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured, and the evil spirits left them.” It would be pretty cool to encounter a relic once in your life. After seeing relics for myself, I was inspired to do more research about the saints and why their lives were so influential to our faith.