A - Thanks for the questions. I know there is a lot of misunderstanding and confusion surrounding the veneration of relics and what exactly they are. I hope I can clear some of it up.
The first thing we should understand about the spiritual life is that it is connected with the physical world. Jesus could have healed with merely a thought, but he used words, mud, water, etc. He could have given us a purely spiritual communion, but he gives us bread and wine, which is transformed into His Body and Blood.
In other words - God uses the physical world to give us His grace. The greatest time was in the person of Jesus, who took on a body (something physical) to give us something spiritual (grace). We also have this in all of the Sacraments. The grace we are given is through the imposition of hands, water, oil, bread, wine, and words spoken.
Why does God use the physical world? Because we are physical beings. This is why the woman who touched Jesus cloak was healed in. A miracle occurred when she touched his tassel. Then there is Peter's shadow healing the sick in Acts 5 and handkerchiefs that Paul touched used as a means of healing and deliverance in Acts 19.
The physical is used as the instrument of the spiritual.
But, these aren't the only way God uses the physical world, which He made. He also uses it to redeem us. The cross, the nails, the hammer, the spear, the tomb, etc. - all physical things that are part of how God redeems all of us.
Once Christ was dead, the body of Christ was still treated in a special way. So special that Joseph of Arimethea was willing to put his life on the line for it:
"Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away." - John 19:38WHAT IS A RELIC?
Relics are the remains or the possessions of a holy person. They are generally divided into three different "classes" or types of relics:
- First-class = the remains of saints' bodies and the things used in Jesus' Passion, death, and Resurrection (e.g.the True Cross)
- Second-class = personal items of saints. This can be clothing, or anything else they owned.
- Third-class = objects which have had contact with first- or second-class relics.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
You don't have to care as a matter of faith. But, there can be great spiritual treasure in doing so. We never worship anything which is merely created. Thus, no saint, person, object, etc. should ever be worshiped. But, we can venerate (or honor) these people and things because of the great work that God has done through them.
In other words, they can lead us closer to God. So, why should we not care?
The bodies of the Saints were living temples of the Holy Spirit and one day these bodies will be Resurrected and re-joined their souls in Heaven. They have the Church's stamp of approval that they will be in Heaven and we can view them now!
Around the year 165 AD, Justin Martyr wrote this:
"The holy martyrs, having glorified God and having gone forth to the accustomed place, were beheaded and perfected their testimony in the confession of the Savior. Some of the faithful, having secretly removed their bodies, laid them in a suitable place, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ working with them, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."In a way, every burial is a way of honoring a relic - the body of another person.
- Martyrdom of Justin Martyr 5.
The early Christians continued the practice of revering the bodies of the martyrs in particular. They would honor the day they were martyred as their birthday into heaven. Those that were killed by the Roman government would have their bodies dumped, not buried. The Christians would secretly take their bodies and bury them in secret places.
These places began to be churches and houses of worship. Thus, the early Christians worshiped on the tombs of the martyrs and Saints.
When we venerate the relics of the Saints, we get a spiritual glimpse into heaven.
We also get a connection to our heroes - the Saints and Martyrs.
Lastly, we get a better connection to the Mystical Body of Christ - the Church - which is made up of all persons on earth, in Purgatory, and in Heaven.
"Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his holy ones" [Ps 116:15]Below is an image of the True Cross relic that we had in our Activity Center here at St. Mary's during a presentation and exposition of relics: